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In his fantasy work, Bicentennial Man, Isaac Asimov invites the reader to consider the philosophical ideal of what it means to be a human being. Asimov intertwines the impartiality of science and the irrationality of emotions by creating a “living” android character set in a “normal” family situation sometime in the future when robots can be purchased as Christmas presents.
A question is asked to make us think, but we feel we have the simplest answer to, “what makes us human?”. Truthfully, that is not the case proven in the book, Bicentennial man written by Isaac Asimov. Most would answer that what makes us human is our emotions, our thought process, and the way we look. According to Psychology Today, “One of the key characteristics that make us human appears to be that we can think about alternative futures and make deliberate choices accordingly.” Bicentennial Man proves all of this to be wrong. Andrew, the Bicentennial Man, shows emotion, looks like a human with human features and has his own thought process. How is this different from a human?
Bicentennial Man is a robot in a book written by Isaac Asimov. In Bicentennial Man, the setting takes place in San Francisco during the time of the mid-twenty-first century to the mid-twenty-third century. The structure of the book is a flashback; however, the book takes place in the future. Asimov is trying to predict what could happen in the future with robots and them wanting to become equal. The author is also trying to show how it feels like to be left out and when trying everything you can to be a part and you are still not accepted, it is a crushing feeling inside. The theme that is shown throughout the book is to challenge the reader to where the line is drawn inequality, as well as do they believe Andrew. This is shown when Andrew wants to be categorized as a human because he is able to do everything a human can, but he is denied. Other themes shown are the separation of mind and body, which is Andrew human enough and morality (Sakina). This creates ideas for the reader and an understanding to think about why and if Andrew should be considered human or not. The meaning of the title also closely relates to these themes. The meaning of the title of the book is the android, Andrew, achieves becoming as close to a human as possible on the two hundredth anniversary of his construction, where the World Congress declares him a Bicentennial Man. However, him becoming declared a Bicentennial man does not show a positive message. The message conveyed by the reader is self-loathing and how Andrew does not feel worthy of love, even after everything he does to try and declare himself human, his wish is still truly not fulfilled. Even though this is the message conveyed, the mood of the book is optimistic because Andrew has hope until the very end of trying to become a human and it shows in everything he does leading up until he decides it is time for him to go and starts slowly shutting himself down. The characters who do play a positive role in the book are the youngest Martin daughter, Andrew Martin, Richard Martin, and Portia Charney. The characters who play a negative role are Mechanical Man and Dennis Mansky who is the head of NorthAm Robotics. Sir, plays a huge role in the book having to do with Andrew’s humanity. He is the one who first guides Andrew on a path to being more than just a robot because Andrew had so much more to him than that. Little Miss also plays a unique role in the novel because she is the one who gave Andrew his name which adds a humanizing effect. Some literary devices used by Asimov in the book are euphemism and point of view. The point of view for the entire book does not change, it is seen through the eyes of Andrew the Android. This is to create, for the reader, an emotional attachment to Andrew. This emotional attachment is created for the purpose of the reader seeing Andrew’s whole life play out and how he has everything needed to become a human, yet the world keeps denying him of his goal. The whole book is written with euphemisms. Asimov downplayed the harsh information given the Andrew and showed how to some people, it was not a big deal to them that Andrew could not get declared a human because they believed he should not be.
To help understand the book a little more as well when reading it, you need to know Isaac’s Three Laws of Robotics. “1st law: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. 2nd law: A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. 3rd law: A robot must protect its existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law” (Sakina). The Robot is named Andrew and lives with the Martin family. Andrew was built and given certain parts in which how he would act. However, there was an accidental mishap in Andrew’s positronic brain pathways such that he became very artistic and can learn on his own which is very uncommon and never happen before with the robots. When the doctors became aware of Andrews defect, they informed the Martin family that they could get rid of Andrew and get a new robot. However, Andrew was so close with the youngest daughter, Little Miss, so the Martin family opted to keep Andrew. Andrew also started to create beautiful artwork that would be worth a lot of money. The Martins started to sell Andrews art and give him half of the money they would make off the art piece. Andrew started to save up his money until he could finally upgrade himself. He then buys his freedom, buys himself organic parts to replace the old parts, writes on robot history, tries to gain legal rights for the robots, becomes a robobiologist and even starts to wear clothes. After achieving all of these tasks, Andrew feels he has the right to be declared a man instead of a robot because he acts more of a man. Sadly, he was turned down. After being denied such a request, he requests for his immortal body to start slowly draining. Andrew had jumped through so many hurdles to try and achieve being known as a “man” but humans felt that he did not have that right. Humans then became another hurdle for Andrew. The Martin children did not treat Andrew the way he should have been treated. An example is when they threw him out of their upstairs window for a laugh. This fall damaged Andrew quite a bit and there was nothing he could do about all of these torturing’s but take it. Since he acted as a human, he understood everything that was happening to him due to his advanced human development, but there was nothing he could do to help himself because in their eyes, he was just a robot. A shocking twist of events happen though and occurred that on Andrews 200th anniversary of being built, the president of the world declares Andrew the Bicentennial Man and signs off on it. This had amazed dying Andrew (Asimov). Andrew started off as a robot, having robot characteristics, following what his coding and his parts told him to do until an unexpected turn of events happen. Somehow there was an error in his coding in which he started to have human like characteristics and he started acting like a human. He showed emotions, was independent and had a stable, high functioning, working job. How was he any different from a human?
