The inspiration behind The Adding Machine appears to have come from a 1915 visit Elmer Rice made to the Ford Motor Company plant in Detroit. “As I watched the cars moving along the belt,” he recalls in his autobiography, “each worker performing the same operation over and over, the whole process struck me as inhuman and demoralizing.” The form that the work took, however, came to Rice as almost a mystical illumination. He related, “Suddenly, as though a switch had been turned or a curtain raised, a new play flashed into my mind. . . . I mean that quite literally, for in that sudden instant I saw the whole thing complete: characters, plot, incidents, even the title and some of the dialogue.”
Rice was, and would remain throughout his life, a strongly reform-oriented writer, dedicated to the improvement of humankind through the depiction and exposure of social and economic ills. He was converted to socialism as a teenager, largely through his reading. He was most influenced by utopian visionaries William Morris, Edward Bellamy, and H. G. Wells, along with such contemporary dramatists and novelists as George Bernard Shaw, Émile Zola, and Henrik Ibsen. The message that he drew from their works was that the existing order of things is deeply flawed, and he was therefore drawn to “the concept of a human community based upon the principles of truth and justice.”
The crux of Rice’s personal credo was his belief in the...
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