We are continuing our class discussion of “The Machine Stops” online over the coming week. The goal is to have good virtual discussion 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
- 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)
- make connections to contemporary society (a lot of you mentioned parallels to our own society/lives in your blogs)
- 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/citations) with discussion/analysis and some connection to a larger point. In you are discussing outside sources (e.g., 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 Monday, 9/10. Then go back/read through all comments and extend the conversation by making at least one more comments in response by Wednesday 9/12. Of course, more comments (and extending the conversation beyond the 12th) is always welcome, and you should make sure to return to the Class Discussion even after you made your required comments to check in, see what has been added since you posted, and continue being engaged with what’s happening.
“I dislike seeing the horrible brown earth, and the sea, and the stars when it is dark. I get no ideas in an air-ship.” (Forster, pg. 2). In this line alone I imagined being inside a spaceship looking down on the earth from the atmosphere and seeing the decayed world. And not being able to see the bright green colors of forestation, instead brown colors like mud or rust signs of decay. I wouldn’t get no ideas as well. But this line alone shows that the decay caused by civilizations before could have reached beyond earth thus Vashti disclaiming the stars. This quote also stuck with me because the tone I read it in let me know that she really meant it. I believe because she has no memories or hadn’t created memories on the actual earth. Thus showing her lack of compassion for the decayed earth. Also this alternative future to me sounds like a foreseeable future to me if we as a society continue to harm earth and continue to pursue technological advances and lack that same energy and passion towards rehabilitating our earth. Our home.
I concur with Pedro and I would also like to add that on page 3 , the 5th paragraph Kuno says ““The truth is,” he continued, “that I want to see these stars again. They are curious stars. I want to see them not from the air-ship, but from the surface of the earth, as our ancestors did, thousands of years ago” . This indicates that there was some kind of apocalyptic event that happen thousands of years ago , which has caused the earth to rot and look deformed and unclean. Thus , it has developed an negative influence on Vashti ( and any one else that is like her) to think this way about the earth and prevent her from not creating ideas. In addition , I believe Vashti is being dull having the need to of something that must be beautiful to inspire her ideas, even though she has not gone to the surface.
To add on to the discussion about the earth, I find it interesting how every city in the world appears to be no different than the last. According to the narrator in page 6, “the earth was exactly alike all over… What was the good of going to Pekin when it was just like Shrewsbury? Why return to Shrewsbury when it would all be like Pekin?” Does this mean that the world is just a complete wasteland then? Does it not contain any unique architecture? If this is true, it makes me wonder how the people from this world can remember the name of each city. I’m also curious about the reasons behind traveling to the surface world. What could a civilian gain from such a trip?
In addition to the world being a wasteland, the narrator states that “night and day, wind and storm, tide and earthquake, impeded man no longer (page 7).” After hearing these two quotes, it is not surprising to hear that the world does not give inspiration because artists rely deeply on natural events (day and night) and unique architecture for their artistic pieces. Overall, how would the world change if a colorful part of the earth was discovered? To be more specific, how would people react to seeing something they had never witnessed before?
“We created the Machine, to do our will, but we cannot make it do our will now. It has robbed us of the sense of space and of the 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, now it compels us to worship it. The Machine develops–but not on our line. The Machine proceeds–but not to our goal” (Forster 15). This quote stood out to me the most because of its complete truth. The truth is that ‘The Machine’ is making human society less human. It limits human creativity, caused human isolation and creates a decline in human activity. It is true, ‘The Machine’ has paralyzed us within our own bodies. ‘The Machine’ was created for mankind’s survival but instead, it has proven to be mankind’s downfall.
Vishal, I agree that the Machine has been the downfall of the world. To add on to what you said, it has also made humans lazy. In page 3, the narrator states that, ‘[t]here were buttons and switches everywhere — buttons to call for food for music, for clothing. There was the hot-bath button… There was the button that produced literature.” I wonder how their books are created if the Machine makes them. Literature usually requires a sentient being after all. This most likely means that their world is void of any fiction and non-fiction books, and probably only has instructional books written in a technical language.
In addition, the Machine appears to determine what music should sound like as the narrator in page 21 used the term, “imperfect music”. I’ve never heard of this before because there is no such thing as perfect music. Music is completely subjective and is not factual whatsoever. It makes me wonder what type of music the Machine deems worthy. What genre could it possibly be close to?
