Capek on R.U.R.
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Jessie Mothersale, who was
a close friend of Karel Capek's,
reported that Capek got the idea for R.U.R. while reading in an
automobile. When he looked out suddenly, the "crowds around him
seemed to look like artificial human beings."
Capek did not despise scientific inventiveness, but he was
very concerned about the uses to which the new inventions would be
put. He explained it all this way in an interview in the London
"I wished to write a comedy, partly of science,
truth. The odd inventor, Mr. Rossum (whose name translated
into English signifies "Mr. Intellectual" or "Mr. Brain"), is a
typical representative of the scientific materialism of the last
century. His desire to create an artificial man -- in the chemical
and biological, not the mechanical sense -- is inspired by a foolish
and obstinate wish to prove God unnecessary and absurd. Young
Rossum is the young scientist, untroubled by metaphysical ideas;
scientific experiment to him is the road to industrial production.
He is not concerned to prove but to manufacture. . . . Those who think
to master the industry are themselves mastered by it; Robots must
be produced although they are a war industry, or rather BECAUSE they
are a war industry. The product of the human brain has escaped the
control of human hands. This is the comedy of science."
(p. 10, _R.U.R._ supplement)
Capek believed that things were never quite as linear or simple
as the above statements seem to imply. Alquist in the play has
mixed feelings about Robots and their destiny. Other characters have
differing attitudes toward the Robots, some practical, like Berman,
the business manager who thinks that industrialism alone is capable
of supplying modern needs. Emma is instinctively afraid of all machines.
Helena is a crusading idealist. She wants to free the robots. Domain
sees technical progress as freeing humanity from manual labor. . . .
So who is right? Who does Capek mean to be right? He
"Be these people either Conservatives or Socialists, Yellows
the most important thing is -- and that is the point I want to stress --
that all of them are right in the plain and moral sense of the word. .
I ask whether it is not possible to see in the present social conflict
of the world an analogous struggle between two, three, five equally
serious verities and equally generous idealisms? I think it is possible,
and that is the most dramatic element in modern civilization, that a
human truth is opposed to another human truth no less human, ideal
against ideal, positive worth against worth no less positive, instead
of the struggle being as we are so often told, one between noble truth
and vile selfish error." (R.U.R._ supplement, p.11)
That is no "easy" moderate path. It requires a different
idealism. A belief that things can and must be settled without wars
and fighting over absolutes. In the clashes among viewpoints among
Capek's human characters, we can see how far we still have to go to
that truth that Capek could only portray directly in another story,
called "The Last Judgement." In that story God steps aside to let
some people judge the others. God explains that, knowing all, it is
impossible to judge. Let those who worked as judges on earth be the
judges in the afterworld, as well. And as we know, people are always
more than willing to judge each other, so in his many stories, plays,
and novels, Capek has found plenty of room for his free play of
philosphical wit and journeys of the imagination.