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Though most of The Time Machine takes place in the future, where the London of Wells’s time has been gone for a very long time, Wells’s story speaks volumes about the society in which he lived and wrote. The city, in many ways, was at the center of the world, most especially in trade and industrial progress. Both goods produced in the city and those shipped from around the world, especially the colonies, circulated in the city and its harbor and out to all points, creating a great amount of wealth. New transportation allowed the millions of residents to spread further out from the city center, as London expanded its geography as well as its wealth. At the same time, the empirical project was beginning to falter, and more questions were beginning to be asked about the value and morality of maintaining it.
Although wealthy in many ways, Victorian London was not a paradise, most especially for the members of the lowest classes, who labored in terrible conditions. There was social unrest at the beginning of the century, followed by a time of higher wages and more prosperity, but even in these times, many labored on the underground railroad, which was completed in 1865--which the Time Traveller specifically mentions as the beginning of the Morlocks--and after that in similar conditions in factories all around London.
Wells was very interested in the concerns of the lower classes, and the inequality of English society. In 1903, he joined the Fabian Society, a socialist group, which grew out of the Fellowship of New Life, founded in 1883. The group became better known in 1889 when they published Fabian Essays. The Fabians held beliefs similar to Marxism in that they recognized the mistreatment of the worker, and the inequalities exacerbated by capitalism, but instead of supporting the theory that revolutionary end must and should be the result of capitalism, they believed that social reforms, and the alteration of present political structures would bring about a gradual amelioration of the social system. These beliefs clearly pervade The Time Machine, as the effects of capitalism become expressly clear at a distance of hundreds of thousands of years.
Also at this time, Darwin’s theories were becoming accepted as the norm in the scientific community, and Wells’s position as a Darwinist can clearly be seen in his application of evolutionary biology to the evolutionary social theory practiced by the Fabians. Thus, just as the social system has gradually changed over the thousands of years, the biology of humans has changed concurrently, in a kind of reciprocal relationship. The Morlocks and Eloi gradually developed their physical characteristics as a result of the gradually changing social system.