City Tech, Fall 2016

Class Discussion of “The Machine Stops”

We are continuing our  class discussion of “The Machine Stops” online this weekend / next week. The goal is to have some good virtual discussions here to help us all think critically about this short story. Therefore, your comments need not be very long, and there are a number of ways to approach/contribute to this discussion. For example:

  • you can provide a quote/citation and a few sentences of explanation of how/why it functions in the context of some larger issue/question
  • you can raise questions
  • complicate issues
  • extend discussions
  • analyze a character, or setting, etc.
  • discuss central conflicts/values/themes (especially in relation to the Science Fiction Framework)
  • you can make connections to contemporary society (a lot of you mentioned parallels to our own society/lives in your blogs)
  • and/or feel free to discuss the various short film versions of the story that are assigned for/will be discussed in class on Tuesday (9/6)
  • anything else you believe would add value to the discussion of this text

The goal in all cases is to provide specific examples from the text (quotes/citation) with discussion/analysis and some connection to a larger point.  In you are discussing an outside source (films or your contemporary/personal examples), though, make sure to discuss them in relation to the original source text (the Forster short story), and how that particular adaptation or contemporary parallel helps us to understand (or complicate) certain aspects of the story.

You should make your at least one comment (just hit “reply,” either to my original post or to another comment on it) by Saturday (9/3). Then go back/read through all comments and extend the conversation by making at least two more comments (of course, more are always welcome!) in response by Tuesday 9/6. 


  1. Ghasan shahbain

    Why is it hexagonal room ? The normal shape would of been four sided room. Is changing the setting a little makes it interesting or is it just a made up thing from the author.

    • Emm

      The hexagonal room is like the cells of a beehive. A beehive is composed of a working group of drones made for a singular purpose. The author could be implying that those who dwell within the machine share the same fate.

      • Ghasan shahbain

        I thought there was a secret about it because usually authors hide thing that aren’t part of the direct message they want us to know.

    • Sky Captaina - Alex S

      It can be used for more efficient use of space, in a square you can add 3 other rooms to the outside walls and one wall would lead to the tunnel that was used to leave the rooms, but that would waste space. if you draw 4 squares and a circle around them you see all the empty space between the outside walls. Now draw lines from the ends of the walls to each other, you end up with a hexagon. Also you can add 5 rooms to each other now and the tunnel. It saves space also, it would take you out of the comfort zone of current rooms and other then that it would have better ventilation due to lack of sharp angles of walls.

      • Ghasan shahbain

        I’m not sure I understand. When a room have 4 sides is a waste of space ? Their could be a tunnel right behind the last wall of the third room they don’t need the circular space if that’s the case.

        • Sky Captaina - Alex S

          Yes there is a tunnel on the fourth side which means they only have 3 sides to add other rooms to. basically look at current rooms in our time 3 walls are shared between them with the last being a way to leave the room. now look at a 6 wall room 5 walls can be shared and one will have a way out. 4 walls are easy to make, you need not worry to much about angles and it divides well, but in terms of space the 90 degree angle interfere with placement. a desk to be put in a corner of a room will have a large part that you can not reach with ease depending on the depth of the desk and the part that you sit at. think of it this way, a flat surface is the greatest to have like a wall. so why not have more of them to put things on? it becomes an area problem lets say i have 4 walls and they are 4 feet long so a square room would have 16 ftsq of space vs a hex room with 41 ftsq due to the added walls and angle. also if you want to see what i mean better, draw a square, now 3 more to that one and draw a line as the tunnel on the last side. now you are not allowed to cross or block the tunnel and every room needs one, keep adding rooms and tunnels.after a while you will end up with a repeating pattern which would work, but now try with hex based rooms and you will find that the 2 extra walls help out a lot with keeping tunnels together. if you really want to find the perfect pattern for either one you can leave certain spaces without rooms in order to keep everything more uniform or star by.

  2. Joselin Campoverde

    Something interesting that caught my attention from “The Machine Stops” is the fact that in this technological future, any human who was born with a certain type of physical strength were considered, according to the Machine, inadequate to live among the rest of society. This is more clearly shown in page 11 which states that around that time “it was a demerit to be muscular. Each infant was examined at birth, and all who promised undue strength were destroyed. Humanitarians may protest, but it would have been no true kindness to let an athlete live; he would never have been happy in that state of life to which the Machine had called him”. Through this quote, it depicts how technology can control a human life and determine whether a human being could live or not. When discussing with the rest of the members of my group, I opined that the Machine, along with the people behind its creation, feels threatened by anyone or everything that is stronger than them and so gets destroyed before anyone could turn against their power and rules. Is there any other point of view that any of you guys can think of by looking at this quote?

