Levinas’s Makropulos Secret

Peer Edited by: Nicole Suscello and Hailey Ralston

The Makropulos Secret by Karel Capek is a science fiction play about a girl who has a medication that can make a person live for 300 years. A girl Emilia has a potion for 300 years of life. She gets sick and everyone if trying to figure out how to get the potion in their hands. They spend most of the scene trying to figure out what they would do with the potion once they got it. They start by suggesting that only one person can take it and gain 300 years of life. They then suggest making it public and give everyone 300 years of life. Then Dr. Kolenaty brings up the problem with giving everyone 300 years. He says, “all you have said is legally and economically ridiculous. Our social system is founded upon a brief life span: contracts, pensions, insurance policies, salaries, inheritance laws,”. (p 451-452) They then suggest splitting it up into doses. This would give whoever takes a dose 10 years of life. They could then sell those doses and people could buy multiple “10 years” of life.They suggest creating a business and selling years. They ask everyone what they would do with extra time. Hauk-Sendorf says “Nobody wants to buy ten years of self-improvement. But ten years of pleasure? Yes, definitely yes” (452). Prus then brings up that they should only preserve the lives of the great because “a small person is everlasting, even without your help. Smallness multiplies, without rest, like flies or mice. Only greatness dies” (453). The only problem with that is, “who is going to choose the chosen? Governments? Voters? The Swedish Academy” (453). They then bring up the last problem. The Makropulos formula is owned by the Makropulos family and therefore, the Makropulos family has to decide what to do with it. Finally, Emilia wakes up and is okay. She then explains the burden of living forever. She says, “One finds out that one cannot believe in anything” (453). She says, “Nothing, nothing, nothing ever really matters” (455).

Levinas talks about how people affect us. The interactions we have with other people is what gives our lives meaning. He says we’re stuck in our own experience and the only way to transform is to experience affection from someone. He says that people even affect us before we are consciously aware of it. Because Emilia has lived so long she does not have many friends and everyone she knew has died. Everyone else is either afraid of her or hates her. Emilia feels her life has no meaning because nobody has been able to affect her to give her life meaning. Levinas argues that everything one does affects everyone else, so you are responsible for everything. I feel that too much responsibility can overwhelm a person into not wanting to be responsible for everything and justifying that by believing that nothing has meaning. I feel that Emilia is at that point. She has been alive for so long and has known so many people that she has realized that no matter what she does, the people she knows are going to die. This has caused her to distance herself from the world so she does not have to watch anyone she cares about die. She does not know how to love or experience pleasure because everyone she knows will die and therefore nothing she does has meaning. Levinas argues that everything you do affects other people; therefore, you are responsible for everything and your life has meaning because of how other people have affected you. This shows why Emilia’s life has no meaning because she has lived for 200 years and realizes that no matter what she does everyone will die.

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