The story is told from the point of view of the android robot, Andrew. This causes the reader to, from the beginning, side with Andrew on his entire quest for finding humanity (Schutte). This is seen as odd due to most people would not side with a robot and their point of view, but since the beginning of the story, the reader is taken on a long trip of Andrew’s life and his desires to become known as a human. Since the reader is viewing everything from Andrew’s perspective, they can also view into his soul. It is not possible to deny something with a soul equal rights yet throughout the novel the society continuously does that. Since Andrew was presented with a soul, the readers feel they can sympathize with him. Also, at the end of the book, Andrew dies a “natural” death even though he is not considered human. How could a robot suffer a natural death and not be considered a human? Robots do not die natural deaths, they are either shut down or they break. Yet after all of this, Andrew is still only considered a Bicentennial Man. Asimov is sharing some insecurities of his own in this novel when he wrote an unintended insult about Andrew awaiting to hear if he was going to become declared human or not. Did Asimov write this novel and made himself the main character which is known as Andrew because this is where he is hiding all of his own insecurities? He disguised his emotions as a future robot. Maybe Asimov wrote this novel because he feels unwanted and he is showing it through Andrew and the actions of his writing. The text of the novel is also a philosophical text. A philosophical text is one in which when the main character has faced many setbacks throughout the novel. Andrew has faced many setbacks throughout this entire novel with the one thing on his mind, being declared a human. He feels he should have equal opportunity with humans because he can do everything they can do which was shown throughout the novel. This can relate to Asimov again because Asimov could have been at a point in his life where he was facing many setbacks and had to keep moving forward. I believe Asimov wrote this entire based on himself and how he had felt during this time of his life. I believe Andrew’s moment where he became known as Bicentennial Man was Asimov’s moment when he wrote and finished the book, Bicentennial Man. The main feeling Asimov had felt which drove him to write this book was the fact he did not feel human. Everything had added up in his life to make himself think, what truly does make one considered human? This is all shown through the android Andrew while he is searching for what could have him declared human and throughout the whole novel, he does so, facing many setbacks each time around. Maybe Asimov also does not feel human but does not know how to express it or show what makes one considered or declared a human. Even if Andrew meets the requirements they have to declare one human, he still is left an outsider. He is an outsider in his own community and will not be allowed into a community best fit for him. This is another example of how Asimov could be relating this back to himself, feeling left out, just like an outsider with nowhere to go. The destination he wants to go will not accept him and he feels lost, not knowing where to go or what to do. I believe that is how Asimov felt and that is why he is writing this book to help him in his stuck time of not feeling human and living it through Andrew.
