Censorship- Welcome To The Monkey House Essay, Research Paper
Erin Lowe- also author of many “outstanding” American History essays…. of which two are published somewhere here….. one about Peter Noyes, and another about Mercantilism…..
“Books won’t stay banned. They won’t burn. Ideas won’t go to jail? In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost. The only sure weapon against bad ideas is better ideas. The source of better ideas is wisdom. The surest path to wisdom is a liberal education.” The only way that the ideas of this world that are deemed bad are going to go away is if we are allowed to see them and change them. If we are not allowed to see what is “bad” then our society will never grow to become a better place. What censorship does is keep us protected; leaving us living sheltered lives. If we never see a racist comment how are we to know that racism is bad? At the same time Censorship can be a good thing because it keeps children from seeing pornography, and terrible acts of violence. However censorship should not keep anyone from seeing literature, even if it is considered slightly explicit in a sexual, racial, or violent manner. Censorship should leave the ideas of people alone and leave them with their first amendment rights.
Amendment one of the United States Bill of Rights reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise there of; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble?”. What this means is that we, in America have the right to be any religion, and to not have that religion forced upon us. We have the right to say what we want and to publish our ideas if we so wish, and to read the ideas that others have published. We can also peaceably assemble, or gather in protest without violence what we think is wrong.
The biggest right that we have is that of free speech and press. We can say what we want! As American sometimes we take this for granted. However even though we have the right to free speech we have to draw the line somewhere, but where?
“We so often condemn books that were written to fight the very things that we claim to be fighting.” This quote illustrates one of the things that are so wrong with censorship. We seem to ban or censor books, like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, that are actually against racism or whatever the objection to the book is. When a book is taken the wrong way it is simply the fault of the reader, and not the book. The book therefore cannot be censored in this case.
To override the right of free speech on the grounds that the speech in question is likely to harm or offend others is to commit an act of censorship. Not all censorship of this manner is unjustified however, for some speech causes significant and direct harm to others, such as maliciously defaming speech, and speech which opens national secrets to “enemies”. There should be however a presumption that all speech is protected from censorship in that the censor always has to prove and to persuade the people that the speech is bad. In this way it is using new and better ideas to eliminate the bad ideas. The speaker should not have to prove every time that an individual challenges his/her speech that it really is good. The proof has to be that whatever harm or offense the speech has caused is significant, and direct. Free speech is a valuable thing, and should not be restricted by its remote or superficially adverse affect on others.
“Without free speech no search for truth is possible? no discovery of truth is useful? Better a thousandfold abuse of free speech that denial of free speech. The abuse dies in a day, but the denial slays the life f the people, and entombs the hope of the race”
This quote had an excellent point in the case against censorship. To discover new ideas and the truth of life we need to be exposed to new thoughts, and different thoughts. If we always saw the same thoughts over and over we could never expand; we could never become better as a society without new ideas. If new ideas cannot be written or seen then their discovery is useless, for they cannot help without being seen. SO it is better that we see cases in which free speech is used in a bad way, such as in defaming specific people or groups or ideas, than to have no free speech at all as a result of free censorship. Defaming something that should not be defamed can be recovered from, for good things will be supported more than gone against. Also, things that need to be obliterated from society will be by this right of free speech.
The denial of free speech will smother the life of a society. A society where different ideas aren’t all owed will soon fail.
However there is no right to harm or to offend other people. If an idea in a book is explicitly insulting a particular group or person it could be censored, depending on the type of offense. If, for example a book says that African Americans are all stupid, simple, and should be killed off for this fact the book should only be read by choice, and not be forced upon anyone. An adult is capable of making a choice not to read, or allow their child to read a book that is expressly offensive to them.
People always seem to be not concerned with what they read, but with what other people read. Quite often it is a white person that bans a book for fear that it might insult an African American, or a male, thinking that it might insult a female. “Did you ever hear anyone say ‘That work had better be banned because I might read it and it might me very damaging to me’?” People should really only censor for themselves, and they should be allowed to censor for themselves.
“The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never again be washed clean” This statement is in many cases true. Small children should not be exposed to pornography, or to extreme violence, for their developing minds are very impressionable. However they can be exposed to a wide variety of ideas, so that as they grow older they can decide for themselves what and who they want to be. If they are exposed to racist ideas, it is very likely that they will also be exposed to anti-racist ideas, leaving their mind still undecided. If children are exposed to minor sexuality then it will leave them having a much easier time accepting themselves when they become young adults, and then adults. The things that are put into the minds of the young will never leave them, and so in some cases censorship is necessary.
