E.M. Forster has brilliantly carved out a world from his imagination onto paper with ‘The Machine Stops’. The setting takes place underground our planet which I find so interesting because I immediately thought of the ant colony mentality, where no one really stands out and all serve a singular purpose; to protect the queen. The Machine being the queen in this story, humankind lives to serve it while the Machine attends to all their needs such as sleep, food, information and communication among its nearly infinite functions. Values in this society are knowledge and spiritual growth. But I ponder, is it objective knowledge or knowledge that is allowed by the Committee? The progress of society slowed to a crawl when the machine was built. Everyone may have had equality since everything in their environment is identical. The rooms, the airships, vehicles summoned at their convenience and even the same arm chairs. This builds upon the expanse in personal communication that humans already lack from being in individual chambers. They may have voice access and hologram like communication, but to even speak to someone else in person was taboo. The human element of faith, physical prowess, and love are all conspicuously absent from this advanced society. Babies determined to be physically strong were killed. This infanticide was defended by the notion that it would have only been a life of misery for able bodied people. It was necessary for the survival of humankind and the progress of The Machine. It almost seems like dissent is frowned upon in the future as well.
While religion no longer existed in this time, their god was a humming mechanical labyrinth molded into the inner surface of the planet. Their bible is a guide on which function the machine can perform to facilitate everyday life. In all, humanity has advanced to the point to where all they need to do is lift a finger. Love is obsolete in a sense here. Vashti, one of the characters in the story, becomes teary eyed when she hears Kuno talk of his experience above on the surface. She remember when he was a baby and she taught him the Machine’s functions and how to press buttons. Those were her cherished memories of him. To her, that’s what love meant; teaching her son about the Machine which has been a part of her entire life.
After Kuno is banned into homelessness and some years pass since their visit. When the Machine stops working, Vashti and the rest of the colony panic. When our comfortable reality is shattered, panic usually ensues when we see the truth. The truth being unable to fend for themselves or even stand after generations of dependency on the Machine and social engineering by the Committee. I especially enjoyed the ending because it gave them one last moment to be truly experience human feelings. They stared at a beautiful piece of the sky as they joined the many who perished, hopefully in the sacrifice of humankind getting on its feet again.