‘Welcome To The Monkey House’ by Kurt Vonnegut

vonnegut, kurt 1961

Welcome To The Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., 1961

The magic trick:

Giving the reader a no-win sympathy situation

The reader, much like the characters in this story, has nowhere good to turn in this monkey house. Vonnegut’s picture of the future is pretty bleak. Now perhaps this is an immature, even stupid, approach to art, but I find that when I read fiction, I need a character, or at least an idea, with which to sympathize. I need to know right from wrong at least. I’m guessing this is a not-uncommon expectation. Vonnegut, though, has no patience for readers like us.

Consider the options he provides here. You can sympathize with the suicide nurse who believes in a sexless life of robot efficiency. Not so great, right? Well, the “hero” – the advocate for sex and passion and emotion – believes kidnapping, imprisonment, and rape are the only means for his message. It’s very difficult to read those passages, let alone sympathize with his agenda.

So where does that leave us? Well, I’ll tell you. It leaves us alone and anxious and fearful and full of disdain for both sides of the sexual revolution. In other words: exactly where the author wants us. And that’s quite a trick on Vonnegut’s part.

The selection:

“I never listen to a woman till the pills wear off,” sneered Billy. That was his plan, then – to keep her a prisoner for at least eight hours. That was how long it took for the pills to wear off.

“That’s a silly rule.”

“A woman’s not a woman till the pills wear off.”

“You certainly manage to make a woman feel like an object rather than a person.”

“Thank the pills for that,” said Billy.

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