ENG 335:  Science Fiction as Social Criticism                                                                                                    Study Questions for The Caves of Steel

 

Here are some study questions for The Caves of Steel.  Our goal here will be to draw some conclusions regarding what this novel is really "about."  That is, through the process of defining its principal characters and establishing its principal conflicts, you should by the end of the novel be prepared to define what, in your view, are both the directly stated and the implied values of this novel.  We will try to work our way through the issues [Representations of Women; Technology vs. Nostalgia for the Past; the C/Fe Culture; Prejudice] by dividing the novel into three sections for discussion.   Read Asimov's "Introduction: The Story Behind the Robot Novels" first.

 

Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics: 

 

            1)   A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm;

            2)   A robot must obey the orders given it by a human being except where such orders would conflict with the First Law;

            3)   A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

 

Section I:  Pages 1-81 [Chapters 1-6]

 

Name and define the principal characters being sure to establish identifying traits.  Explain what you believe to be the conflict of the novel.  You should cover both the explicitly stated conflicts and the more subtle conflicts between characters holding different values.  Of course, this science fiction mystery novel establishes solving a murder as its principal overt conflict. However, additional issues arise through Lije Baley's (and Earth culture's) attitude toward robots, his relationship with R. Daneel Olivaw, and his relationship with Jessica Baley. (Once more, representations of women play an important role in exposing 1950s attitudes and beliefs.)  Be sure to pay close attention to the traits assigned to characters on their first appearance.

 

Section 2:  Pages 82-175 [Chapters 7-12]

 

Discuss how your understanding of what really is at issue in this novel is both developing and changing.  What specific events or interactions between characters prod you to revise your initial assumptions about the book's values and/or the characters' beliefs?  At this point, you might more carefully consider how Asimov represents Jessica Baley and her beliefs, as well as how those beliefs might conflict with Lije Baley's positions.  You might also look even more carefully at Lije Baley's relationship with R. Daneel Olivaw.  Have the attitudes that define Baley's views on robots changed in any significant way by this point?  Can you cite examples to support your response to this question?

 

Section 3:  Pages 176-270 [Chapters 13-17]

 

What is the relationship between Baley and Olivaw "really" about?  Does their developing relationship direct our attention to particular values that might be upheld or promoted through this novel?  If so, how do these values expose tensions or anxieties in American culture in the early 1950s?  Be prepared to explain what you have decided the novel is really about.  What explicit statement does it make?  What implicit values are upheld or questioned by Asimov's book?  How does the novel establish tensions or issues that might have been important to 1950s readers?