Social Awareness and Transcendentalism in I, Robot

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Isaac Asimov, like Ralph Waldo Emerson and other transcendentalists, is intrigued by the ideas of nature and self-reliance (Lea). Asimov introduces this quote at the beginning of Nightfall, many of his works evolve around complex ideas that concern one’s self.. Asimov was born in Petrovichi, Russia in the early 1920s and lived most of his early life in Brooklyn, New York, where his family ran a candy shop, and a magazine store (Bloom). In that magazine store, Asimov sparked his passion and addiction to literature (Bloom). Asimov’s work can be seen today in many “quality” writers; Asimov’s work inspired not only many Americans but also many foreign aspiring writers (D’Ammassa). Asimov became a major symbol of immigrant success; he proved that a Jewish immigrant from a foreign country could be of significance to society in a way that did not include society profiting of his physical labor.

Until this day Asimov still has a major impact on the science-fiction realm in that he created the three robot laws and conveyed complex transcendentalist and naturalist ideas in simple science-fiction storylines. In Asimov’s Nightfall and I, Robot he conveys complex ideas in a simple and direct manner in response to common naturalist and transcendentalist thoughts that contrasts with typical science-fiction themes at the time. Specific choices made by Asimov’s parents have had a lasting impact on his life and have been reflected in his work. Asimov lived in learned many valuable lessons, met new people different ends of the world and learned the inner workings of an American economy in a time where life is rapidly changing (Bloom). Russian landscapes must have affected the settings and that Asimov used in his novels. Russian villages in the early 1900s looked like a lot of nothing, which gave Asimov room for imagination, the empty landscapes allowed for him to imagine futuristic and non-existent structures and buildings (Manitoba Morning Free Press). Meeting new people every day, people of his city and people he spent most of his time with influenced his character choice.

Asimov discovered a passion for science-fiction at an early age and when he became bored and unsatisfied with the common themes and storylines, he became to write his own science-fiction (Werlock). At an early age of 19, he wrote his first novel called “Robbie” (Werlock). Contrasting with other late teenagers of his time, Asimov was much more concerned with literature and science over all else(Werlock). Late teenagers in the early 1940s were more concerned about money or even their next meal over science-fiction or American literature (Geoff Hamilton, Brian Jones, Erik Gregersen). Asimov was one of the best innovators of his generation, locating a problem and fixing it for the better of the public and not for a personal gain. By the end of his life, Asimov wrote over 500 books and received multiple awards in the literature realm (Gregersen). Even as an adult, Asimov had a hard-working mentality due to his early life in Brooklyn, where he watched people work relentlessly to make ends meet (Gregersen). Asimov’s heritage is to credit for his work ethic. Transcendentalism, a literary, philosophical and reform movement that occurred in the early 1800s, highlighted the importance of “the individual as its primary subject to concern” (Wayne).

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Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of the leaders of this movement, has many works displaying important transcendentalist ideas such as the importance of individual (Wayne). Two of Emerson’s most notable works that efficiently display transcendentalist beliefs are “Self-Reliance” and “Nature” (Wayne). In Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”, Emerson emphasizes like transcendentalists the importance of reliance on self over others, books, and history (Wayne). “Self-Reliance” is significant because it is an effort by Emerson in a public document to invite the reader “to declare his or her independence from society” (Wayne). In “Nature,” which has similar aspects to “Self-Reliance” Emerson explains that for one to acquire a good relationship with nature, one must remove himself from society and our studies (Wayne). In Nightfall, a planet named Lagash, with a constant light source thrives and grows until their valuable light source is blocked by other planets (Lea). The civilization burns itself to ruins (Lea). A transcendentalist would believe that due to civilization’s inability to create a good relationship with nature and because their society was so attached to “books” and “history.” In I, Robot Dr. Calvin abandons a robot named “Robbie” due to her daughter, Gloria, becoming emotionally attached to it. A transcendentalist would have supported Gloria’s attachment to Robbie to the insertion of robots into our future society.

Asimov uses both Nightfall and I, Robot, to test transcendentalist ideas. Naturalism was a literary movement where writers tried to be true to reality, and as accurate as they could without being judgemental (Diamond). The Naturalist movement was to encourage people to write “life as it is” (Diamond). The most significant thing about naturalism is that it was a direct response to romanticism (Diamond). What separates Asimov from other science-fiction writers is his ability to display “life as it is” in an non-fictional environment. In I, Robot, Gloria, the daughter of Dr. Calvin, becomes emotionally attached to the emotionless robot (Lea). The important distinction to make is between fear and awareness (Lea). Dr. Calvin was afraid of the robot and therefore decided to return the robot; if Dr. Calvin was more aware and able to control her fear, she would have taken steps to prevent Gloria from getting emotionally attached in other ways than just dumping the robot. In Nightfall, Aton becomes a major example of awareness (Lea). Aton being aware of his fears is able to sustain himself from succumbing to fear (Lea). Society is afraid and because they are not aware of their fear they are not able to save themselves (Lea). Isaac Asimov’s writing style and novels contrast to previous and original science-fiction novels. Mary Shelley, one of the first and possibly the most famous science-fiction writers, has been criticized by writers as “half bad,” due to her short stories and novels seeming “uneven” (Russ). The problem with, maybe not necessarily Mary Shelley but with other science-fiction writers is there inability to apply complex ideas in science-fiction to the common man. Shelley’s writing style contrast with Asimov’s style in that Asimov’s comes with a more simple and subtle approach which creates more room for the reader to fill in with his imagination (Werlock). Although this sometimes makes his writing hard to comprehend, those who are able to, are left with a much bigger impact than reading a novel for pure entertainment (Werlock). Reading a novel by Asimov is really a hit or miss situation.

Asimov’s plain style separates him from the other science-fiction writers which brings Asimov’s name lots of attention for better or for worse (Werlock). Asimov’s combination of complex ideas, imaginative science-fiction, direct writing style and immigrant history allow for a perfect kind of writing that is suitable for everyone in the economical hierarchy. Because Asimov’s writing is not complicated and direct it allows the somewhat literate labor class a chance to forgot harsh life with entertainment and mental growth as a escape. Asimov can convey himself to the middle class in that he was once a son to an immigrant family who ran two stores and climbed up the hierarchical system through education and knowledge (Werlock). And finally, Asimov can convey himself to the very rich through the use of his knowledge as a key to his sucess. Asimov’s writing is significant because nowadays imagination is not supported and not seen is certain societies as something people should spend time on. Nowadays imagination is not encouraged or supported due to its’ inability to produce money, fame or success.

However, Asimov proves that imagination is the key to success and that you do not have to be the same as everyone else. Asimov’s work is meant to pull the reader into a different world where the reader is supposed to overcome his fears and learn more than just a common theme that can be conveyed in a simple paragraph, his work is meant to make the reader question what society often takes for granted (Werlock). While being straight-forward and plain, his writing inspires creativity and leaves room for imagination, which contrasts to other 20th-century science-fiction novels that hand you all the information and given little room for imagination (Werlock). Leaving room for imagination that would better the lives of the reader and not just profiting off of fame like in the modern days. This is what made Asimov not only successful but also influential.

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