Hugo is another tale of a child stuck in the transition to an adult. The orphan caught up in the workforce is portrayed not only literally, but through the repetitive symbolism of machines.
Hugo asserts his independence early on in the movie. His encounter with Papa Georges proves that the is not new to thievery, and his reluctance to tell Papa Georges his reasoning behind stealing implies that Hugo has no guidance. Despite the lack of guidance, Hugo seems to know what he has to do to survive on his own, because he works hard to avoid the orphan catcher in order to continue tending to the clocks.
We learn that Hugo works the clocks because he feels that it is his duty in the world. He compares the world to a big machine, with every part having a purpose- even him, an orphan. This analogy shows that Hugo has learned the harsh reality of the world- humans are just part of a big machine, working like parts of a clock.
Automatons extend the analogy of the machine even further. The automatons are almost human, yet they only serve one function: to preform their specified tasks. By the end of the movie, even Isabelle has made the the connection between Hugo and the working automaton.