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The Time Traveller - The Time Traveller's name is never given. Apparently the narrator wants to protect his identity. The Time Traveller is an inventor. He likes to speculate on the future and the underlying structures of what he observes. His house is in Richmond, a suburb of London.
The Narrator - The narrator, Mr. Hillyer, is the Time Traveller's dinner guest. His curiosity is enough to make him return to investigate the morning after the first time travel.
Weena - Weena is one of the Eloi. Although the Time Traveller reports that it is difficult to distinguish gender among the Eloi, he seems quite sure that Weena is female. He easily saves her from being washed down the river, and she eagerly becomes his friend. Her behavior toward him is not unlike that of a pet or small child.
A group of men, including the narrator, is listening to the Time Traveller discuss his theory that time is the fourth dimension. The Time Traveller produces a miniature time machine and makes it disappear into thin air. The next week, the guests return, to find their host stumble in, looking disheveled and tired. They sit down after dinner, and the Time Traveller begins his story.
The Time Traveller had finally finished work on his time machine, and it rocketed him into the future. When the machine stops, in the year 802,701 AD, he finds himself in a paradisiacal world of small humanoid creatures called Eloi. They are frail and peaceful, and give him fruit to eat. He explores the area, but when he returns he finds that his time machine is gone. He decides that it has been put inside the pedestal of a nearby statue. He tries to pry it open but cannot. In the night, he begins to catch glimpses of strange white ape-like creatures the Eloi call Morlocks. He decides that the Morlocks live below ground, down the wells that dot the landscape. Meanwhile, he saves one of the Eloi from drowning, and she befriends him. Her name is Weena. The Time Traveller finally works up enough courage to go down into the world of Morlocks to try to retrieve his time machine. He finds that matches are a good defense against the Morlocks, but ultimately they chase him out of their realm. Frightened by the Morlocks, he takes Weena to try to find a place where they will be safe from the Morlocks' nocturnal hunting.
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The Time Traveller makes several more stops. In a distant time he stops on a beach where he is attacked by giant crabs. The bloated red sun sits motionless in the sky. He then travels thirty million years into the future. The air is very thin, and the only sign of life is a black blob with tentacles. He sees a planet eclipse the sun. He then returns, exhausted, to the present time. The next day, he leaves again, but never returns.
The Time Machine has two main threads. The first is the adventure tale of the Eloi and Morlocks in the year 802,701 AD. The second is the science fiction of the time machine.
The adventure story includes many archetypal elements. The Time Traveller's journey to the underworld, his fear of the great forest, and his relationship to Weena, mirror imagery prevalent in earlier literature, imagery strongly associated with the inner workings of the human psyche.
The tale of 802,701 is political commentary of late Victorian England. It is a dystopia, a vision of a troubled future. It recommends that current society change its ways lest it end up like the Eloi, terrified of an underground race of Morlocks. In the Eloi, Wells satirizes Victorian decadence. In the Morlocks, Wells provides a potentially Marxist critique of capitalism.
The rest of the novella deals with the science fiction of time travel. Before Wells, other people had written fantasies of time travel, but Wells was the first to bring a strong dose of scientific speculation to the genre. Wells has his Time Traveller speak at length on the fourth dimension and on the strange astronomy and evolutionary trends he observes as he travels through time. Much of this was inspired by ideas of entropy and decay promulgated by Wells's teacher, Thomas Henry Huxley.