The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster is a short story that illustrates a dystopian society that is solely controlled by a manmade machine that is worshipped like a god. In this society, because the machine is seen as a god, everyone views it as life because it does everything for its inhabitants. From regulating the underground air, altering the floors when something falls, letting people control when it is night and day, to simply taking away human interaction –the machine is life. However, in the end, the machine proves to be catastrophic and it falls apart while taking the lives of everyone in it.
E.M. Forster does a great job at showing how advanced technology can end up turning into a complete nightmare. The society illustrated is a dystopia because while the inhabitants think that there is nothing wrong with the machine; they are blinded to the dehumanization and isolation that the machine is creating. For example, the machine comes with a Book that is worshipped like it is a religious text. It has all the rules of the machine inside of it and it explains what each button in the machine does. This takes away anyone’s effort to move and do things for themselves which in turn, creates a very routine and inactive life. While reading this, I thought about “Works and Days” by Hesiod where Prometheus deceived Zeus by stealing fire from him and giving it to mankind. However, Zeus did not want people to have fire because they would not want to work. In this short story, the machine figuratively gave its’ inhabitants that “fire” that is described in “Works and Days.” This can be seen as dehumanization because basic human abilities are compromised because the machine is idolized and makes it possible for people to just sit back and have things done for them.
Isolation is another key component of the machine because it deprives people of interaction amongst one another. In our world, this can be seen as dehumanization because people are stuck in a room that the machine gives and interacts with it as opposed to actual humans. For example, when the protagonist Vashti gets a call from her son, instead of being able to see him in person, she gets to decide if she wants to isolate herself to talk to him through a monitor, or if she wants to continue on with her life in her room. This shows the control and dehumanization that the machine creates because people are hesitant to socialize with one another, even if it is through a screen. The only way that people can meet face to face is if they put a request in to have a special aircraft take them to see whoever they want; however, this rarely happens. Everyone is so closed off from each other and they are blinded to the fact that it is taking away a basic human right and ability. The machine even takes away a woman’s right to have a baby and raise it. Women can become pregnant, but it is fixed and when she has the baby, she has to give it up so it can be raised by the machine: Parents, duties of,” said the book of the Machine,”cease at the moment of birth (6). However, this is a norm for people within the machine and they never dare to question it.
Everyone is so dependent on the machine that they even forget that humans created it. Even when Kuno, Vashti’s son mentions her dependency on the machine, she gets defensive and tries to deny the obvious. This is also due to the fact that people are afraid to talk bad about the machine because it could take their life away. Kuno even tells his mother that, “We created the Machine, to do our will, but we cannot make it do out 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 out bodies and our wills, and now it compels us to worship it” (15). This statement illustrates just how much control the machine has over everyone but yet, they refuse to accept it.
Overall, this short story was very enticing because it illustrated what could happen if technology took over. It also connected with the themes of many dystopian literatures because it has technological control which took away power of the people. People were also unaware what was actually going on and only one character was curious and found out the truth. Through dehumanization and isolation, the machine turned its’ inhabitants into robots because it was the very thing that gave them life and in the end, took it away.