Many books are censored for reasons of sex, violence, the occult, racism, or for having “rebellious children” in them. Most common are the racism, and sex reasons.
Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut is an example of a book banned for these reasons. The book is a collection of short stories by Kurt Vonnegut and the title is the same as the title of one of the stories. These stories include “Welcome to the Monkey House”, “All the King’s Horses”, “Who am I This Time?”, “More Stately Mansions”, “The Foster portfolio”, and “The Kid Nobody Could Handle” along with many others. Those listed however seemed the most likely to be banned out of the book.
Kurt Vonnegut is well known as a pessimistic writer, whose topic usually is the future. He wrote these for mass produced and distributed magazines. They therefore are rather conventional, both thematically, and technically. Through these stories you can see some of the information about Vonnegut himself. He is the product of an Indianapolis middle class family. Many of the stories also show Vonnegut’s and America’s preoccupation with the Cold War, love, status, and identity.
The first story, “Welcome to the Monkey House” a future society is described in America where a scientist had invented and ethical birth- control pill that removes all pleasure from sex, and the government requires al women and men to take them. “The pills are ethical because they didn’t interfere with a person’s ability to reproduce, which would have been unnatural and immoral, all the pills did was take every bit of pleasure out of sex. Thus did science and morals go hand in hand”
The hero of this story is a very short, funny looking man who calls himself Billy the Poet. He seduces the suicide hostesses, whose job it is to help people commit suicide painlessly and effectively, whenever they want in a pleasurable way. In this case he dresses up as an old man who wants to commit suicide. When he seduces these women, always at gunpoint he forces them to abandon their ethical birth control pills. “The people who understood science said that people had to quit reproducing so much, and the people who understood morals said that society would collapse if people used sex for nothing but pleasure”
This story is not nearly as pessimistic as some of Vonnegut’s other novels, however it isn’t optimistic either. The story makes the government and the scientific community the villains of the story for taking away sex. It also makes Billy the Poet a hero for rebelling against the government edict and for spreading his philosophy of pleasure through sexual intercourse. One thing that should be pointed out about this story is that it was originally written for Playboy magazine.
One of the ironies of the story was after Billy raped the suicide hostess and removed her ethical birth control pills. He leaves her with a poem and a bottle of regular birth control pills. The poem was “How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways” which is ironic because Billy has shown no love for the suicide hostess, only a little bit of pleasure for converting her to a “Nothinghead”. However the poem is appropriate because the suicide hostess’ feeling about sex were very like those of most Victorian ladies. The effect of the ethical birth control pills is also much like the effects that the author of the poem, Elisabeth Browning, felt after falling off of her horse.
The theme of this story is not in the altruistic efforts of Billy the Poet, but rather, things that seem good really aren’t necessarily good.
The next story was “All the King’s Horses”. This story is the product of the Cold War of the early 1950’s when Americans were becoming more and more suspicious of the Soviet Union and of China. The Sort describes a battle between a group of Americans, led by Colonel Kelley, and Pi Ying, a Chinese guerilla leader. The Americans were the victims of a plane crash in China. Ying brings Kelley, his wife, his 2 sons, and twelve American soldiers to a hideout where he offers the Colonel one chance to save all their lives. The chance is that he must uses the Americans as chess pieces in a game against Pi Ying while a Russian advisor observes. If Kelley wins the Americans will go free. Ying is a rather evil bloodthirsty character and the Russian is eager for a war between the United States and Russia as soon as the time is right. Ying is assassinated by his mistress, and then the Russian takes over, but Kelley has already won. The Russian lets the Americans go, and says that ultimately there will be a war between them, but later.
This story now seems very dated, however it reflects accurately the American sentiment during the early Cold War period. The theme of the story seems to be in the choices that people make. People make good decisions and people make bad decisions. Those that make good decisions come out well in the end.
