I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream Analysis

Harlan Ellison

The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The seven stories in I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, originally published in science-fiction and mens magazines between 1958 and 1967, include both science fiction and fantasy. They are united by Harlan Ellisons introductions for each of the stories, in which he discusses their personal significance to him, as well as by their focus on powerful emotions. In each story, people are confronted with their deepest fears or desires.

“I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” is narrated by Ted, one of five people trapped below the surface of the earth in a sentient computer called AM. The computer has taken over the world and killed everyone except these five people. Programmed to wage war, the nearly omnipotent AM has kept these five alive and tortured them for 109 years. Ted relates their brutal sufferings, revealing in the process his extreme paranoia. He is capable of love for Ellen, the only woman in the group, and of self-sacrifice. When the group arrives at an ice cavern in search of food, he seizes a moment of confusion to initiate a mercy killing of the others. In rage, the computer reduces Ted to a hideous blob, able to be tortured for eternity and to think but not to act. In his reflections, Ted hopes he did the right thing.

The narrator of “Big Sam Was My Friend” is also tested but falls short. A member of an intergalactic circus, Johnny Lee befriends a teleporter named Sam, who believes that heaven is in space and is looking for a dead girl he loved on...

(The entire section is 612 words.)

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

The Cold War
From the end of World War II through the mid- 1980s, the world endured a period commonly known as ‘‘The Cold...

(The entire section is 964 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Point of View
Ellison has provided ‘‘I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream’’ with a limited, first-person narrator. Thus,...

(The entire section is 620 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

"'Repent, Harlequin' Said the Ticktockman" delivers an almost whimsical warning about dangerous tendencies in society, but in his second...

(The entire section is 123 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1960s: The military use of technology grows exponentially during the Vietnam War. Precision bombing, napalm, and night vision are all...

(The entire section is 318 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

Read several other science fiction stories or books written during the 1950s and 1960s. You might look at works by Isaac Asimov, Robert...

(The entire section is 209 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In 1996, the publisher Cyberdreams brought forth a computer game version of "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream."Computer Gaming World...

(The entire section is 128 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Short Stories for Students)

‘‘I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream’’ was recorded on audiocassette in October 1999 by NewStar Media. The short story was also...

(The entire section is 68 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

Isaac Asimov created a series of science fiction short stories and novels presenting the relationship between humans and machines in a more...

(The entire section is 204 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Cobb, Joann P., ‘‘Medium and Message in Ellison’s ‘I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream,’’’ in The...

(The entire section is 323 words.)