The Machine Stops

Forster, E. M. (Edward Morgan)

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Kohn, Martin
  • Date of entry: Dec-17-1996


In this story, Earth's inhabitants have moved below terra firma where their every need is met and every act controlled by "the machine." A young rebel protesting against the loss of authenticity and the reverence for abstraction seeks to communicate with his mother about his need to go to the surface of the earth. This act of direct experience terrifies his mother who is sure that her son will be sentenced to "homelessness." The son does experience the beauty of the earth and returns to prophesize the end of the machine and the "civilization" it created.


One of several "fantasies" written by Forster prior to World War I, "The Machine Stops" was written as "a counterblast to one of the heavens of H.G.Wells" (from the preface to the collection). Forster's prescient notions include cinemataphoes (machines which project visual images) and the ability for instantaneous simultaneous correspondence with multiple persons (E-mail!). This story works at a macro level in terms of our world's increasing dependence on technology, but even more effectively at a micro level in terms of the hospital environment and its tendency to smother physicians in training.

Primary Source

The Collected Tales of E. M. Forster



Place Published

New York