One element that occurs in distinct fashion in R.U.R. is the question of the robot’s soul. Harry Domin and Helena Glory are portrayed as having a serious difference of opinion about this question. Domin insists that the lack of a soul is the fundamental dividing line between robots and people. Helena, however, suspects that the robots are developing souls, if they do not already have them. Later, she will confess to having instigated a plot to provide them with souls.
Domin’s focus is on practicality, as he is dedicated to creating working machines that are cheap and efficient. Helena believes that honesty and industriousness would be more important qualities, but Domin insists on the primacy of the bottom line. He is not troubled by ideas of exploitation precisely because the robots are not alive, much less human. In act I, Helena is not convinced by Domin’s dogmatic stance.
DOMIN: My dear Miss Glory, the Robots are not people. Mechanically they are more perfect than we are, they have an enormously developed intelligence, but they have no soul.
HELENA: How do you know they have no soul?
Much later, in act III, after the robots have rebelled and attacked the humans, the remaining officials at the factory try to figure out why this occurred. Dr. Gall admits that he altered their composition.
DR. GALL. I did it in secret. I was transforming them into human beings. In certain respects they’re already above us. They’re stronger than we are…. They’ve ceased to be machines. They’re already aware of their superiority, and they hate us as they hate everything human.
When the others express their fury, he claims that the change was his idea and that he conducted the experiment solely for his own satisfaction. Helena defends him and confesses her role in these developments.
HELENA. No. He did it because I wanted it. Tell them, Doctor Gall—how many years ago did I ask you to—?
DR. GALL. I did it on my own responsibility.
HELENA. Don’t believe him. I asked him to give the Robots souls…. I thought that if they were more like us they would understand us better. That they couldn’t hate us if they were only a little more human.
DOMIN. Nobody can hate man more than man.