Modern Times Summary

Modern Times Summary

Factory work. The great oppressor of the Industrial Revolution. So mind-numbing anonymous is this work that nearly succeeds in turning humans into integral cots in the machine themselves that the protagonist of this story has no name. Names are superfluous in the rising capitalist dream creating robots from humans until actual robots can be invented. The only aspect separating the factory worker at the center of this story from the thousands of others just like him is that he has been selected to become a guinea pig: another symbol of the impersonality of modern times.

In this case, the guinea pig is to test something new called the Automatic Feeding Machine. The machine malfunctions during testing, however, and along with it the factory work malfunctions. In fact, the tasks involved in being a guinea pig for this test nearly drives the factory work into a completely state of mental malfunction. The nervous breakdown sends the factory running through the factory, leaving a spray of oil trailing his path. Finally subdued, he is carted off to a mental hospital, but almost as soon as he is released, he is arrested after having been mistaken for a radical rabble-rouser.

Surprisingly, the factory workers finds life inside prison not entirely bad; in fact, one might even suggest it is preferable to life back in the factory. After stopping a jailbreak, he is rewarded with early parole, but accepts with obvious reluctance to step back into the world he knew. Life outside prison proves to be far less than ideal. Despite having a letter of recommendation, he cannot find a job amidst the growing numbers of unemployed. And when he does get work, he can’t keep it. Unable to face the massive disappointment of life on the other side of prison bars, he takes the blame for stealing a loaf of bread actually pinched by a pretty young woman. Nevertheless, both are arrested, but both manage to evade arrest.

The dream of finding and keeping a job is renewed as he finally has something to work toward: the American Dream of a comfortable middle class life shared with another. He is hired as a night watchman at a department store and he and the girl lavish themselves in fantasies of that which his job is to protect, but which he could not possibly afford to buy. When a burglar attempt is made, the worker gets arrested again. The young woman attempts to transform a ramshackle building into a home for him and upon release from prison he discovers the factory where he used to work has reopened. Back to work he goes repairing machines just like before only to get caught swept up in a strike, lose his job and get sent back to jail yet again.

Meanwhile, the young woman finds a job as a dancer in a café where the man gets a job as a singing waiter upon release from prison. While he’s no great shakes as a waiter, his songs prove a hit with patrons and it seems as though success is finally within reach. At the moment of their greatest fortune, the police show up to arrest the girl who is wanted for escaping from juvie. The two manage to elude the police and though they have to give up on their dreams of success at the café, at least they have each as they hit the road in search of success elsewhere.

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