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Welcome to the Machine

March 30, 2014
I have written this little story, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I understand what its meaning is. ( I wonder if that’s a common occurrence with writers?) Maybe you can help me work out its meaning? 


                                 Welcome to the Machine

A young man, in the full flower of his youth, comes across very lengthy, complicated and intricate instructions on how to construct an apparatus of some kind. He becomes intrigued and then obsessed by these instructions and devotes all of his hours to the building of this machine, of whose function and purpose he is completely ignorant and wants desperately to find out.

Years go by, as he painstakingly follows each step of the seemingly endless instructions, but he is not concerned at all by the passing of time, so dedicated is he to his task. And in any case, he is convinced that once the machine is completed, all of the work and the time he had spent on it will be retrospectively justified and his actions will gain the meaning that they presently lack.

And so, decades after beginning the construction, the last component is ready to be put into its place. All that is needed to do is to fasten it with the last bolt and the apparatus will be complete. As he is doing so, he realises he has become an old man and that he is now living out the final moments of his life. As his vision grows dim, he sees for the very first time that the apparatus he has spent all of his life building is a coffin and that nothing remains for him to do but to place himself in it for all eternity.


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  1. Hi Boris! And Happy Easter!

    Funny that you’re asking “others” for the meaning of “your” work! You wrote it without knowing why, just as your character built his machine without knowing why. Notwithstanding, I suggest that writers usually have a fair idea of what their creations mean (there is likely to be a message of some sort behind the story), although readers inevitably find or interpret meanings of their own that the writer hadn’t contemplated.

    I see two things here. First is a reminder about the wisest approach to work. Most of us work because we have to. We see it as a means to an end; a way to obtain something or get somewhere else. This is an unhealthy approach since it pulls us away from presence. Krishna says it best: “Renounce the fruit of your works – let your work be its own reward.” Which your character largely did. Throughout his life, he was interested, involved, intrigued, passionate even, and “not concerned at all by the passing of time” – no bad state. And (assuming his food, shelter and clothing were taken care of) he had something to do. If not skilfully constructing his machine, what else would he have done? It probably doesn’t matter.

    Second, and through the revelation of the coffin, is the idea that life could be pointless: all we’re doing is waiting for death. Life seems a little like making a puzzle. You open it up and put all the pieces together; then when you’re done, you demolish it, put it all back in the box and wonder why you constructed it in the first place. This, however, is not a question for your character! His work has turned out to be exceedingly practical. He has built a home for his dead body. A coffin, happily, was the only thing he could take to his grave.

    • Thank you Slayer for sharing your thoughts and insights into this story. It’s interesting that each reader has their own interpretation of this parable – it’s as if this story has inexhaustible number of meanings. I myself have written a couple of pages’ worth of thoughts about and interrpetations of it. ( I can share them with you if you like. One of my observations was similar to what you mention in the second sentence of your comment.)

  2. Seems you found out the meaning when your character did. We all need a coffn in the end.

    • tha’ts one of the meanings of the parable Sharon, but it has many more too.

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