Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

At one level, Kurt Vonnegut’s “EPICAC” is a love triangle story, minus the jealous rage usually associated with such stories. The fact that one of the lovers is a computer might easily be played for laughs, and there is certainly a comic element involved. The way that the story is presented, however, suggests several far deeper levels.

The first level is that of science fiction. EPICAC is the greatest computer in history, with a huge potential. From the first sentence of the narrative, it is obvious that there is more to it than merely the ability to calculate rapidly and accurately. This is most clearly shown in the ways that the various characters are depicted.

EPICAC is described at first as a huge machine, but “he” soon replaces “it” as the pronoun used to describe the machine, and the narrator often refers to the computer as his friend. Pat Kilgallen, the narrator’s girlfriend, is a wooden figure, useful only to advance the plot. Doctor von Kleigstadt is a stereotypical scientist, complete with an overdone German accent. Even the narrator is never named. The most human character in the story is the computer. The only dialogues with any meaning are between the narrator and EPICAC.

The most important plot development in this regard is the computer’s suicide. It does not make much sense that a computer should be able to commit suicide; a computer is a machine, after all. Even more important is the manner of that...

(The entire section is 602 words.)