Range Against The Machines- Kurt Vonnegut

’s Player Piano Essay, Research Paper

Rage Against the Machines

In Kurt Vonnegut?s first novel, Player Piano, he brings up quite a few interesting points. His portrayal of a United States that has become a slave to it?s own ingenuity is somewhat entertaining. What really got to me was the fact that it?s easy to imagine people acting the way they did. As a reader I can see myself making those very same mistakes, and being just as childish as the ghost shirts, as conniving as Shepherd, and as manipulative as Rev. Lasher. Maybe in our society these people would have acted the same way, but if you look at their alternatives, you don?t find that there?s much left for them to do in their efficient and productive country. The society portrayed in Kurt Vonnegut?s Player Piano degrades and dehumanizes its inhabitants, robbing them of their dignity and literally boring them into sin. There?s not much worse than knowing, deep down in your heart that nothing would change if you disappeared. Going through life accomplishing nothing save for your continued existence is not much if at all for their meals, but would they be any better for it? There were so many labor saving devices available to the people of America. The country practically ran itself, and the people were left with a lot of time on their hands. An idle person, made so by some choice other than his/or her own, is going to try to do something to spice up his or her life. “A guy’s got to have kicks or he doesn’t want to live- and the only kicks left for a dumb bastard like me are the bad ones” (Vonnegut, p. 162). Everyone needs a little excitement in their lives, some kind of pressure. When everything comes along so easily, no work, no effort, then why not add a little danger and go do something illegal, who cares if you get caught, you?d just end up sitting around, in much the same way as this Vonnegutian society already does. It?s true, “being given everything is just what is wrong” (Reed, p.46), without working for their sustenance, these people cannot seem to truly appreciate themselves or others. With most of their daily tasks automated, the people have begun to act, even see themselves, more like the machines than the real people that they are. People?s social relations are being based around the well-oiled machine that their world has become. Paul and Anita are fine examples of this, they?re complete products of society. Anita is “A successful wife machine; pleasing to the eye, sexually adept, capable of any number of recitations reaffirming her love and devotion, and her life’s purpose, which is to say, ensuring her and Paul’s social advancement, is distracted by nothing.” (Von Winkle), efficiency is everything, emotion gets tossed out the window as things like love become a reflex action, turned on and off with the push of a button. Like a computer displays a symbol when a key is pressed, Paul and Anita respond in kind when the other says, “I love you” (throughout novel). It occurs frequently throughout the novel, so much so it?s obvious that the words are more of a reflex action than the sharing of any real feelings. They spend so much time with these machines, that when it comes time to try and fix their relationship, they don?t really know what to do, and Anita just opts for the most promising route in Shepherd. The people are just striving to be efficient here. They want to be the best that they can be, and their computers are better at their jobs than they are, so they let the computers do the work. Unfortunately anyone who doesn?t want to let the computers do his or her work is in big trouble, because they really have to make themselves indispensable. A wise man, in explaining the people?s plight did say, “Anyone who competes with slaves becomes a slave” (Vonnegut p.266). When speaking to a barber about machines, we learn that a barber invented a haircutting machine, just so someone else wouldn?t do it first and put him our of business. It?s not something anyone relishes, uselessness that is, but that?s exactly what Vonnegut?s America is imposing on it?s people. “The people changed from workers to controllers, then to supervisors and

managers, and then finally to a superfluous mass, not needed anymore.” (Kurfurst)

The life the Americans create for themselves is one that heads toward man?s ultimate uselessness. They?re just paving the way for more sloth and gluttony. Look at the Illium works. They took the best machinist of his age?s skills, and imported them into the machines. The original machines begin to break down, so they make better, more durable machines to replace them. Meanwhile where is the man who was replaced? He?s down at a bar across the river getting pissed drunk. “Man is on earth to create more durable and efficient images of himself, and, hence, to eliminate any justification for his continued existence” (Vonnegut p.286). We don?t see much use for Mr. Hertz anymore. There?s also that family who lived off of Proteus park in Chicago. They had all the technology

they needed, and it was provided to them free of charge. Their food was prepared instantly, as was the laundry. Yet the mother opts to do the laundry by hand, and doesn?t really seem very proud of the speed of their oven. It?s really quite sad. “The life they lead is terribly poor and pitiful despite all the technology that serves them “(Kurfurst). What can they do except sit back and watch their lives go by. As hospitable as the Engineers and Managers are trying to make the lives of the people, they?re really just slowly taking away everything that we associate with human dignity (the right to seek employment etc). When anyone can presume to know someone, by knowing their I.Q. and serial number, the people are no more human than the technology that serves them.


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