    • Duron Crichlow

      I do want to say that by the looks of the quote and what it means, I say that’s a way of saying there’s no “off switch” to that machine or they just don’t know how to turn it off.

      • Tajay

        Based on this quote, in addition to my findings it could have been possible the machines feared gifted humans. Whether an intellect or athlete, any human that showed a form of ability were seen as a threat. As stated in chapter 2 “The Mending Apparatus page 14,” “We created the Machine, to do our will, but we cannot make it do our will now. It was robbed us of the sense of space and sense of touch, it has blurred every human relation and narrowed down love to a carnal act, it has paralyzed our bodies and our wills, and now it compels us to worship it. ” It can be said the Machines feared human will become capable of overpower them once again, which is why the Machine rejected capable infants.

        To add, this passage goes on to say ” the machine develops – but not on our lies. The Machine proceeds – but not on our goals. We only exist as the blood corpuscles that course through its arteries, and if it could work without us, it would let us die.” Simply put, the use of humankind isn’t obsolete, as the machine still require human maintenance to operate. Therefore, as the selected gifted are deleted as infants, the average being is sent to become drones to the Machine.

        • Jill Belli

          Tajay, thanks for extending the conversation about this excerpt. I agree with you that there is a sense of “fear” involved (perhaps on the part of the Machine–if we wish to personify it), but also in the people of this society, when the Machine stops and things start to break down. The second quote you provide does show that ‘humankind isn’t obsolete,” but even more so it seems to suggest just how dependent humans are on the Machine, and how they exist to serve the Machine (as you say, to become “drones”).

          (Also, just a friendly reminder to cite all your quotes–the second one is from p. 15–and to make sure you transcribe them accurately–e.g., “lines” not “lies”).

    • Ruben De La Cruz

      You have a good point, I also think their are two more ways of thinking what this form of infanticide stands for. The first one is a social form desiring the ideal society with ideal individuals. For example in our society we have standards of beauty and gender expectation. Another example is in China where a social issue they face is abortion or infanticide of female babies due to the desire of having a son who may carry the family name. In the machine stops we see many of the characters going for a high level of intellectual capabilities since they no longer use their bodies. You could argue that the leading comitee no longer desires athleticism so that they can focus on intellectualism. My second is more metaphoric. I felt that this form of infanticide was a form of pseudo natural selection. The reason why is because Vashti like many of the other people is physically weak and not fully able to adapt to the natural environment. It contrast to our ideas of when life happens naturally on the surface and in the machine. Other then that I do thinks your opinion stands strong.

      • Jill Belli

        Ruben, good point about a society-enforced way of creating its “ideal society.” This definitely seems like it is a form of eugenics, and the contemporary parallels are helpful. There are also other parts of the story that point to this type of control over the birth, rearing, and death of human beings. Some examples are the discussion of the “public nurseries” (6) and Euthanasia (11, 20, 23, 24).

    • Sky Captaina - Alex S

      these people use their minds to solve problems, they are geeks if you will. As such they could be bullied or tormented by the strong .Often we say that jocks are much dumber then all other types of people in school environments, however they get by with less then everyone else. All the other students study and work to pass, while most jocks can just get by with lower grades because that is not what they care about. they have sports, they pass thought life based on their physical abilities and their mindsets. This is not too say that playing a sport well is easy, as it takes months of training to just be able to understand what to do and when. However this would not help “the machine”, it would have no use for people who think differently and who wish to standout. Because is that not the ultimate goal for athletes, to be the very best at what they do, to win. Also this is physical progress, something that can be measured and seen., vs the progress of the machine and the society of thinkers. The athletes would cause a shift in mentality away from the machine and towards personal achievement. So yes, this is a method of control over the people who lack the strength to live outside the machine. Who knows may be just like Kuno who as able to stand outside in the real word due to “for Kuno was possessed of a certain physical strength” others would be able to leave the machine behind and live on the surface.