Asimov is also trying to point out fears of people by not allowing Andrew to become declared a human. Many people fear robots are going to take over Earth and human life. There have been many movies, shows, and songs written about such a thing. Humans want to be known as superior and the best; once something tries to come into the way of that, they will do anything in their power to try and fight it. This leads back to Andrew wanting to become declared a human. Andrew’s intentions of becoming human are not meant to be in a negative way. He wants to become declared a human because he has worked hard for everything he had accomplished and has every characteristic the same as the humans in the book, the only difference is he was built in a factory. Asimov is showing that the people fear if Andrew were to become declared a human, other robots who may contain a defect in the future, may want the same. If all robots came to the conclusion of wanting to be declared human, they contain more advanced abilities and technology than humans. They will then become superior over humans and humans do not want to lose their control over everything; they will have to become the slaves to the robots. Asimov showed at the beginning of the book how humans get robots to entertain and take care of their kids, do chores for them and in Andrew’s case, they sold the artwork he had painted and kept a majority of the money for themselves. Asimov is trying to tap into people’s fears but not directly saying it in the book. By tapping into people’s fears, he would get an emotional reaction from the reader which causes the reader to read his book with more emotions. From the beginning of the book, Asimov is trying to get the readers emotionally attached to Andrew. That is why Asimov writes the book from Andrew’s point of view, to create an emotional connection to Andrew. Asimov does this to show Andrew’s soul. A soul can show who someone or something truly is. A soul gives an insight into that person or robot. Once one knows a person’s soul, that is when it is determined if they contain good or bad intentions. Ever since the beginning of the book, Asimov shows Andrew with having good intentions. He does everything that is asked of him and even gets abused by children of the Martin family but still continues to have good intentions throughout the entire book, no matter what comes his way. Asimov also wrote this book around Christmas time; Andrew was a Christmas present to the Martin children. Christmas is known for the birth of Jesus Christ. Asimov wrote this book around Christmas time because it is shown as the birth of Andrew. The birth of Andrew is significant because it then shows how he helped many people in his life and how he grew significantly.
What many could argue about Andrew was that he was built in a lab and somehow there was an error to which caused him to start acting more like a human. But, humans are “built” in a way as well, just not in a lab. Humans grow inside their mother’s womb and are “built” by each of their parent’s Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Andrew also showed emotions such as humans do and “grew up” to be very independent just like children do when they grow up to become adults. He got a job and became very successful just like humans do. This still questions on what truly makes us human. Andrew had all the “typical” human characteristics but still, they would not consider him a man due to him having been built a robot. A quote shared by Rupert Burns helps describe a characteristic as to what considers someone a human. “You see, Imperfection is the key. Imperfections make us individuals, that’s what makes us unique. See my nose, how it is all bulbous and pockmarked, well, I am the only one with my nose.” This is showing what makes you a human is your own unique characteristics that Andrew does not have. Andrew is built out of parts that every other robot is built with. Andrew should have been known as human. He has everything that considers one to be a human: characteristics such as sympathy and kindness. The real question is, why would the board not consider Andrew a human. Was it just because he was built in a factory as a robot? His defect allows him to have human-like characteristics and he accomplished so much yet still he was only considered a bicentennial man. How could it then be considered fair to treat Andrew they way people had even though he acted like them and had the same characteristics yet he was made of metal. No human in the story would have been treated the way Andrew was yet why was it ok to treat him like that with the only difference being he was made of metal? The answer to all of this was because the people did not want to consider him human because he was different. They were confused by something so new to them and they were not open-minded to the fact of letting in something new.
In the end, what makes someone considered a human could be described in many different ways but proven wrong in the book Bicentennial Man. What people believe what makes you a human is your unique characteristics. Like Rupert Burns had said, Andrew had some of his own unique characteristics that no one else had. Andrew Martin was built from technological parts that every other robot was built from. Yes, he was unique in a way in which he had a more advanced thinking process and acted like the humans, but he did not look like them, he did not have anything unique to his appearance because he had looked just like all the other robots. That is why he was categorized into them and at first, was not declared a man. However, Asimov shows throughout the novel how this changes when Andrew buys himself all new parts to help give him human-like characteristics, but he still was not declared a human. Asimov shows all of this through the themes shown throughout the novel, the different emotions expressed, the novel being read by the reader through Andrew’s point of view throughout the entire novel, and Asimov hiding his true life behind this fictional character. The Martin family got very lucky getting a robot-like Andrew, with all the characteristics that he acquired through his defect. They were able to humanize Andrew since the beginning of the novel, by having Little Miss give him his own name besides android, and by having Sir make it known to Andrew that he could be so much more than one of the ordinary robots that do chores all of their lives. Andrew is not considered human even though he feels emotions, has a soul, and a mind of his own, yet they still will not consider Andrew to be human. Asimov shows all of his details and hidden messages come together in the end by stringing together his theme, literary devices, the setting of the novel and the role each of the characters has to play in the novel. The point Asimov is trying to make about being human is what makes one human isn’t the emotions, the features, the self-thought process, it is feeling wanted. It is the feeling of being wanted and accepted is what declares or defines us, humans. Andrew was not wanted by everyone. He was not wanted in the way he should have been wanted. He was wanted in the way for slave labor but not for himself. This was what makes one human and this is what separated Andrew from everyone else.
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