Tabel of Contents
2. Defining the literary genres
2.1. Science Fiction
This term paper deals with the question which literary genre does “The Time Machine” by H.G. Wells fits best into. Should it be seen as a dystopian novel or should it be rather classified as a science fictional one and why is it so hard to classify?
As the novel shows characteristics for either genres, the novel has to be analysed accurately. In order do so and find an answer to the main question I will point out and examine relevant passages in the text which will help classifying Wells work. Therefore, it is essential to first of all define both literary genres. These definitions are to include the origin of the genre, main characteristics as well as appropriate “background information”. As already mentioned, the definitions will be followed by an in-depth analysis of significant text passages. Finally, my conclusion is intended to sum up the most important findings and aims to present a classification based on the analysis in the main part.
1. Defining the literary genres
1.1. Science Fiction
“Modern science fiction is the only form of literature that consistently considers the nature of the changes that face us, the possible consequences, and the possible solutions. That branch of literature which is concerned with the impact of scientific advance upon human beings.” – Isaac Asimov, 1952
During my research I came across a huge number of various definitions of Science Fiction. H.G. Wells and Jules Verne are regarded the pioneers of this genre. Concerning literary studies, the genre of science fiction is regarded as prose. Suerbaum, Broich and Borgmeier (1918: 10) hold the view that this genre contains fiction in which conditions and actions are carried out, under relations that currently cannot be depicted believably. This is due to the reason that these conditions and actions presuppose the change and development of science and technology but also of political and social structures. Therefore, it is also “often said that Science Fiction is the literature of change” (Treitel). Science Fiction covers numerous scientifically aspects (e.g. natural or social sciences) and can range from intergalactic conflicts to artificial intelligence or humans with supernatural powers/abilities. Thus, it can be seen as the link between science and fiction which establishes the possibility for authors to create works that deal with a society or culture that undergoes a lot of changes because of scientific advances and technological developments. For that reason, it can be said that Science Fiction “describes the impact of science or technology on people” (Treitel) One can say that authors imagine a ‘what if’ scenario, meaning they explore the “lifestyle” of a, not only but in most cases, future society. Lastly, there is a difference made between “hard” and “soft” Science Fiction. Dr. Wheeler outlines this distinction in the following way,
“[m]any purists make a distinction between "hard" science fiction (in which the story attempts to follow accepted scientific realism and extrapolates the outcomes or consequences of scientific discovery in a hard-headed manner) and "soft" science fiction (which often involves looser adherence to scientific knowledge and more fantasy-elements)” (Wheeler).
On the whole, Science Fiction can be described as a genre which tells stories in which futuristic and hypothetical technology, gene-engineering or time travels (i.e. imagined innovations) contribute to the plot. It is literature which creates alternate forms of the past and future.
“While we might assume that utopias are not relevant to us, in fact, we daily live in the many utopian and dystopian visions of the past” (Milojevi ć 2002: 1). While Utopian literature presents a perfect society (i.e. an ideal place or state), dystopian novels portray the complete opposite. Dystopias do not describe a “paradise” at all but rather the negative outcome of an attempt creating an ideal society. M.H. Abrams defines it as"a very unpleasant imaginary world in which ominous tendencies of our present social, political, and technological order are projected in some disastrous future culmination" (Abrams 1993: 218). As examples for popular dystopian authors Goerge Orwell (1984) or Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) can be named. Such works may frighten the readership and therefore hold a critical and appellative purpose/aim. To put it in a nutshell, both genres explore political and social structures through presenting either a “paradisiac”-like society and future (Utopia) or on the other hand displaying a “nightmare” due to a negative development of the mentioned structures (Dystopia).
Considering the fact that The Time Machine was published in a time when both literary genres merged into one another, it is hard to tell which genre Wells´ work actually belongs to. Additionally, characteristics of both genres can be found which makes it even harder to classify. Nevertheless, one thing is for sure: H.G. Wells The Time Machine is a negative vision of the future.