The Machine Stops 

by E.M. Forster

How to present a short story in 9 literary elements

  • Title
  • Publication
  • Genre
  • Structure and plot
  • Characters
  • Setting in time
  • Setting in place
  • Themes
  • Narrative techniques

Author: E.M. Forster

The title

"The Machine Stops" carries a significant meaning that foreshadows the central conflict and the ultimate outcome of the story. The title hints at the central conflict of the story. The machine, which sustains and controls every aspect of the characters' lives, represents a pivotal element in the narrative. As the story unfolds, the machine's functionality becomes increasingly unstable, leading to a breakdown that jeopardizes the characters' survival. Thus, the title "The Machine Stops" encapsulates the core conflict of the story, conveying the potential consequences and upheaval that occur when the machine's operation ceases.


 "The Machine Stops" was written in 1909, before the first world war, originally published in two volumes, the celestial omnibus in 1911 and the eternal moment in 1928 . At that time technological advancements were rapidly transforming society. It was a period marked by industrialization and an increasing reliance on machines. Forster's story stands as a prescient warning about the potential consequences of excessive technological dependence, offering a cautionary tale for both his contemporaries and future generations.


Science Fiction - The story falls within the genre of science fiction, which enables Forster to project a future world shaped by the unbridled progress of technology. It presents a dystopian vision that challenges readers to reflect on the potential drawbacks of a society dominated by machines.

Structure and Plot

"The Machine Stops" unfolds through a meticulously crafted narrative structure, consisting of three distinct parts that contribute to the story's overall tension and progression. Part 1, titled "The Airship," introduces readers to the underground world where humans reside, emphasizing their complete reliance on the machine for survival. This initial section establishes the foundation of the story, showcasing the stark dependence of the characters on the machine's provisions.

In Part 2, titled "The Mending Apparatus," the narrative intensifies as Kuno's dissenting voice emerges, challenging the machine's authority and advocating for exploration beyond its limits. Simultaneously, Vashti experiences a gradual awakening to the limitations of the machine, growing more doubtful and curious. This section serves as a turning point, preseenting the conflict between conformity and individuality.

Finally, Part 3, titled "The Homeless," marks the climax of the plot. The machine, plagued by malfunctions, begins to crumble, provoking chaos and panic among the inhabitants. As the system deteriorates, the characters face the consequences of their excessive reliance, while their world collapses around them.


The main characters in "The Machine Stops" serve as representative figures embodying different perspectives on technology. Vashti symbolizes the majority of the inhabitants who have completely embraced a life of isolation and dependency on the machine. Her initial dismissal of Kuno's ideas reflects the mindset of those who fear stepping outside the comfort zone of technological convenience. Kuno, on the other hand, represents the dissenting voice, questioning the machine's control and yearning for genuine human experiences. Through these characters, Forster explores the complexities of human response to technological advancements and the need for critical examination.

Setting in Time

"The Machine Stops" is set in the future, allowing Forster to extrapolate from his contemporary era and present a possible outcome of yet unknown technological progress. The story offers a glimpse into a time when humans have surrendered control to machines, placing their trust in the efficiency and reliability of artificial systems.

Setting in Place

The entire story unfolds within the confining walls of the underground cells where people reside. Forster's choice of setting emphasizes the isolation and detachment experienced by the characters, showing the societal consequences of an overreliance on technology. By confining the narrative to this limited space, he underscores the contrast between the sterile environment of the machine-driven world and the vibrancy of the natural world left behind.


"The Machine Stops" explores thought-provoking themes that remain relevant today. Forster's exploration of technology's influence on human connection serves as a reflection on the loss of genuine interactions and the decline of interpersonal relationships in a digital world. The story also shows the dangers of isolation and the suppression of individuality when people become enslaved to technology. Moreover, it also warns against the consequences of relying too heavily on artificial intelligence and the potential vulnerabilities that arise from such dependence.

Narrative Techniques

  1. Vivid Imagery: Forster's skillful use of language and evocative imagery allows readers to visualize the machine-driven world and its stark contrast with the natural world. For example, he vividly describes the lifeless cells inhabited by the characters and the dynamic beauty of the Earth's surface.
  2. Dialogue: Through dialogue, Forster reveals the internal struggles of the characters and provides insights into their thoughts, emotions, and conflicts. This technique adds depth to the narrative and helps explore the psychological effects of detachment from the physical realm.
  3. Introspection: Forster incorporates introspection to delve into the characters' minds, allowing readers to gain a deeper understanding of their motivations, fears, and desires. This introspective approach enhances the exploration of themes and adds complexity to the characters' development.
  4. Suspense: Forster builds suspense throughout the story, creating a sense of tension and anticipation. This technique keeps readers engaged and invested in the narrative, leading to a climactic ending: the fragility of technological systems.

"The Machine Stops" effectively utilizes these narrative techniques to captivate readers and deliver its thought-provoking messages.

LnT suggests

LnT Forster, E.M. "The Machine Stops." The Celestial Omnibus and Other Stories. Penguin Books, 1971, pp. 201-220.

LnT Booker, M. Keith. Dystopian Literature: A Theory and Research Guide. Routledge, 2016.

LnT Seed, David. Science Fiction: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2011.

LnT Roberts, Adam. Science Fiction. Routledge, 2006.

LnT Scholes, Robert, and Rabkin, Eric S. Science Fiction: History, Science, Vision. Oxford University Press, 1977.
LnT Bould, Mark, et al. The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction. Routledge, 2009.

LnT Westfahl, Gary. The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Themes, Works, and Wonders. Greenwood Press, 2005.