Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1552
In R.U.R., Karel Capek comes very close to echoing the ideas first explored by Mary Shelley a hundred years earlier in Frankenstein (1818). Like Shelley, Capek is also asking man to consider the ramifications of science. It is not simply whether man can achieve something through technology, but whether he should that interested Shelley. It is the question with which Capek struggled as well. The creature that Victor Frankenstein builds is meant to prove that its creator can supplant God, that God has become redundant. The creature is bigger than man, and illustrates Frankenstein’s belief that he can create a man who is superior to that which God has created. Old Rossum has a similar goal. His robots are tireless workers, demanding little, but with the capacity to be stronger and faster, more efficient than the model created by God. But as both authors prove, creation is not without responsibility.
Even before Dr. Gall humanizes the robots, there were problems that signaled the failure of Rossum’s creation. The robots appeared to be prone to suffering some sort of breakdown, which the plant has labeled ‘‘robot cramp.’’ There is no acknowledged awareness that this may prove serious, and in fact, the breakdowns are dismissed as insignificant. Rossum has created something that appears human, feels human, and sounds human, but he stops short of creating humanity. However, on the surface, his creations seem to prove that man can conquer science. Rossum apparently never considR ers the potential for misuse, nor does he foresee that in the future man might modify his creation and create a new kind of robot. Greed motivates massproduction of the robots and their sale to any outlet with enough money. The goal of creating a labor saving substitute for man leads to the creation of quasi-men with orders to kill. And still, those who manufacture this new weapon accept no responsibility for its use. But the real creator of the robots is Dr. Gall who, through love, is motivated to create robots with souls. It never occurs to either Dr. Gall or Helena that they are creating life and that when life is created, someone has to assume responsibility for assimilating that life into society. It is the point that Old Rossum missed as well.
In a similar fashion, Victor Frankenstein misses that point when he creates his creature. He envisions himself as a replacement for God, as with his creation of a life, that God has been rendered unnecessary. As the robot’s creators will learn a hundred years later, a new creation needs someone to acculturate this new life into the world. Frankenstein’s creature is abandoned to find his own way, and left alone, he finds that murder is the only way to force his creator into assuming a responsible role. Of course even murder does not shock Victor, who escapes into fainting spells, illness, and sleep, rather than face what he has created. Of course, none of the plant managers at Rossum’s Universal Robots feign illness when the first reports begin to surface of the robots’ murderous spree; instead they continue to mass-produce their robots and accept orders and collect money. Still, they recognize the danger as they plot their escape on a waiting gun ship. Even as the robots besiege their last refuge, Busman escapes into his accounts, and the managers and scientists escape into a celebration of Helena’s ten years on the island. None of the robot’s creators appears willing to deal with the tragedy that is unfolding, and none will take responsibility to end it. Even when it has become clear that they may be the last of the humans to exist in the world, their only thought is to their own personal survival.
Frankenstein’s creature is different from the robots in that he does not appear ordinary. He is human, but not human...
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