Doubt is the Big Machine

Big Machine by Victor LaValle has easily become one of my favorite books to read in my whole academic career. If it weren’t for all the analytical discussions we had in class, carefully examining every literary detail of the book, I would have never developed this deep appreciation or interest I have now. Even though I respect the book, that doesn’t mean I appreciate the theme behind it, which may be the intention. From what I theorized from the readings our class had so far, I think that the ‘big machine’ in question is institutions in our society that ordinary people have questioned. The skepticism citizens hold against the government, religion, and other organizations with huge support could be the driving force behind the very success of sustaining these institutions. If doubt is the big machine, then LaValle could be alluding to how institutions in our society operate and should be brought into question.

Ricky Rice, a fictional character in LaValle’s story, brings up compelling questions relating to the Washburn Library. “I’d held some suspicions before this, but know I really wondered what I’d volunteered for. Why had I assumed the Gray Lady and the Dean and the whole Washburn Library were on my side? Or even on the right side? Just because I wanted to believe such a thing? And once I turned a little skeptical, why didn’t I do anything differently?” (LaValle, 144-145). In my last two blog posts, I wrote about theories I came up with while reading this book. At first, I just thought we were reading something to pass the time by and ease our minds compared to the workload of our other classes. As the semester went on and the more we analyzed the details within each section, I’ve concluded that this science fiction book can be categorized within the metafiction genre due to the plot alluding to institutions within our society. Some of the institutions brought into question in Big Machine are religion relating to the spiritual factors in the story and secret societies relating to the Washburn Library and Washerwomen.

For the religious aspects in Big Machine, LaValle mentions Angels and Devils that supposedly follow a Voice. This voice could be coming from Solomon, which could be referencing King Solomon in the Holy Bible, or the voice could be that of God or Satan considering the tasks it asks of its followers to carry out against the masses. This, of course, is merely just a hunch that I have considering how I have no idea how this book will end, but I do think that LaValle purposely picked these names for a reason. Also, when Ricky, Adele Henry, and the kids on the school bus witnessed the Swamp Angels flying around, Ricky asked, “is this how Jacob felt when he met the Angel? Or Mohammed as he witnessed Gabriel” (LaValle, 323)? From this, I thought of the book to be more impactful than I originally intended in the sense that LaValle was trying to help the reader visualize what a ‘second coming’ or an ‘origin story’ looks like in a society that may not be prepared for such an event to occur. Another example that Big Machine could be alluding to in our society is the structure of secret societies. I never considered the Washburn Library nor the Washerwomen cult to be like the Illuminati, per se. However, the fact that Ricky draws a comparison early on from his unorthodox childhood to the behavioral nature and routine of the Washburn Library to be similar shows significance.

Ricky questioning the intentions of the organizations he associates himself with is metafictional because it can make readers reflect on what they’re involved in and if the purpose behind these institutions is true. Not only was the phrase “doubt is the big machine [that] grinds up the delusions of women and men” repeated throughout the story, in class, we have been asked to pose questions about the book that ended up relating to how our society operates. “In God We Trust” may be our country’s motto, and as law-abiding citizens, it’s our civic duty to obey the laws of the powers that be. People come and go while institutions are sustained. So as time goes on, who can we really trust when there’s no face to the voice telling us what to do and how to live?

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