      • Jill Belli

        Alex, good points about the tension in this story (and in our own reality) between valuing physical strength and intellectual achievement. This is not to say that the two are mutually exclusive (that one cannot achieve success both as an athlete and an academic), but that a focus on one often is pitted against the other, and there are competing values and concepts of progress in them.

        (also, a friendly reminder to cite your textual evidence: the quote at the end doesn’t have a page number)

    • Rino

      “The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.”
      -Kurt Vonnegut, ‘Harrison Bergeron’ (1961)

      This part about limiting people’s abilities via their strength reminded me of another fantastic science-fiction short story called “Harrison Bergeron” where in the future everyone is made “equal” to one another in order to appease everyone and try to establish a utopia.

      I think this sort of limitation on human ability is an alluring theme in science-fiction novels since most technological and human advances seem to restrain people in some sort of way, like with technology you lose your ability to rely on your own human intuitions and human progress creates a stifling in originality.

      Link to the full short story if interested; very good (and short, only 6 pages) read:

      • Jill Belli

        Rino, thanks for bringing the notion of uniformity (and “Harrison Bergeron”) into this discussion. Definitely, standardization, conformity, and lack of individuality are recurring themes in science fiction texts (and utopias/dystopias–which we’ll talk more about today in class!). We even see standardization in “The Machine Stops” in terms of interior design, such as the fact that “beds were of the same dimension all over the world” (4). So the environment too is uniform, which mirrors in a way the uniformity imposed upon the people who live in it.

    • Jill Belli

      Joselin, you raise a really interesting point here, and I agree with, your group members that the excerpt you shared points to the threat that human strength poses to the Machine’s dominance. Questions we might also ask, about this excerpt in particular, and the story as a whole, is:

      -Do you think that the decision to destroy those who demonstrate strength is really a “kindness”? Is it actually serving those who would feel not quite at home with the restrictions inherent in “that state of life to which the Machine called him?” Would the tension (the not feeling quite at home in the Machine) be productive?
      -What about free will?
      -What is gained by dependence on the Machine? What is lost?

    • Ghasan shahbain

      You know that also makes me think of a natural process. When we talk about evolution for example we understand that species do change to adapt to the environment . So in this case since the environment has a deadly sort of gases it predicts that the human born under those conditions are ” super humans ” not totally adapting to no oxygen life but at least they can do things that we can’t do naturally.

      It’s not logical but when you think about it you figure out that it’s possible.

  3. Daniel Mayorga

    I would like to raise a question. Why are people not allowed to physically touch one another in the story? I understand that it is their custom because of the machine, but there are times when it is necessary. For example, during the time when Vashti was on an airship, the flight attendant made an attempt to save a passenger from falling. Right at the last line of page 8 it mentions, “she behaved barbarically – she put her hand out to steady her.” I just find it odd that physical contact is deemed unnecessary within this society. What do you guys think about this question?

    • Tajay

      I would think physical contact isn’t deemed unnecessary in this world, but is simply uncommon. Unconventional to the point it’s out of the ordinary to engage in any form of physical contact. After so long under the reign of The Machine, I believe overtime physical contact faded out of existence. For instance, at birth infants are sent to be scanned for irregularities, communication usually through a blue plate device, and living in a “hexagonal shape – like the cell of a bee,” human contact is perhaps miniscule.

    • Joselin Campoverde

      I would assume that the society of this futuristic era have forgotten the sense of what being human means. When they created the Machine, people thought of it as a device that would proportion them beneficial things such as food, clothes, and other accomodations, and somehow made their lives easier and better. However, as the years advanced they grew pretty dependant to the Machine since it gave them anything that they need which is one of the reasons why they venerated. They started fearing going out to the outside environment and having any physical interaction with one another like normal human beings. In some way, the Machine has brainwashed them and made they believe that living under its command, they would be safe and nothing would ever happen to them. As a consequence, they isolated themselves and any human interactions completely dissapear or as you stated on your post, any physical interaction became “deemed unnecessary”.

    • Johnny

      The Machine cannot allow human contact, its a slippery slope. The Machine has them believing its uncivil so that it can keep them emotionally sedated. A brain washed lecturer in the Machine equates “love and fear” to a “gross foundation” for original thoughts. The Machine cannot afford to have any humans behaving viscerally or having original thoughts inspired by love or fear.

