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illustration by Jessica Del Greco Literary Examples of Man's Fear of Machine
by Amber Locke

    Machines have been used for the last three hundred years to provide man with needed functions.  Man is the designer of these machines and creates more and more inventions as time goes on.  Early man started this thought process when he designed his simple tools, continuing on through modern times with more complex tools.  This industrial growth has given birth to new machines that can hear, see, and touch with greater accuracy and precision than humans (Toffler, 42).  As mankind enters this age of industrial growth, questions arise about whether these machines are completely beneficial, and without negative consequences.  "Will machines take over?  Can intelligent machines, especially as they are linked together in intercommunicating networks, outrun our ability to understand and control them?" (Toffler, 187)  Machines can be very powerful things.  For example, they can create their own languages, compose music, memorize patterns and laws, and even create other machines that humans haven't even contemplated inventing (Calder, 9).  Will the power of machines eventually result in a society that lacks self-reliance, uniqueness, and intelligence because we are manipulated and dependent on machines?  Will society no longer have the ability to be able to face crises and life without machines?  Throughout history, man has been stressing this concern in many forms, including books, articles, movies, plays, and lectures.  The authors Ray Bradbury, E.M.  Forster, and George Orwell use writing as a way to express a fear of machines and their potential to destroy society and its inhabitants.

    Ray Bradbury is an American author who has written more than five hundred published works since 1940.  These written works address the themes of racism, censorship, technology, nuclear war, humanistic values and the importance of imagination.  Ray Bradbury's short stories "The Flying Machine" and "The Murderer" in Classic Stories 1 show man's fear of machines and how these machines influence the lives of his characters.  The author also expresses in his book Fahrenheit 451 how machines can replace knowledge.

    Ray Bradbury's short story "The Flying Machine" is about an Emperor from China in the year A.D.  400.  The action of the story takes place when the Emperor discovers a man has invented a flying machine resembling a beautiful bird.  The Emperor demands that the man be put to death because he fears the man's machine. He fears this machine will make him lose all that is beautiful around him if he agrees to accept the beauty of something new.  he knows that others will want to start to invent things and that these inventions may not cause beauty as the flying machine, but evil.  His last fear is that man will develop a more advanced flying machine and decide to destroy the Great Wall of China.  The Emperor seems to suggest that man should use his inventive talents in making things that will not cause any harm.  he feels that some inventions should be suppressed to avoid future danger.

    Here is a man who has made a certain machine, said the Emperor,
    And yet asks us what he has created.  He does not know himself.
    It is only necessary that he create, without knowing why he has done so,
    Or what this thing will do.  (Bradbury, 50)

    Ray Bradbury's story 'The Murderer" takes place in the future where there's an even greater number of machines and technology in a person's life.  Bradbury writes about a man, the Murderer, who is in jail and charged with killing all the machines used in his daily life.  In the story, the Murderer is telling the psychiatrist why her committed these crimes.  Bradbury's character sees how machines control every aspect of his life and the people around him.  Because of these revelations, the Murderer eventually resolves to destroy all of the machines he has been forced to use.  The Murderer continues on his crusade by entering a bus full of machine loving passengers.  The Murderer is arrested when he disturbs their patterns and turns on a portable diathermy machine.  This machine disrupts the pleasant noise of the passengers, filling the bus with static.  he is released after his arrest, but he continues to destroy all the machines in his house, resulting in his second arrest.

    It was all so enchanting at first.  The very idea of these things, the practical uses,
    was wonderful.  They were almost toys, to be played with, but the people got too
    involved, went too far, and got wrapped up in a pattern of social behavior and
    couldn't get out, couldn't admit they were in, even.  So they rationalized their
    nerves as something else.  'Our modern age,' they said.  (Bradbury 59-60)

The murderer is placed in a private cell, alone to sit in silence for six months.  His society considered the silence a punishment, while he considered it a joy.  The story "The Murderer" illustrates how one can come to fear machines and the power they have on a society and the people in it.

    Ray Bradbury writes in his novel Fahrenheit 451 about his fear of a society where books burn and disappear, while being replaced by machines.  In Bradbury's story, the government will not allow anyone to possess a book, claiming the knowledge and people in them are not real and the events did not happen.  In actuality, though, the government removes these books, so the people will not have the ability to question them and think independently.  Consequently, the books that are found are burnt and destroyed.  The knowledge lost from these books is replaced with mindless technology and machines.  For example, televisions completely cover walls.  Cars move so fast that even billboards that are miles long are difficult to read.  The main character starts to feel like one of the machines.  "He felt he was one of the creatures electronically inserted between the slots of the phono-color walls..." (Bradbury, 46).  Ray Bradbury uses his imaginative science fiction stories to combine social criticism with an awareness of the hazards of runaway technology.  The author fears machines because he sees the perpetual danger they could cause if a society becomes too dependent on them.  To express this fear, the author wrote many of his earlier books on the topic, hoping to make people think and avoid such catastrophes.

