After finishing Big Machine on Monday, my group was able to tie together some points that occurred to us throughout the semester. I was in Tayler’s group discussion during class and we were able to come to the revelation of the importance of the character, Murder, being Belgium. When Belgium had power over the Congo during the Congo Free State, there was an immense amount of violence and racism. Once we read about the Congo Free State, we were immediately able to make connections to Big Machine. When Leopold was in power soldiers would often chop off their hands to prove their kill. When we went over this in our discussion, I wondered if Solomon Clay was a figure that was supposed to represent Leopold since Ricky lost his hand when killing him.
Sean then remembered the poem The Congo: A Study of the Negro Race by Vachel Lindsey and furthered our discussion by comparing this poem to the Congo Free State. The poem depicts the horrors of the Congo Free State, and we were able to relate this to Big Machine. A specific section of the poem stood out to me that read:
“Listen to the yell of Leopold’s ghost
Burning in Hell for his hand-maimed host.
Hear how the demons chuckle and yell
Cutting his hands off, down in Hell.
Listen to the creepy proclamation,
Blown through the lairs of the forest-nation,
Blown past the white-ants’ hill of clay,
Blown past the marsh where the butterflies play: —”
This section reminded me of Big Machine, as it mentions cutting hands off in hell, much like Ricky losing his hand because he knew he needed to kill Solomon Clay. The poem also says, “Listen to the creepy proclamation…” This made me think of the entire concept of the library and their search to find the voice. The poem describes the way that the proclamation was “Blown through the lairs of the forest-nation, Blown past the white-ants’ hill of clay” relates to the way that Ricky and Adele had to travel to Solomon Clay. Perhaps the “hill of clay” had set the inspiration for Solomon Clay’s name.
I also thought the way they mentioned hell and demons could be related to the way that institutions had failed them. The novel ends with Adele and Ricky literally having to run away from their failed institutions that are after them. This relates to the horrors and violence seen during the Congo Free State. Ricky must live the rest of his life without an arm as a constant reminder of the horrors he went through.