    • Rino

      I think this is not necessarily something that is “illegal” or ill advised to do, it’s just a byproduct of not having any real human interaction with people. You got to think of it in their perspective, they live in solitary rooms where the only interaction they have with people is via “round, blue lit plate” receivers and pneumatic post (p. 1)

      Vashti also shows that she seldom wants to communicate with people because she has her “isolation switch” enabled most of the time.

      “Vashti’s next move was to turn off the isolation switch, and all the accumulations of the last three minutes burst upon her…Then she switched off her correspondents, for it was time to deliver her lecture on Australian music.”
      -E.M. Forster, ‘The Machine Stops’ (p. 4)

      When someone has little human interaction with people, you see stuff such as physical contact as bizarre or even barbaric. Just my thought on this at least, cheers!

    • Jill Belli

      Daniel, thanks for raising this question. It’s a really important one. I think the replies that folks made here are useful, and I especially agree with Johnny’s “slippery slope” comment. I think this question also relates to #s 10 & 11 on the “Science Fiction Framework” handout. These questions deal with family, & community/solidarity & intimacy/communication. If people form strong bonds with each other (and certainly, physical contact would contribute to those bonds), what would that do to their loyalty to the ruling powers (in this case, the Machine, The Book, and the Central Committee)?

      What does it mean that at the very end of the story, when everything is breaking down and chaos reigns, that Kuno and Vashti share intimate, physical contact? Kuno stresses the importance of this connection, this unmediated contact, when he says, “”I am dying — but we touch, we talk, not through the Machine”” (25).

      Noting shifts in the text (as the story evolves, thoughts, actions, beliefs change?) can be a really useful way of comparing/contrast competing sets of values at play in the text.

    • Ghasan shahbain

      I once watched a movie called the giver. And in that movie they predict that touching others makes you comfortable with that person leading to love which they considered part of the un-equal treatment giving to one another.

      Could it be that in the machine stop they are trying not to cause any special focuses other then staying alive. But again that would be ironic.

    • Jovan

      Hey Daniel, I think this is a very interesting point. In there society, seeing people face to face is more contact that they are okay with. The idea of actually touching another person is similar to a person with OCD having something out of order. At this point the Machine has successfully molded them with the help of the Book. Even though the Machine is man made, man has little to no interest in man which is oddly ironic. Society in their times sees human contact the way in 2016 we see writing a letter, pointless when we can just send an email.

  4. Sky Captaina - Alex S

    An idea that I created in my mind from the discussion in the classroom was what was the intension and propose of building “the machine”. I also wanted to know who made it and why this seemed a better idea then others to put into practice. I would also like to know why other methods of “saving the world” were not used or mentioned in the world of “the machine”. The other problem that I was bothered by is how this machine sustained itself, how does it fix itself without new materials being added.

    The machine appears to serve the humans living within itself without gaining anything from them. It is understandable that people grow fond of what serves them and try to keep from breaking, as we do with favorite things we own. This particularly true if the object in question is hard to replace, as “the machine” would be. However what was the point of making it, what was the first idea about it. The machine makes people’s lives easier by all the functions it performs for them. So given all the free time you get from not needing to go anywhere, make food, or even get up, what do you spend it on. In most utopian literature this free time would be spent on creative, useful and progressive ideas and their applications. Examples of these include the United Federation of Planets or just the Federation from Star Trek. In that society the whole concept of monetary transactions has been removed in large part due to technology called replicators. This technology utilizes energy to create nearly all types of solid, liquid and gaseous material. This leads to people not needing others to get what they want or need in life, to an extent. They still go outside, see people, travel to other planets and even join groups to explore space. However in their world they have something like “the machine” called the holosuite, that can in a large space create different environments, stories, scenarios and entire worlds that look and feel real. This is because they are made of condensed photons that become solid-like matter and the computer algorithms can create seemly real personalities for all of the people it can make. And yet unlike the people of the world of “the machine” they leave these pretend worlds regardless of how much they would like to be in them longer. So it seems that comes down to values, the Federation is about exploring so they created something that play out all possible scenarios in a safe environment to train people for the real thing vs “the machine” that seems to be to comfort people into a false reality. So was the idea to give humanity a final resting place while it waited for the end? to let them live in their own coffins while they closed around them? Or was it to give them time to find a way to fix the world outside and they just gave up? Was “the machine” changed by someone to become this way to control the people? Was “the machine” part of a bigger plan to change the world? Was it made by a group or all of humanity? Is it possible that it was made by a group of people that was exiled from the surface? Are their two types of humans? Are the ones above ground the real ones that can breathe the air as we do? Or was this all an experiment taken too far?

