In Germany in the 1920s, the Expressionist movement dealt with themes of technology and focused on how these themes would affect the future. In several plays, there is an idealistic protagonist who embodies these themes and attempts to bring them to bear in the world. The way other characters respond to these characters signifies not only the possible result of their ideas, but also humanity's potential for missing the mark.
In Gas I, the Millionaire's Son begins as quite the idealist, since he operates a socialist factory with equal distribution of profits. However, he changes soon after the factory explosion and realizes that his efforts were not enough. That is, his workers were spared from drudgery out of necessity, but instead accepted it willingly for the sake of their greed. Thus, he develops a new plan to spare people completely from the evils of technology and revert to an agrarian society.
This utopia would give people back their humanity and allow them to develop as people. He argues with the Engineer, saying ''...who was not maimed even before the explosion?'' and ''Aspire to something greater---aspire to yourselves...'' The people chose their jobs and accepted the compartmentalization which technology demanded of them, even though it removed any trace of skill or individuality. Why, then, should they be troubled by the further demand that they be killed in an explosion? Kaiser is arguing that by accepting technology, they have consented to the accompanying conditions. The Millionaire's Son refuses to accept this, but in the end is ignored. He is ''ultimately alone, like all who tried to become one with all men!''
His utopian ideals are generally scorned throughout the play, from the Engineer criticizing his peasantry to the Gentlemen in Black discussing his socialist pay system. However, even the Gentlemen admit that production as well as profit increases in this system. No such concession is given to his desire to keep the factory closed, though. As the protagonist in the play, the audience is meant to sympathize with the Millionaire's Son's ideals. His failure in the end is not indicative of the shortcoming of his ideals, but rather the inability of the masses to see their inevitable doom.
Gas II continues this story into the next generation. Two nations are engaged in a war which depends solely on the production of gas, representing how critically dependent upon technology mankind has become. The workers are no longer volunteering obsessively, but are being forced into longer shifts and increased production to meet demand. Now technology is the master and the people no longer have a choice. The workers must continue their drudgery, and technology progresses.
The Millionaire-Worker reprises the role of his grandfather and leads the people, although he has taken a place as one of them. He attempts to stop the war by ceasing production of gas, but this is futile and the factory is...