It seems the 20th century reserved little place for literary exploration of the perfect society theme. Unlike “Utopia” by Sir Thomas More, “New Atlantis” by Francis Bacon, “News from Nowhere” by William Morris, and “Looking Backward: 2000-1887” by Edward Bellamy, the literary works of the 20th century are seldom preoccupied with idealistic portrayals of human societies. Instead, they appear to be more interested in describing dystopias – fictional societies, which serve as oppositions to a utopia due to their frightening features. “The Time Machine” by H.G. Wells and Ursula K.LeGuin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” are examples of such works. Their descriptions of the human society are fraught with the features of degradation, dehumanization, degeneration, and other features of overall decline in humans. So they confirm the idea by Edward James that 20th century writers are no longer capable of “imagining a better in which place to live”.
In “The Time Machine”, H.G. Wells describes the degenerated society of feeble Eloi and truly bestial Morlocks. The narrator invents a time machine using crystalline bars along with exotic metals. Keen on learning what the future has for him and for the humanity, the time traveler gets on board his machine. He passes days and centuries in his time machine until his time trip eventually stops. He ends up in a weird place inhabited by Eloi, simple and peaceful people. Eloi’s society is based on a gloomy secret. Specifically, there is another race of the so-called “people” known as Morlocks. Morlocks live underground and work to provide Eloi with food and other necessities. Morlocks are troglodytes and live in complete darkness. They look like apes and never come to the surface at day. On very dark nights Morlocks, who are afraid of light, get to the surface only to kidnap a couple of Elois and carry them to their gloomy dwellings (Wells, 1996). Morlocks are cannibals, so they eat Eloi as if they were cattle.
The description of Morlocks by H.G. Wells portrays them as really ugly creatures that evoke disgust. To illustrate, Wells describes Morlocks as “great shapes like big machines” which “cast grotesque black shadows” and apparently enjoyed “the faint halitus of feshly shed blood” (Wells, 1996, p.60). Evidently, these hyperbolized images were portrayed by Wells for some clear purpose. Knowing his socialist background, one may assume that Wells deliberately portrayed Morlocks in such a fashion, as to convey to his readers the class system of his society. Indeed, in the society where Wells was born and raised people of the low class were seriously humiliated and were subject to despise by those who represented higher social classes (Hamilton, 2006, p.15). Probably, he wanted his audience to feel how nastily people of the lower classes felt.
Ursula K. LeGuin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” also depicts a society, which in no way may be regarded perfect. Similarly to H.G. Wells “The Time Machine”, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” portrays the society, which is degenerated and dehumanized. Yet, the portrayal is rather implicit than explicit. LeGuin does not create ape-looking and cannibalistic characters that evoke disgust by their appalling outward appearance, but rather explores the theme of inner degradation. Although physically invisible, this degeneration is no less loathsome. This is spiritual degeneration and moral degradation. It manifests itself in one episode only: the whole society lives by the cost of a poor abused child imprisoned in gloomy cell. The people have degraded morally, since they “walk past the child without pity” and do not attempt to change anything, although they realize the child is suffering bitterly. They opt to comfort themselves with the thoughts that the child is not human, but sub-human and “too degraded and imbecile to know any real joy” (Le Guin, 1993). Obviously, Le Guin describes her imagined society as an allegory of the modern world in which rich and wealthy nations maintain a seemingly happy and troublesome lifestyle by the cost of poor nation’s sufferings.
To conclude, “The Time Machine” by H.G. Wells and Ursula K.LeGuin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” portray the societies, which are far from perfect. The authors deliberately create pictures of degraded humans to warn people against moral degradation and turning into merciless and pitiless, spiritually ugly creatures.