    If the machine was a tool to save the world why was it so short sighted? It can make a breathable atmosphere, so why was it not used to pump the air outward and make the world habitable once more? Why did they not build giant air producing machines all over the globe to clean and change the air? Even a small leak was able to stay outside and fill up a small area for one person to breathe while outside, ”for the air began to fall back into it and fill it as water fills a bowl”. Also grass was alive outside so air must still be produced, so what else was in it what made it bad for humans? What did they do to the earth and why could they undo it in all these years. Did they cut down all the tress that gave them air? ”the forests had been destroyed during the literature epoch for the purpose of making newspaper-pulp”. So did no one the whole world see a problem with this? Did not ask what would happen if this was to pass? Did no one replant the tress to have more sources of paper later? Was everyone short sight to the point that only now mattered? How do you move on with nothing to move on with? You need new materials to build with or improve things, if you cannot get new things then you must recycle things. If they understood this then they must have taken steps to ensure supply, if they removed economy then there would be even less reason as to go this crazy with cooping everything down for paper. They do not even use paper anymore, so it means at one point in time they stopped needing large amounts of it. So this means nature should have time to recover, no other thing in the current world they live in seem to use wood so where are the trees? What did they do to the world so that it now wants them dead?

    • Jill Belli

      There is a lot to take in here Alex! You raise a lot of interesting questions/points (though for a comment, a slightly shorter response might be more helpful in terms of kicking off a discussion). Really, you’re asking about both intent (for what purpose was the Machine created, within the context of this society) and plausibility (the actual functionality/sustainability of the Machine). As you say, the Machine definitely makes things easier for people and frees up a lot of time, and the questions you raise (the “why?” & “to what end”?) about what can then be done with this free time is important. What do others think?

  5. Ruben De La Cruz

    One thing I noticed that allot of people have not talked about is gender roles in the Machine. I feel like i have found evidence of it in a few pages to make a speculation on how gender roles work in these society’s. Ill start out first introducing a few quotes and ill make a connection. To start off woman are still expected to give birth in order to keep the population growing, but they dont raise their children closely. on page 6 when we see the quote “But she thought of Kuno as a baby, his birth, his removal to the public nurseries, her own visits to him there”. We can see that Vashti had some connection to her son but we never hear anything about Kunos father.
    But theirs more! Now on page 10 Vashti is about to arrive to her sons home in the machine when we get a interesting quote. “Their were eight or ten of them, mostly young males, mostly young males, sent out from the public nurseries to inhabit rooms of those who died in various parts parts of earth. The man who had dropped his book was on a homeward journey. He had been sent to Sumatra for the purpose of propagating the race. Vashti alone was travelling by her private will.” Now when i saw this quote originally i was shocked, we could argue that males are sent around for congregating only while woman are just breeders. The fact that one man will propagate an entire race is crazy!
    My last quote though is about Kuno. On page 12 we read “For Kuno had lately asked to be a father, and his request had been refused by the committee. His was not a type that the machine desired to hand on.” Automatically , here we can see that for a male to propagate he must therefore apply to the machine. I can make the speculation though that males dont really play much of a role in the upbringing and must focus on breeding as a means to keep the population stable.
    Tell me do you guys agree, or disagree with my speculations. I think Forster possibly added these minor details on purpose as well.

    • Joselin Campoverde

      Maybe because the Machine feels threatened that more humans could take power over it and posibly destroy it. So the Machine or the people controlling it do not want more humans because it might be harder to control or brainwashed them. Also a clear point you made in this post is that the Machine clearly separates genders (men and woman) and rejects any kind of physical interaction among them. This is why children get isolated from their mothers at birth to avoid any kind of human emotions. It seems like the Machine does not want any individual under its control to experience any sort of human feeling.

    • Daniel Mayorga

      Yes, I agree with your speculations. The story seems to lean towards the idea that the men do not play a huge role within this society, except to stabilize the population. In addition, I do find the way how the Machine manipulates the breeding among the people within this society a bit odd as well. Mainly because the selected individuals that apply to the machine are the only ones allowed to propagate. Adding on to what you mentioned in your last paragraph or speculation, I believe the Machine had to promote this type of method of breeding in order to keep curious individuals, such as Kuno, at a minimum.

