Study Guide

I, Robot "Robbie"

By Isaac Asimov

"Robbie"

Originally printed as "Strange Playfellow" in 1940.

  • It's 1998. Robbie is a simple robot—he can't even talk—but he sure seems to be a good caretaker for little girl Gloria Weston. They play in a scene that sounds really ordinary: Robbie (as the adult/babysitter) pretends to lose to Gloria; Gloria (as the child) wants a ride, etc. In other words, this is totally normal babysitting/nannying. Except the babysitter is a robot. (But all of our babysitters were robots, so that sounds totally normal to us.)
  • Gloria tells Robbie one of his favorite stories—"Cinderella"—but Gloria's mom interrupts and tells Robbie to go away. (There's a wicked stepmother joke to be made here, but we'll keep our mouths shut out of respect for all the non-wicked stepmothers out there.)
  • Mrs. Weston wants to get rid of Robbie for a few reasons. Like, the robot might hurt her little girl. And also, having a robot is no longer cool (75).
  • But George Weston thinks her worries are silly. He points out that Robbie is safer than any human thanks to the First Law of Robotics: "He just can't help being faithful and loving and kind. He's a machine—made so. That's more than you can say for humans" (76).
  • Grace Weston is still worried—maybe Gloria won't be normal if she only plays with robots, etc. (80). And after a systematic campaign of worrying about Robbie (say, from paragraph 61 to around paragraph 95), Grace wears her husband down.
  • So the parents get rid of Robbie when Gloria is out seeing a movie. (Well, a "visivox"—which sounds like a futuristic way to say a movie.)
  • Gloria is totally crushed by this and argues with her mom that Robbie "was a person just like you and me and he was my friend" (119). (Kind of creepy that she says "was" instead of "is"—as if Robbie is dead—but we'll let that pass. She's just a kid, after all.)
  • The Westons try to distract Gloria from her crushing sadness, but it doesn't work. They get her a dog, they take her to New York City for a vacation—nothing works. Gloria sounds a little spoiled, if you ask us.
  • In fact, in New York City, when the family is sight-seeing at the Museum of Science and Industry, Gloria slips away and goes to see the Talking Robot exhibit. It's a giant, room-filling computer that talks and answers math questions (169). (It probably looks like this computer, which was built four years after this story)
  • When Gloria asks the Talking Robot if it knows where Robbie is, the Talking Robot's brain gets fried because it can't process the idea of other robots (184).
  • (Which totally gives Susan Calvin an idea for a paper. See, she's been sitting in the museum and she saw the whole thing. This is her only appearance in this story and she doesn't even get a line. This part was totally added later, when Asimov put this story in this book.)
  • Grace Weston has no ideas on what to do about her daughter's crushing sadness, but she still doesn't want to get Robbie back.
  • But Dad George has one more idea to make Gloria realize that robots are just machines: the whole family goes to the robot factory to see where robots are made.
  • Unfortunately for that plan, Gloria sees Robbie at the factory and goes running to meet him. And unfortunately for Gloria, a tractor in the factory almost crushes her. Luckily, Robbie runs out and saves her, faster than any human could.
  • So Grace gives in and Gloria gets Robbie back. And that's the end of the story.
  • Back at the interview, Calvin sets up the next story: once US Robots and Mechanical Men, Inc., developed talking robots that could move, people got scared and banned robots from Earth. So US Robots made robots for space, including the Mercury mines.
  • Of course, things didn't go so smoothly when US Robots tested their new robot there in 2015. Which leads us to our next story.