The Flying Machine by Ray Bradbury
In The Flying Machine by Ray Bradbury we have the theme of fear, conflict, control, change, selfishness and paralysis. Taken from his The Golden Apples of the Sun and Other Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Bradbury may be exploring the theme of fear. Yuan does not believe that the flying machine or its inventor are a good thing. He sees the possibility for evil should someone else create something similar to the flying machine. It is as though Yuan is afraid of the flying machine and the inventor’s abilities. This may be important as it is possible that Yuan is trying to control his environment. Rather than seeing the possibilities that might come with the flying machine Yuan instead kills the inventor and warns the servant and the farmer not to discuss what they have seen. If anything Yuan is attempting to completely control the world around him due to his fears. Which may be the point that Bradbury is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that for some people technology particularly new technology is something to be feared as mankind through his nature will only end up using new technology to control others. Through means of war or at least this is how Yuan thinks.
It is as though Yuan is afraid of change as with change may come a change in leadership and Yuan will no longer have the absolute power that he has at present. At all stages of the story the reader senses that Yuan is not thinking of those who live in his Kingdom but rather he is thinking about his own position among those he exerts control over. Which may leave some readers to suggest that Yuan is being selfish. What is also interesting about the story is that Yuan in reality has little control over what others might do and the reader is left suspecting that someone else may in time develop the same type of flying machine and eventually challenge Yuan’s leadership. In reality Yuan believes that the flying machine represents a threat to his leadership. He is not overly concerned about those who live in his Kingdom rather maintaining control is utmost in Yuan’s mind.
Though some critics might suggest that the option that Yuan is taking. That of killing the inventor. Is the lesser of two evils. Yuan doesn’t see the benefits that the flying machine might bring even if used for purely defensive purposes. It is as though Yuan is leaving himself open to the possibility of attack without harnessing the defensive qualities of the flying machine. It is easier for Yuan to kill the inventor, destroy the flying machine and silence the servant and farmer. Something that does not really deal with the problems that Yuan might face from others in the future. It is also interesting that Bradbury shifts from calling Yuan the Emperor to the ‘old man.’ This may be important as by doing so the reader senses that Bradbury is attempting to highlight how non-progressive Yuan is. Yuan does not wish to change how things are even if he and his Kingdom might benefit from change. In reality Yuan is paralysed or stuck in the past and gives no consideration to the flying machine as being something that might benefit him or his Kingdom. It is easier to destroy the flying machine than to look at the possibilities it might have.
The end of the story is also interesting as the reader gets an insight into how cold Yuan is. He feels nothing when it comes to killing the inventor. Instead he continues to play with his toy ornament as though it is the most beautiful thing in the world. If anything Yuan has no understanding of what he is doing. He is being defensive when there is no need for him to be. Though it may be true that others could use a flying machine to attack Yuan. He appears to forget that just as a flying machine could be used for evil. So too could it be used for the benefit of the Kingdom. By killing the inventor and not adapting the flying machine to his benefit. Yuan leaves himself open to attack should others copy the inventor’s flying machine. Something that Yuan does not appear to realise. At no stage does the reader suspect that Yuan has any realization that the flying machine can bring good too. Rather Yuan allows his fear of evil to take control. Believing it simpler to take the course of action that he does. However in reality and as history has shown new technology inevitably takes over from past technology. With the reader left aware that the toy ornament that Yuan likes to play with is not as magical as some of the inventions that would eventually be introduced for the good of humanity.