“Doubt is the Big Machine…” but What About the Other Machines?

I definitely do not have an answer for anything I am about to express here, but it is something I am curious about. In his novel Big Machine, Victor Lavalle constantly engages in repetition and recursion. Many of the people and concepts that were introduced early (or earlier) in the novel travel with us until the very end… faith, doubt, the Washerwomen, Ricky’s relationship with his father… Even Peach Tree. Even the message, “Doubt is the big machine,” is right there on the last page. But what about the other machines?

Several mentions of “a big machine” follow the novel’s progression, and I cannot seem to figure out what it means, if it does mean anything.The first time it is mentioned is when Ricky is at the Washburn Library. He is listening to a tape that he refers to as “the machine.” (71) Coincidentally, this machine is where he hears the word “electricity,” which shows up several times within the novel, including at the end. It is brought up again, when Ricky is invited up to the Dean’s office. Ricky responds to the noise and the power of the printer the Dean uses and says, “Ridiculous! Just machines.” (91) Just a few paragraphs later, the Dean hits one of the printers, and Ricky flinches, “expecting the machine to kick.” (91) The next time I noticed this was when Ricky was in the doctor’s office because he hadn’t been feeling well. He notices the technician to be “playing with” something that looks like a copier, but what Ricky calls “a large machine.” (221)

Granted, Lavalle uses the word “machine” many times during this novel, so many more times than I addressed. Why does Lavalle mention them so many times? He is so incredibly thoughtful throughout the novel, I cannot imagine any word Lavalle uses is used simply to take up space. But at the same time, in comparison the weight of the other machines Lavalle mentions seems to pale in comparison to the weight doubt as the “big machine” carries. What is this novel trying to tell us about machines?

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