You wrote a sentence that stood out to me the most which was the sentence about the world is avoid of any fiction and non-fiction books. It is eminent you wrote that because it has been an on going thought in my head too for the past few weeks. I truly believe that the world is void of fiction books because the government withholds a lot of theories and conspiracies that people take time out their day to acquire answers. Until the day comes, we will never know the truth about what really goes on in this world. Will the world ever really become a setting of how the author of ‘ The Machine Stops’ portrays the living environment of Vashti’s and Kuno’s world. We still have no idea of how outside of the Earth truly looks or if life will ever be able to expand outside of this roundish place.
I agree with Vishal’s comment, however the thoughts that went through my mind was a little different. When I first read the lines quoted above, I thought that the Machine had gained a will of its own, similar to the antagonist, AUTO, in the Disney movie Wall-E. Other than the dangers that the Machine held currently, there is also a hint of another possible danger in Forster’s story. Had the technologies and machines evolved further, they could have been the new race that succeed after humans, with their multi-function apparatuses.
“The Machine Stops” brings forth a lot of complex ideas about humanity and something that I really enjoyed about the story was the evolution of religion and how at first this idea of believing in something more was though of as ridiculous but later we see how people even those who thought of religion as a savage thing full heartedly payed to the machine. “The second great development was the re-establishment of religion…hey described the strange feeling of peace that came over them when they handled the Book of the Machine”(page 19). Through these lines we are able to see that even through all the ridicule in the past people chose to believe in the machine in a higher level. It is through the reinstatement of religion that people found freedom and even though people worshipped the “Machine” freely and relatively no ridicule they still shed away from from calling it religion and listed all the ways it differed from religion. “The word “religion” was sedulously avoided, and in theory the Machine was still the creation and the implement of man.”(page 19). This idea that the past is savage is also seen through these lines, how far away from the past people distance themselves and even through all there advancements they still retreat into oblivious ignorance.
To highlight what you said about people believing religion to be ridiculous, Kuno even calls Vashti out on her devotion to the Machine and she violently responds. “At this she grew angry. ‘I worship nothing!’ she cried. ‘I am the most advanced. I don’t think you irreligious, for there is no such thing as religion left. All the fear and the superstition that existed once have been destroyed by the Machine’ (Page 11)”. It’s odd that humans were being so insistent that the Machine was not a god even though all their actions pointed towards it (such as clinging on to the Book of the Machine to give them comfort). Maybe by remembering the fact that the Machine was an “implement of man”, they thought they were still in control? But by the end we can see that the Machine was truly the one in power and humanity was practically nothing without it.
From what everyone is saying so far , the people in ” The Machine stops” created this religion where worshiping the machine is like a God. And ironically, it is said to be all powerful being , but it starts to break down and no one knows hows to fix it. It’s a sad thing that people have invest there whole life in something that does everything for them literally and don’t have contingency plan if it breaks down.
It really is ironic and sad like you said, especially since they had the Book of the Machine. In page 4 “This was the Book of the Machine. In it were instructions against every possible contingency. If she was hot or cold or dyspeptic or at a loss for a word, she went to the book, and it told her which button to press.” If it told them how to act in “every possible contingency”, was the failure of the Machine not considered a possibility? They could have at least put the schematics to the Machine in there too but instead the people all perished with a false sense of hope that the Machine would somehow fix itself and save them all.
I like how you pointed this out. “If it told them how to act in “every possible contingency’, was the failure of the Machine not considered a possibility?”. Maybe the people in charge would have never thought that Machine would have a problem. They probably thought that the Machine was perfect as is. Forster writes, “We have indeed advanced, thanks to the Machine”(pg.9). To think, that this Machine had the ability to do everything that was needed for human survival, people thought that a problem would never affect the Machine. The Machine did everything it needed to do. It gave people the easy life so to say. The Machine kept humans from being the creative, adventure-seeking, idea-thinking species we are known to be. So when the Machine began to fail, no one knew how to fix it? No one had the idea. It was the Machine that made humans less human.
“Those master brains had perished. They had left full directions, it is true, and their successors had each of them mastered a portion of those directions.” This makes me wonder where in the progressive line did the humans made this particular wrong turn of event? If the master brains are truly master brains, they should have left behind fully capable successors or disciples.