    Like Ray Bradbury, the British author Edward Morgan Foster expresses his fear of machines by writing the short story "The Machine Stops" in 1909.  Edward Morgan Forster uses this story to express a fear that society may reach the point where the people begin to lack social interaction, because they are consumed by technology and machines (1-20).  Forster is an interesting author because he is predicting and writing about the consequences of technology even before most of it has been invented.  "...Forster has an unusual grasp of how technological advance promised to change social interaction - often for the worst" (Perkowitz, 1).  In Forster's short story "The Machine Stops" the characters are faced with the task of relying on a machine for survival.  The story is set in the far future when humans have deserted the Earth's surface for a life of isolation and immobility.  People live in subterranean hexagonal cells where needs are completely met by the machine.  Mankind relies on this machine for food, communication, shelter, and medical care.  People seldom leave their cells, and they communicate through a global web system run by the machine.  In fact, the majority of people have never stepped out of their cells and, therefore, have never seen another of their kind.  The people accept this isolation because they are able to talk on telephone-like things, which carry sounds to them or large numbers of people at once.  "'The Machine,' they exclaimed, 'feeds us and clothes us and houses us; through it we speak to one another, through it we see one another, in it we have our being'" (Forster, 15).

    The climax of the story is when the machine begins to fall apart and die.  The machine begins to fail when it can no longer supply the people with food, air, knowledge, and life.  When the machine's destruction is complete, many people die because they are unsuccessful in reaching the Earth's surface.  The people die, having never had human contact except through the machine's devices.

    We created the Machine to do our will, but we cannot make it do our will now.
    It has robbed us of our sense of space and 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, and now it compels us to worship it.  The Machine
    develops- but not our lies (Forster, 12).

    The only optimistic part of the story is the conviction that the few survivors who have reached the Earth's surface will somehow develop a society that is not run by machines.

    George Orwell was another British author who expressed a fear of machines.  He wrote the book 1984 as a way to describe to describe a world in which an all-powerful ruling party watches every move its subjects make (Olson, 33).  George Orwell's book 1984 takes place in a grim city in a terrifying country, where Big Brother is always watching individuals, and the thought police can almost read minds.  In this book, Orwell shows a fear of an all-controlling totalitarian form of government in which control is set by the presence of machines that watch and manipulate the people.  For example, there are telescreens in each room which show propaganda and political pamphlets, and built-in cameras and microphones, in order to watch and hear the people (Orwell / 1984.htm 2).

    The people of this society are unable to escape from the watchful eye of Big Brother.  These telescreens are present for every aspect of a person's life, at home and work.  These machines are not only used to watch people, but also to manipulate their thinking by a thing called Doublethink.  "Generally one could say that Doublethink makes people accept contradictions, and it makes them believe that the Party is the only institution that distinguishes between right and wrong" (Orwell / 1983.htm 10).  George Orwell's view of man in this book is that he will have total acceptance of the domination of machines.  The main character fought machines, but in the end he accepted them.  "He had won the victory over himself.  He loved Big Brother." (Orwell, 245).

    George Orwell's 1984 is an expression of mood, and it is a warning.  The mood it
    expresses is that of near despair about the future of man, and the warning is that
    unless the course of history, men all over the world will lose their most
    human qualities, will become soulless automatons, and will not ever be aware of it.
    (Fromm, 257).

    Although Bradbury, Forster, and Orwell are different in their approach, they all seam to express the fear of machines and the impact they could have on a society and its people.  The author Ray Bradbury used his stories "The Flying Machine" and "The Murderer" and his novel Fahrenheit 451 to express his concern.  "The Flying Machine" expresses a man's fear of a new machine and its potential to destroy his own life because its existence and the possibility of negative purpose.  "The Murderer" shows how a person can come to resent his society and its machines because of their lack of individuality, peace, and silence.  The book Fahrenheit 451 expresses the concern that books and knowledge will be replaced by mindless machines that manipulate instead of stimulate the mind.  In turn, the author E.M. Forster seems to suggest in his story "The Machine Stalks" that a society will develop that no longer feels the need to interact with each other because their needs are solely met by a machine.  Finally, George Orwell's 1984 was written as a way to show people the potential dangers of a society run by a totalitarian government.  Such a government is intent on manipulating and controlling its people by the use of machines.  the authors wrote these pieces of writing at a time when technology was first developing, predicting the outcomes of a society that depends on machines.  these authors are important because we continue to live in a world where technology flourishes.  These books may be correct in warning us of dire outcomes.  A machine "...can be the great Liberator of human drudgery.  but it can also be the monster of Doctor Frankenstein's genius" (Calder, 9).


Amber Locke is currently pursuing her undergraduate degree at the University of New Hampshire. Her hobbies include drama, yoga, painting, soccer, basketball, track and softball. She is also a trained massage therapist.

Email: amberlocke@hotmail.com


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