    • Jill Belli

      Thanks Ruben for raising the important question about gender which, admittedly in this story, there is not much discussion of. But your excerpts are useful especially for thinking the concept of “family” in this society, especially the way that important things (such as having and raising children) are ultimately subject to the will and needs of the Machine ).

      [also, a friendly reminder to proofread before you post. There are a lot of typos here, including within the direct quote–be careful to transcribe the excerpt exactly as it is]

  6. Matt

    This story could have been written today as an admonishment of people’s reliance on technology, computers, cell phones, social media, et cetera. Forster’s specific criticism seems to have been directed not at the emerging technology of the day, but at the people who praised technology for its own sake, rather than for its usefulness as a tool. His ultimate fear seems to be that humanity will eventually render itself helpless without these overgrown tools. In the last page of the story, he calls the Machine, a stand-in for the ultimate in over-reliance in technology, a “garment”, “And heavenly it had been so long as it was a garment, and a garment no more, man could shed it at will and live by the essence that is his soul, and the essence, equally divine, that is his body.” The theme of people leaning too heavily on their creations might have applied then as it does now, but what was happening in 1909, what technology was in the eye of the general public? What emerging new inventions could have inspired such a bleak parable? To get a snapshot sense of the world at that time I went to Wikipedia for some notable historical events from that decade.

    -1909: Tsar Nicholas II rules Russia, but his will be the last ruling family. The communist revolution removes him from power in the same year.

    -1909: Morse Code and telegraphy are just beginning to gain widespread use. The Nobel prize in Physics in 1909 Guglielmo Marconi and Karl Ferdinand Braun for development of telegraphy.

    -1909: “The United States Army Signal Corp Division purchases the world’s first military airplane”

    -1908: Geiger counter is invented by Hans Geiger

    -1906: Sound radio broadcasting developed

    -1905: Albert Einstein publishes a paper that would be the foundation of general relativity.

    -1905: France and Great Britain sign the Entente Cordiale, marking the end of nearly 1000 years of intermittent hostility between the two nations.

    1903 – Ford Motor Company produces its first car — the Ford Model A.

    -1901: Thomas Edison establishes the Edison Storage Battery Company to develop and manufacture the newly invented nickel-alkaline battery.

    -1901: The first successful radio receiver is developed by Guglielmo Marconi.

    -1900: The first zeppelin flight occurs in Germany

    So there you have it, in a nutshell. Forster lived in a time when huge leaps were being made. Steam power had been in use for decades, electricity, radio communication, and flight were being made more practical every year. The anvil and forge had given way to mass production, the horse and carriage to the motorcar, Newtonian physics was being superseded by quantum physics. This type of upheaval is hard to imagine, but the impact on Forster must have been significant.

    • Jill Belli

      Thanks Matt for pointing out the reliance on technology (we’re going to talk more about “technological determinism” today in class) and the historical context in which Forster was writing. It’s really helpful to keep that in perspective.

      (just a friendly reminder that when you bring in outside sources–such as all of the historical dates/facts listed here–you should cite them appropriately, and include a link back to the material if it is online, so that interested readers can consult the original source)

  7. Jovan

    Hey! An idea that I actually wrote while reading “The Machine Stops” was, how much free will does the society have? Kuno tell Vishtu, ” It’s hum penetrates our blood, and may even guide our thoughts.” During the course of the story everyone seemed to be in a euphoric state in which they praised the machine, but finally, when the machine stopped as well as the humming that traveled through their blood, everyone finally decided to evacuate. Could it just have been a panicked society trying to escape? or was Kuno rite and the vibrations were controlling the thoughts and actions of the people within the ground apartments?

    • Johnny

      I think they are completely free, they willingly incarcerate themselves.

      The hum is just one of the “sins against the body… and those five portals…” (p. 25) They listen to sterilized music sanctioned by the Machine. Their food is a pale imitation of the real thing, but to “something good enough had long since been accepted…” (p. 3) They neglect their muscles and refuse to touch one another. Even the screens they used to see one another is intentionally blurry, “the Machine did not transmit the nuances of expression.” (p. 3) Smell is all together absent. When Vashti enters the air ship, she notes “…it did smell, and with her eyes shut she should have known that that a new thing was close to her.” (p. 7)

      The Machine provides ways for them to numb themselves and they gladly take these opiates.

