The Flying Machine, Ray Bradbury: Analysis & Summary

'The Flying Machine': Symbolism and Allegory

'The Flying Machine' by Ray Bradbury is a thought-provoking short story often analyzed as an allegory for nuclear proliferation during the Cold War. However, the story's symbolism extends beyond this interpretation and requires a closer analysis to fully grasp its meaning. Set in imperial China, the story revolves around an emperor who discovers a man capable of flying and subsequently orders his execution and the destruction of his invention.

Plot Summary: Power, Innovation, and Fear

The narrative takes place in the year 400 AD and introduces Emperor Yuan, who learns from his servant and a nearby farmer that a man has been seen flying in the sky. Initially unbothered, the emperor delays investigating the matter and engages in casual conversation with his servant. Eventually, he agrees to witness the flying man firsthand.

After observing the man soaring high in the sky, Yuan commands the servant to summon him and demands an explanation. The man states that he flew in the name of innovation. Unhappy with this response, the emperor orders the man's arrest and execution.

When questioned about the reason for his death, the man is shown a miniature wind-up world created by the emperor himself. Yuan argues that his miniature creation is beautiful but poses no threat to civilization, unlike the flying machine. The emperor fears that if such a device falls into the wrong hands, it could be used to attack the Great Wall of China.

As the flying man is taken away for execution, the emperor's servants proceed to burn the flying machine. Yuan instructs his servant to ensure that the witness of the flight and the farmer are both silenced, threatening them with death if they reveal what they saw.

The story concludes with Emperor Yuan admiring his miniature world and expressing admiration for the tiny birds in his toy garden.

Symbolism and Themes

'The Flying Machine' is ripe with symbolism and explores various themes, including power, innovation, and fear.

One prominent theme is the fear of the unknown and the power of innovation. Emperor Yuan represents those in power who are resistant to change and innovation, fearing the potential consequences of new discoveries. His decision to execute the inventor and destroy the flying machine reflects a desire to maintain control and prevent any potential threats to his empire.

The flying machine itself symbolizes human progress and the pursuit of knowledge and exploration. It embodies the human desire to push boundaries and reach new heights, both literally and metaphorically. However, the emperor's response highlights the dangers associated with progress, as he fears the potential misuse of such power.

Furthermore, the miniature wind-up world and toy garden crafted by the emperor symbolize his need for control and the artificial nature of his world. While the emperor takes pleasure in his miniature creation, it serves as a stark contrast to the real world and the possibilities that exist beyond his grasp.

'The Flying Machine' delves into themes of power, innovation, and fear, offering a cautionary tale about the suppression of progress and the consequences of resisting change.

Analysis: Ethical Questions and Allegory

'The Flying Machine' by Ray Bradbury, written during the early 1950s, explores complex ethical questions and serves as an allegory for the Cold War and the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union. While some of Bradbury's stories from this era, like 'The Golden Kite, the Silver Wind,' offer a more straightforward message against the pointlessness of the Cold War, 'The Flying Machine' presents a subtler exploration of morality and control.

The story raises the question of whether the Emperor, Yuan, is justified in destroying the flying machine and executing its inventor to prevent potential destruction and loss of life. As the flying machine symbolizes nuclear armaments, the allegorical implications suggest that suppressing such dangerous inventions could be seen as a necessary measure to avoid catastrophic consequences.

However, Bradbury portrays Emperor Yuan as a petty tyrant obsessed with maintaining control over his empire. Yuan's preoccupation with his miniature world, in which he has complete authority, highlights his desire for control and fear of losing his grip on power. His praise of the birds within this controlled microcosm further emphasizes his obsession with maintaining stability.

While the Emperor's concerns about the flying machine's potential for destruction are not entirely unfounded, Bradbury encourages readers to critically examine the relationship between technology and morality. The story raises important ethical questions without providing clear-cut answers. It prompts us to consider the balance between innovation and the risks associated with new inventions.

Additionally, the argument that sacrificing one life can save the lives of many, as presented by the Emperor, echoes the justification used in wartime situations. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II, often discussed in this context, illustrate the complexities of weighing human lives against larger-scale consequences.

Overall, 'The Flying Machine' invites readers to contemplate the moral implications of technological advancements and the actions taken to maintain control. It serves as a thought-provoking allegory, urging us to grapple with difficult ethical questions rather than providing straightforward moral answers.

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