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In I, Robot by Isaac Asimov, in the story "Catch That Rabbit," does Powell become a...

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mmazloum | Student | (Level 3) eNoter

Posted March 18, 2012 at 12:42 AM via web

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In I, Robot by Isaac Asimov, in the story "Catch That Rabbit," does Powell become a hypocrite at the end of the story? (Use the story“Catch That Rabbit” by Isaac Asimov to explain your answer.)

Powell tells Donovan that “there is no use trying to pin disease names on [robots]” because “human disorders apply to robots only as romantic analogies” and do not help to explain dysfunctions in robotic engineering (86). Does Powell become a hypocrite at the end of the story? 

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 24, 2012 at 9:22 AM (Answer #1)

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In Asimov's "Catch That Rabbit," from his book I, Robot, I am not sure if Powell is a hypocrite, or if he just ironically personifies something "Dave" (the robot) is doing much like a human would. He does not try to specifically diagnose Dave with a human disease, but he does explain Dave's erratic behavior by comparing it with human behavior. Perhaps it is simply that working with robots who are so human-like makes Powell and Donovan respond to them as if they were human.

Powell and Donovan are trying to figure out why Dave, the DV-5, and his six appendages ("fingers" or separate, smaller robots that act on Dave's commands—connected through his positronic wiring) act crazy when they are not being watched.

The men interview Dave, but he has no idea what causes him and the other robots to act so erratically. Dave cannot recall what creates the problem—he comes out of his "trance" later, confused.

Donovan tries to understand Dave in human terms. Powell gets aggravated:

...there's no use trying to pin disease names on this. Human disorders apply to robots only as romantic analogies.

He is telling Donovan not to personify the robot. "He" is a machine, therefore human diseases attached to robots are nothing more than metaphors to describe the condition of the robot, similar to a human condition, when the robot acts the same way as a diseased person.

It is ironic, however, that immediately before Powell makes this comment, the narrator describes him:

Powell had the queasy feeling that if the robot's face were capable of expression, it would be one of pain and mortification. A robot, by its very nature, cannot bear to fail its function.

Here Powell attributes human emotions to robots. After the tests, Powell is sure Dave is experiencing "pain." He tells Dave that he should go and rest, basically advising him not to worry (a human response). Donovan accuses the robot of lying; he also notes that there is something "sinister" about Dave's dysfunction; both of these are examples of humanizing the robot's actions. And in both cases, Powell becomes very defensive of the robot.

However, at the end, when the men are trapped from a cave-in, Dave saves them both. When Powell figures out that the dysfunction has to do with Dave's inability to engage (handle) initiative in emergency situations, he tries to explain his understanding of the problem with Donovan. Powell has shot one of Dave's smaller robots to knock Dave out of his "dancing trance." Powell notes that Dave's "moronic maze" is the robot's way of "twiddling his fingers." This is also a personification of what Dave does, much different than the other robots act.

In the strictest sense, perhaps Powell is a hypocrite. However, as much as it upsets the men not to know why the robot is malfuctioning, their obvious concern for the robot's success and his well-being push Powell into describing Dave with the characteristics of a human: "twiddling" his fingers, something a person does when nervous or bored. At the same time, Powell is also treating Dave like a person in many ways (even in expressing his worry or concern) for the machine. It may also be worth noting that while some robots in the novel are referred to as "it," Powell and Donovan never speak of Dave this way, but call him by name or refer to him with personal pronouns: "his fingers," "he went off," etc. While Powell may try to maintain a separation between man and robot, he has a hard time doing it himself.

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