This story carries the theme of man's subjugation to his own systems to a nightmarish conclusion. The warring nations of the world had each created giant computers, called AMs, the purpose of which was to destroy their enemies. Unfortunately, however, these computers had linked themselves into one monstrous AM, which systematically used its "killing data" to wipe out all but five of the entire human race. AM now imprisons these five wretches, four men and a woman, in its belly and tortures them repeatedly in bizarre and humiliating ways. According to the narrator, Ted, the youngest of the five, the only way out is death but AM would certainly prevent any suicides,
A major Ellison theme, vengeance, is also graphically depicted in "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream." Even Ellison's early fiction, such as the violent street gang stories in The Deadly Streets (1958), are centrally concerned with revenge. These stories seem to celebrate gang "justice," and even more morbid variations on the revenge theme occur in "Rat Hater," a grotesque version of Poe's "Cask of Amontillado," in which a wounded victim is left in a warehouse to be devoured by rats. In "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream," however, as in many of the later works, revenge appears to be the projection of a fundamentally deformed human consciousness. AM's hideous revenge upon the human race is traceable directly to those who created it. When AM punishes the narrator for killing the others by...
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