The story “Who am I this time?” is an example of Vonnegut’s stories that show a concern about role playing, and people being who they are, and aren’t. The main character, a very shy hardware clerk only comes alive when he is in a role in the local theatre group. The director in the story decides to do the play A Streetcar Named Desire. The hardware clerk, Harry becomes Marlin Brando in the play and a young girl named Helene who plays Stella in the play falls in love with him. Because harry was left on the doorstep of a church as a baby he has no concept of self, and Helene was always employed moving from place to place, so she never developed a personality of her own. Both of them therefore yearn for an environment in which they can blend in and feel that they have an identity. They marry, and their marriage only works because they are constantly reading lines of couples from various plays.
The story “More Stately Mansions” was about a woman who from the beginning of the story is rather odd and in the end seems completely psychotic. The theme of the story is that the dream is always more precious than the reality.
A couple moves into a suburban home and discovers that their neighbor Grace has an obsession with home decorating. Grace invites them over for a couple drinks and they discover that Grace’s home is rather dull, dirty, and everything is falling apart. Grace falls sick and while she is in the hospital her husband inherits enough money that he can do all of her decorating that she’d been dreaming about over the years. When she came home from the hospital however the only thing that she notices is the bouquet of roses that her husband bought her. She seems to think that this was the way that she left her house, and that it was always perfect and beautiful. She sits on the couch, looking rather depressed and her husband announces that a new “Home Beautiful” has come in the mail, to which she replies “read one and you’ve read them all” when she used to be obsessed with the magazines.
“The Foster Portfolio” is one of the most pessimistic of any of the stories. IT is one of his many stories about the relationships between fathers and sons. Herbert Foster works as a bookkeeper to support his wife and child. He has inherited almost a million-dollar stock portfolio, but he feels that the money is tainted because it came from his father, a man who abandoned wife and child to devote his life to playing music and to drinking gin and he won’t touch it. Three nights a week Herbert goes out to a cheap bar because he “had the respectability his mother had hammered into him. But just as priceless as that was an income not quite big enough to go around. It left him no alternative but- in the holy names of wife, child and home- to play piano in a dive, and breathe smoke, and drink gin, to be Firehouse Harris, his father’s son, three nights out of seven”. Foster’s split personality causes him to find it necessary to create roles that help him cope with what seem unbearable problems.
The story that gives this book the biggest merit is “The Kid Nobody Could Handle”. The music teacher, Helmholtz is appalled to find that Jim Donnini, a juvenile delinquent from the streets of Chicago, has been vandalizing Lincoln High School. Filled with compassion and desperation Helmholtz offers him his most prized possession, John Philip Sousa’a trumpet. When the boy initially shows no interest, Helmholtz hammers the instrument against a coat tree and mutter that “Life is no damn good” ; and only then does Donnini show any interest in Helmholtz. With the start of a new school semester, Jim Donnini takes the last seat of the worst trumpet section of the “C” band. As Helmholtz tells him and the rest of the band “Our aim is to make the world more beautiful than it was when we came into it? Love yourself?and make your instrument sing about it” Vonnegut is saying in this story that without a sense of self worth it is impossible for anyone to achieve anything.
The entire book Welcome to the Monkey House was banned only a few times, for it isn’t taught in very many schools. However the main example of it being banned was in Alabama, where a teacher was fired for teaching it because the book promoted the killing off of the elderly, and free sex. The teacher later sued, and won.
These two things, the killing off of the elderly, and free sex were both in the actual story “welcome to the Monkey House”. The story did promote free sex, but only normal amounts of sex. The idea was that the pills were wrong, not that people now should have more sex. As for the killing off of the elderly, the idea was for the killing off of anyone that wanted to die because there was a large population problem going on.
There were also many good reasons for the book being taught. The book has many morals taught in it and just about every story has a positive message in it. The positive message in “All the Kings Horses” was about making good choices and being bold in life, the message in “The Kid Nobody Could Handle” was about believing in yourself. There was even a positive message in “More Stately Mansions” that dreams are sometimes better than reality, and that the dreamer is not necessarily bad. The positive message in “Welcome to the Monkey House” is that sometimes the big guy is wrong, and change can be brought about by one small person, along with that we shouldn’t as a society be afraid of sex.
In most cases censorship indeed seems to be only a violation of peoples right to free speech. It is, in the words of the Disinformation website “an easy way for prudish control freaks to get their jollies”. However, there are cases in which censorship is right. For children, there is a reason for censorship, but adults can decide whether or not they want to read books like “Welcome to the Monkey House”.