i'm just a literary tease, my reputation's on its knees.

EL150 Oral Presentation

April 28, 2005


A Diamond Machine:
Literature As Technology As Seen Through E.M. Forster's "The Machine Stops" and Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age

Thesis Statement

Although both E. M. Forster's "The Machine Stops" and Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age present technologically-infused dystopian societies, Stephenson's work presents a more sophisicated worldview influenced by current trends in technology as illustrated via the treatment of each main character's book. An examination of the physical traits, the reasonings behind the creation, and the characters' emotional reactions to and treatments of each book reveals a more fluid and flexible concept of technology presented in The Diamond Age, one that takes into account human fallibility, religious impulses, and subversive instincts.


As illustrated throughout this paper via discussion of both the Young Lady's Illustrated Primer and the Book of the Machine, one can see how Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age illustrates the possibility of redemption. Nell's Primer presents a flexible and fluid method of applying technology to daily life that far exceeds the necessarily limited scope of Foster's "The Machine Stops." While both societies were essentially demolished by the end of the book, the end of The Diamond Age suggests potential rebirth.

Primary Source Quotation

Although this book does not provide Vashti with any clues to the truth of her existence (though it may have, had she chosen to so examine its contents), the Book is revered: "Sitting up in the bed, she took it reverently in her hands. She galnces round the glowing room as if some one might be watching her. Then, half-ashamed, half joyful, she murmured, 'O Machine!' and raised the volume to her lips (Forster).

Secondary Source Quotation

No longer would the great god come down from the sky to destroy humanity -- instead technology would prove to be our downfall. Human beings have always demonstrated an "unquenchable ... need for ethical values" (Caporaletti 406), and in the beginning of the 20th century, as a "general ethical bewilderment" pervaded humanity's sense as a result of the "disappearance of divine authority" and the scientific predictions of "ultimate universal annihilation" (Caporaletti 406), never before had humanity been so desperate for an answer to the all-consuming question "What is the meaning of life?", the answer to which would surely "redeem human existence" (Caporletti 407). Never, that is, until now.

Opposing Argument

Although some critics might argue that Nell's Primer has in fact replaced her religious impulse and caused her to serve merely as the peon of an higher power's desires for mankind as Hayles implies when she says, "It remains a mystery why Nell's Primer would educate her to be a self-reliant individual, whereas the Chinese girls are indoctrinated to from the massive Mouse Army..." (137), the truth is that the Primer has served as an enabling device in her life, allowing her to become and create herself. When the program is changed in order to educate the Chinese youth, the enabling effect is gone.

(edited 4/29 @ 10:39 a.m.)

Moira at 05:13 PM :: Comments (3) :: ::

What do you mean by "more technologicaly advanced"? Is technological advancement good, bad, or neutral? Stephenson's society is still capable of building, while Forster's is decadent (both in the figurative and literal sense of "decay").

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at April 29, 2005 09:29 AM

Good point and I took that into consideration when I just updated my thesis statement. Hopefully that idea is more clear... Thanks!

Posted by: moira at April 29, 2005 10:37 AM

Ah, yes, I see your changes. Yes, that helps. Good job.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at April 29, 2005 01:26 PM
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