The Time Machine tells the story of man who claims to travel through time and the group of gentlemen friends who do not believe him. It opens on a Thursday evening dinner party at the Time Traveller's house in the London suburb of Richmond. The men meet every Thursday for dinner. The period is the late 19th century.
The Time Machine
After dinner, the Time Traveller theorizes that time is simply a fourth dimension of space. Just as people can move around in space with the help of balloons to go up, so, he claims, they can move around in time. He takes his guests to his laboratory where he shows them an object made of crystal, ivory, and brass. He says it is a time machine. It has a saddle and two levers, one to go forward and one to go back through time.
The next Thursday when the group reconvenes at the house, the Time Traveller is not there. He has left a note saying he is out. Because it is already 7:30 p.m., they sit down to dinner. Suddenly, the Time Traveller appears, pale, dirty, and bleeding. He claims to have been traveling through time. In the semidarkness after dinner, he tells the following tale about what happened:
At 10 o'clock that morning, he set out in the time machine. As he pressed the future lever, he flew through time, watching day and night rapidly switch places. He was scared, and the motion was unsettling. He did not know where he would end up. Finally, he crashed on a little lawn. He could tell from dials that the year was 802,701. Nearby on a bronze pedestal stood the white marble statue of a sphinx.
He also notices a huge, magnificent building. A group of figures come out to meet him. They are called Eloi, and are about four feet high with curly hair, red lips, and large, liquid eyes. They wear soft, silky robes and act like children.
The Eloi take him to their building, where he dines on fruit. The building is grand but also neglected and dirty. The following day, he sees that all the Eloi do is play. One of their favorite pastimes is swimming. When one begins to drown, he leaps in and rescues her. He finds out that her name is Weena, and she becomes devoted to him.
Exploring the countryside, he comes across a large, circular well. There is a kind of ladder down its side. He cannot see into it, but he hears a deep humming. He guesses it is a ventilation shaft for some sort of underground facility. At night, he sees what he thinks is a ghost or a white monkey.
The next morning, he finds his time machine has disappeared. Following marks on the ground, he deduces that it is inside the hollow pedestal of the sphinx statue. He tries to break in but fails. He decides to investigate the well, wondering whether the creatures living down there might have taken his machine.
Descending the ladder, he comes to a tunnel where he is set upon by strange, human-like creatures called Morlocks. Because they live in darkness they are all white, with grayish-red eyes. He looks into a large chamber where some are eating red meat and realizes, to his horror, that it is a joint from one of the Eloi.
He manages to escape up the ladder. Reflecting on what he had seen, he theorizes that over time humankind developed into two separate species: Capitalists and Laborers. The rich, educated people became the Eloi—kind and innocent, but weak. The workers who built subways and railroads became the Morlocks, hanging on to a sense of initiative that made them superior to the Eloi.
(Here, the Time Traveller pauses to take two white flowers from his pocket. The reader and the dinner guests are meant to believe they are from the future.)
The Time Traveller sees a large building some miles away that he calls the Palace of Green Porcelain. He sets off for it with Weena. At night, they are attacked by Morlocks when they camp. The Time Traveller lights matches to drive them away.
The Palace turns out to be an abandoned natural history museum. The Time Traveller finds more matches, and an iron bar he uses as a club. On their way back, he and Weena are attacked again after dark. He lights a fire that keeps the Morlocks away until he falls asleep. He wakes up to find Weena gone and the Morlocks snatching at him. The fire spreads to a nearby forest. It drives the Morlocks away, but Weena is dead.
Return to the Present
Back at the sphinx, the Time Traveller finds a portal to the pedestal open. Morlocks are waiting for him, but he manages to leap into the machine and lift off. Speeding into the future, he lands three million years ahead on a deserted beach. Two monster crabs come for him, and he flees further into the future where there is only a strange octopus-like creature thrashing in the waves. He sets the machine to return to the present.
When the Time Traveller finishes his tale, he is met with skepticism, although a scientist present admits he cannot identify the flowers. The Narrator keeps an open mind. Returning to the house the next day, he finds the Time Traveller with a camera and knapsack setting off again. The Narrator observes the machine disappear in a blur. Reporting that the Time Traveller has not been seen since, he retains the two white flowers.