Sep 30, 2008

Short Story Not Saturday - The Machine Stops Part 2

Once again I would like to revisit "The Machine Stops" for my second part in a theoretical three part series exploring this story. You can read Part 1 here. This story was written in 1909 by E. M. Forster.

Part 2: Kuno's Story and Direct Experience
"I have been threatened with Homelessness" said Kuno.

Chapter 2: The Mending Apparatus

Chapter 1 of "The Machine Stops" was focused on the world through Vashti's eyes. Showing use the reverence she has for the machine and acceptance of their underground existence. Chapter 2 focuses on Kuno and his experience and the exploration of his hope for more out of life than sitting in a room having every desire met by a push of a button and a movement inside the Machine.

No one really knew what Homelessness was. To Vashti all she knew was, "Homelessness means death. The victim is exposed to the air, which kills him."

Her son had been threatened with death and she wanted to know why. The simple answer, the one she couldn't understand was her desire for direct experience. The world, the propaganda had brough about the vilification of the direct experience. One should not go out into the world and experience something, but simply sit in their cell, and have the Machine tell her what the world was like.

Kuno's desires of hope brought him to the surface. The surface was open to visitation when the correct paperwork was filled out, which of course Kuno did not fill. He found his own way out above the Machine.
"You think it irreligious of me to have found out a way of my own. It was just what the Committee thought, when they threatened me with Homelessness."

At this she grew angry. "I worship nothing!" she cried. "I am 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."
Yet Vashti does worship something. As much as she denies it, we the reader knows that she is worshipping the Machine. What does Vashti gain from this worship? And what does the Machine gain from the abolition of worshopping anything else?

Kuno is strong and physically restless. Like Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron" in this world the strong are punished for being so. But luckily for Kuno he is only slightly above average, otherwise he would be dead. The strong babies are killed at birth to save them from the natural discomfort they will find being confined in a single cell for the entirety of their existence.
"In the dawn of the world our weakly must be exposed on Mount Taygetus, in its twilight our strong will suffer euthanasia, that the Machine may progress, that the Machine may progress, that the Machine may progress eternally."
The thought of this is so striking and so chilling; proclaiming the success of the Machine over the success of humanity. When Kuno says, "We have lost a part of ourselves." We are not shocked, we agree. Who is running this world? With the eternal progression of the Machine as the highest thought, as the only thought. Through his direct experience of the surface, Kuno is able to connect with something. With a truth, with an understanding about the void in humanity, comparing what they once were against what currently is.

Vashti accuses Kuno of "throwing civilization away." That his observations about man will hurt humanity. But they are not spoken against the people, they are spoken against the machine. Kuno says,
"Man is the measure. That was my first lesson. Man's feet are the measure for distance, his hands are the measure for ownership, his body is the measure for all that is lovable and desirable and strong."
Chapter 2 is mostly Kuno's voice and his experience above ground and his thoughts. At first Vashti is scared for her son and the threat of his Homelessness, but by the end, she sees how different from her direct experience has made him. "She knew that he was fated. If he did not die today he would die tomorrow. There was not room for such a person in the world." He transforms from a son to a monster with individual thoughts against and contrary to the Machine. Like the Machine she just hums behind the Kuno's narrative with meaningless proclamations of propaganda.

Kuno says to her something she should reflect upon but it just passes right through Vashti. How does it effect the reader?
"Cannot you see, cannot all you lecturers see, that it is we that are dying, and that down here the only thing that really lives in the Machine? 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 of the sense of touch, it has blurred every human relation and narrowed down love to a carnal act, it has paralysed our bodies and our wills, and now it compels us to worship it."
Thanks once again to E. M. Forster for creating this wonderful story which continues to astound and overwhelm me with each revisit.

Other works by Forster:
Have you read any of his novels?

5 comments:

  1. Ah you have captured my attention. I have bookmarked the story, and will read it in its entirety. I am caught by the metaphorical relation between society and individual. I need to read it obviously to get the full feeling.

    A wonderful review, well written and easy to follow.

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  2. Another one to put on my growing lists of books I need to read now. :)

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