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Summary of "The Bird and the Machine"

Updated on January 28, 2012

Summary of The Bird and the Machine

This is a piece in the Science & Technology section called The Bird and the Machine. It is written by Loren Eiseley who establishes ethos immediately in the beginning of the piece when describing his background. He had studied science at the University of Nebraska, he taught at the University of Kansas, and finally he chaired the department of anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. He is well respected for his contributions to science as well as he is for his perceptive essays and lyrical writing style.

The piece opens with Eiseley reading the newspaper at the table about all the new “machines” that are coming out in the world. He reads that it may not be long until the machines can actually make themselves. Eiseley then makes his point, “It’s life I believe in, not machines.” Within the first few pages of the essay, Eiseley keeps bringing up “the birds” and we don’t really know what they are yet, or how they’ve affected Eiseley. He then explains that when he was younger, he was in the desert with a group of men on an expedition to carry on research more effectively. There is one moment in the desert, when Eiseley is sitting high up on a ridge, for hours, viewing life with a wary and subdued attention, when he glanced beside his boot and a rattlesnake was coiled up beside him. He did not know how long the deadly snake had been there; perhaps it was already there when he got there. But since they didn’t bother each other, nothing happened.

Eiseley was given a mission next, to find anything alive- birds, reptiles, etc. and to bring them back home. His job was to capture the birds. One of the most interesting paragraphs, I thought, was when Eiseley described the birds taking over NYC. “Sometimes of late years, I find myself thinking about the most beautiful sight in the world might be the birds taking over New York after the last man has run to the hills. I know just how it will sound because I’ve lived up high and I know the sort of watch birds keep on us.” He has an experience with a hawk that he catches that forces him to think about how machines are different from the living. He decides to let the hawk go, and to let it find its mate in the open sky. Eiseley says, “The machine does not bleed, ache, hang for hours in the empty sky in a torment of hope to learn the fate of another machine, nor does it cry out with joy nor dance in the air with a fierce passion of a bird.”


This piece was written in my 11th grade AP English class from an assignment out of our Rhetoric Textbook.

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