In “The Machine Stops”, E.M. Forster argues that when humanity allows itself to be completely overtaken by a larger than life concept, people have a tendency to lose sight of who they are as well as what makes them happy. She proves this through the oppressive lifestyle these ground-dwellers are brainwashed into accepting, as well as the way they venerate their insentient, man-made machine.
The “larger than life” concept in this case happens to be the widespread acceptance and reverence these people have for the man-made appliance known as “the Machine”. With overwhelming faith and support from the underground population, the piece of technology quickly grows to the level of a deity or idol for these people. They are even afraid to anger it, not only because The Committee of the Machine might inflict punishment if they did, but also they feel “The Machine” possesses supernatural powers and do not want to upset it.
The lives of the pod people are very orderly. The way in which every day comes and goes is as structured and monotonous as a factory worker’s job on an assembly line. This is brought to light when Forster gives us an overview of what a typical day in the life of Vishta is like: “She made the room dark and slept; she awoke and made the room light; she ate and exchanged ideas with her friends, listened to music and attended lectures; she made the room dark and slept” (Forster 5). She does the same things, day after day, because she has no concept of what else is out there. Her living in a small, hexagonal bubble limits her to experience what might be on the outside. She is unable to appreciate offer her until she experiences what life on earth with real human contact with someone she loves is truly like.
The major theme of the story is “ideas”, however Vishta has been brainwashed into thinking that having an idea outside the teachings of the underground world is an inconceivable notion and should be discouraged at all costs. This is seen when she asks to “cover the window” on the air-ship because “the mountains give [her] no ideas”, and instead would go on to fraternize about the machine with other passengers (9). The fact that she, as well as the rest of the passengers on board show far more interest in sharing ideas about how they have advanced “thanks to the Machine!” is very telling, and shows the reader their limited ability to think for themselves (8). This thinking that everything else lacks importance in relation to “the Machine” limits these people from ever being able to regain the understanding of who they are and what makes them happy – if they ever had the ability to develop an understanding of who they are, that is. The struggle to develop a sense of self is made even more difficult by the constant threat of “Homelessness” – the system’s way of squashing any attempt of individuality and new ideas that were considered “too radical”.
It is very easy for society to become indoctrinated in something that may seem “larger than life”. This is seen on many levels today, be it getting involved in a religious or political group, or even helping out at a local rec center. Things get scary, though, when something completely takes over the lives of one, and especially a group of people. It is seen here as these pod people from the future develop a strange fascination and obsession with this computer that they created. Forster wants the reader to see that while it can be good to allow oneself to get involved in group activities from time to time, it is important to not allow them to overtake them – because all that results is the loss of who they once were.