Giles Goat-boy

by John Barth

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1055

Billy Bocksfuss lives contentedly in the goat barns of New Tammany College, thinking he is a goat and the child of Maximilian “Max” Spielman, his keeper and tutor, and a goat named Mary V. Appenzeller. One day, after killing his best friend, a goat named Redfern’s Tommy, Billy learns that he is human. For his human name, he chooses George, after George Herrold, the man who found him as an infant on a booklift leading into the belly of WESCAC (West Campus Automatic Computer), the giant computer that runs New Tammany College. In a way, George’s father is WESCAC, for George resulted from an experiment in which WESCAC collected samples of human sperm to produce the GILES, Grand-Tutorial Ideal, Laboratory Eugenical Specimen.

In rescuing the baby, George Herrold was partly EATen by WESCAC. EAT stands for Electro-encephalic Amplification and Transmission, a means of disrupting brain waves and thus killing people; its first test was against the Amaterasu, against whom New Tammany College still fought after it had defeated Siegfrieder College in Campus Riot II. Max and Eblis Eierkopf pushed the EAT button, killing thousands of Amaterasus, something for which Max feels great remorse. Only partially EATen when he rescued the infant, George Herrold still lives but acts like a child.

George learns about sex from watching students make love around the goat barns. He learns about love from Max and from a woman he calls Lady Creamhair, who feeds him peanut butter sandwiches and tells him stories such as “The Three Billy Goats Gruff.” Later, he discovers she is Virginia Hector, his mother, but first he decides that her concern for him is sexual and acts accordingly, to his later shame.

At the age of twenty-two, George sets out to achieve what he feels is his destiny and to fulfill his assignment, “Pass All Fail All.” Only a Grand Tutor can enter WESCAC’s belly un-EATen. Since he had come from WESCAC’s belly by means of the booklift, he thinks he is destined to be a Grand Tutor. As Grand Tutor, he intends to enter WESCAC’s belly, destroy its AIM (Automatic Implementation Mechanism), and thus prevent Campus Riot III. One night, awakening to the sound of Max blowing the shofar, he leaves the goat barns, walking toward the central campus of New Tammany College. When George reaches a fork in the road and Max tries to get him to return to the barns, he plunges through the woods, determined to continue. George Herrold and Max accompany George. They reach a river with a washed-out bridge. There, George Herrold drowns trying to cross to Anastasia Stoker, who stands on the other side displaying her nude body and shouting, “Croaker,” attempting to lure Croaker, a gigantic, primitive exchange student who has run amok. Anastasia was brought up as Virginia’s daughter. Anastasia, however, is not Virginia’s biological child. After George Herrold drowns, Croaker comes, takes George on his back, crosses the river, and rapes Anastasia. George then recrosses the river on Croaker’s back, gets Max, and brings him to the other side.

Maurice Stoker, Anastasia’s husband, then comes with his troopers on motorcycles and takes Anastasia, George, and George Herrold’s body to the Power House, which Stoker runs. The Power House supplies the power for WESCAC and New Tammany College, which is engaged in the Quiet Riot with the Nikolayans and EASCAC, the Nikolayan equivalent of WESCAC. George enjoys the chaos in the Power House. He attends a party that Stoker throws at which, during George Herrold’s funeral service, George “services” Anastasia.

The next morning, George, riding Croaker, finds Max near a wrecked motorcycle....

(This entire section contains 1055 words.)

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George puts Max on Croaker, and George starts riding the motorcycle toward the main campus of New Tammany College, when they meet Peter Greene, owner of many industries and businesses, including Greene Timber and Plastics, a company that is destroying the forests of New Tammany College. Greene, who is hitchhiking, accompanies the travelers to the main campus.

Arriving the last day of Carnival, they attend a performance of The Tragedy of Taliped Decanus, about the dean who kills his father and marries his mother. Toward the performance’s end, Max disappears, having been arrested for the murder of Herman Hermann, the Siegfrieder leader of the Bonifacists during Campus Riot II, who had been working as one of Stoker’s troopers. At the performance’s end, Harold Bray flies from the sky and announces that he is the new Grand Tutor. George protests that Bray is an impostor.

After spending the night with Eblis Eierkopf, who feels that WESCAC is the real Grand Tutor, George successfully endures the Trial by Turnstile and goes successfully through Scrapegoat Grate. Then, he receives his assignment, “To Be Done At Once, In No Time,” to “Fix the Clock,” “End the Boundary Dispute,” “Overcome Your Infirmity,” “See Through Your Ladyship,” “Re-Place the Founder’s Scroll,” “Pass the Finals,” and “Present Your ID-Card, Appropriately Signed, to the Proper Authority.” In the course of trying to complete his assignment, George creates chaos on the New Tammany campus and brings his college and the Nikolayans to the verge of Campus Riot III. He then enters WESCAC’s belly, along with Bray, and when he emerges, he sees that all is ruined.

Arrested, George spends forty weeks imprisoned in the Nether Campus. When he emerges, he tries to correct the problems he caused earlier. He enters WESCAC’s belly a second time. When he emerges, he is almost lynched. Later, George enters the belly for a third time, now locked in a sexual embrace with Anastasia. When they emerge, Virginia, who has gone insane, greets them with the word, “A-plus.” George pronounces her his first graduate.

Briefly going to the goat barns with Anastasia, George returns to campus with a goat, Tom’s Tommy’s Tom, who attacks Bray, driving him from New Tammany College at the exact time that Max is being shafted for the murder to which he has confessed. In a “Posttape,” George says that at the age of thirty-three and one-third, again in the Nether Campus, he dictates his story to WESCAC and the book about his adventures results. He feels that he will eventually be shafted and that it does not matter whether or not people believe his story.