    • Daniel Mayorga

      I believe that the people within this society are free to do whatever they please, but they must receive a permit for certain occasions. For instance, on page 11, Vashti mentions, “Except through the vomitories, for which one must have an Egression-permit, it is impossible to get out.” So before they do anything that involves leaving the machine, such as visiting the surface of the earth, they must inform the machine and receive a permit.

      In response to the vibrations controlling their thoughts and actions, I think that these vibrations or hums are more like indications that the machine is still functioning. People within this society are able to apprehend this, thus they allow these hums to influence their lives. A case in point would be when Vashti finally stopped hearing the hums when the machine began to collapse. On page 23, Forster wrote, “She had never known silence, and the coming of it nearly killed her – it did kill many thousands of people outright. Ever since her birth she had been surrounded by the steady hum.”

    • Jill Belli

      Thanks Jovan for raising this key question about free will in the story (and a friendly reminder to cite your quotes!). It does seem like, at times, humans and technology (the Machine) merge, almost becoming a sort of “cyborg”) more on that term today in class!), and it’s hard to separate them out. The human beings definitely have internalized the Machine (the “hum” that you mention), something which becomes tragically apparent towards the end of the story when it stops and “silence” (as Daniel mentions) takes over and destroys many people (23). Kuno also notices this “silence” (and breaks free from the grips of the Machine) when he first goes up to the surface of the Earth (in the excerpt, on p. 13, that Jovan provides).

  8. Johnny

    I was at outdoors reading the story at work. I realized it was slightly ironic to be reading a story about neglecting your senses on such a lovely day. So I took a small break and meandered about.
    The final page of the story has the characters reaching a catharsis, seeing what is truly important. During our group discussion, we wondered what makes a person? On page 25, Foster writes “The sin against the body – it was for that they wept in chief; the centuries of wrong against the muscles and the nerves, and those five portals by which we can alone apprehend…” If someone doesn’t challenge the limits of their mind and body, arguably they do not know themselves very well. A person devoid of experiences allows their mind and body to atrophy.

    • Ruben De La Cruz

      To add on I think the people of this story forget that the mind is part of the body and because of that they became such weak and strange humans, at least by our standards.

    • Jill Belli

      Johnny, the ways that everyone relies on “mediation” (through the Machine) and not direct sensory perception is definitely a big recurring theme in this story. We’re going to talk a lot more about mediation (through technology) in class today …

  9. Rino

    The thing that got me confused the most in the short story were the “voices” that Kuno was hearing when he made his way out of The Machine. Who’s voices were they? Like in this quote when Kuno took a leap of faith:

    “Then the voice said: ‘Jump. It is worth it. There may be a handle in the centre, and you may catch hold of it and so come to us your own way. And if there is no handle, so that you may fall and are dashed to pieces — it is still worth it: you will still come to us your own way.’ So I jumped.”

    I looked back in the story and felt like I was missing something with the voices; if I recall, even Vashti hears the voices near the end of the story, which led me to believe that the voices are symbols of their conscience telling them what to do. The Machine’s hum is what prevents people from hearing their conscience, which is why Kuno started hearing the “voices” when he was getting away from the humming. But that’s my take on it, and even then I’m not confident in that answer.

    • Jill Belli

      Rino, good question. What do others think about these mysterious “voices” and also about the people who live up on the surface of the Earth)?

      [also, friendly reminder to cite your quotes!]

  10. Ghasan shahbain

    ” air-ship only takes two days ”

    The machine I imagine in my head like a big ship with drivers and etc. But in the story it brought up the size of the machine and the way how it looks. How big is a machine that it takes 2 days for an air ship to pass from one point to another and that’s not even the whole size of the machine.

    • Jovan

      As i read this story i also wondered how taking two days from destination A to destination B could possibly have to word “only” in between. Today we can fly to the other side of the world in about 13 hours, to take to days is astonishing. Also a thought i had about this was that this extraordinary adventure was not very detailed. If i was on a flight for two days especially with a personality like Vishtu, i would be very irritated, which makes me believe that perhaps there since of time is different from ours.

  11. Shiaja Simeon

    I feel like I really interested in the relationship between Frederick and Rodwang. I really wanted to know their exact history but you can infer that they loved the same woman but in the end Frederick had her son and was her husband. You can see the intense nature of it all because it causes Rodwang to try and ruin a city to get even. This is an example of emotional and personal issues causing people to use technology to harm innocent people in order to get even.

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