Laboring for Freedom: A New Look at the History of Labor in America

By Daniel Jacoby | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
Free Education

[T]he gradual widening of the present merely temporary and social difference between the Capitalist and the Labourer was the key to the whole position . . . the increasing refinement of their education, and the widening gulf between them and the rude violence of the poor . . . which is due to the length and expense of the higher educational process and the increased facilities for and temptations towards refined habits on the part of the rich-- will make that exchange between class and class, that promotion by intermarriage which at present retards the splitting of our species along lines of social stratification, less and less frequent. So in the end above ground you must have the Haves, pursuing pleasure and comfort, and beauty, and below ground the Have-nots, the Workers getting continually adapted to the conditions of their labour.

-- H. G. Wells, The Time Machine

In his 1894 novel The Time Machine, British writer H.G. Wells conjured up an imaginary future in which two species of man co-habitated the earth. One was a "graceful" childlike people he called the Eloi. The other was that "nocturnal Thing," the Morlock, who lived below ground and only surfaced to feed the Eloi, and then to slaughter them like cattle for food. The novel's time traveler made the startling discovery that the two species were common descendants of humankind from his own time. The Eloi were the delicate descendants of a gentility whose education and circumstances placed ever greater distance between themselves and the industrial base that sustained them. The Morlock were all that remained of a working class whose disagreeable conditions were hidden by removing economic activity to below ground. Wells was cautioning the members of his class that the social divisions their education sustained would come back to haunt them.

Wells wrote in Britain, where conditions differed from those prevailing in the United States. Not only did a larger proportion of the labor force work in mines, but the recent construction of an underground railroad in London

-98-

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