The main character in Make Room! Make Room! is neither Andy, nor Billy, nor Shirl, but the city of New York and the broader world condition that it implies. Descriptions of ruin and decline receive more description and exploration than do the humans in the story, who move like ghosts through the dying streets.
Harrison’s narrative, written in 1966, certainly is dated in its specifics, but its basic proposition that uncontrolled consumption, population growth, and urban expansion will eventually transform cities into concrete hells still retains much of its original validity. Sol’s charmingly homespun discourses on the causes of the current disaster have a distinctly pedagogic tenor, a didactic quality that surfaces at various points in the text. This tone is characteristic of many other cautionary dystopian tales that attempt to predict social outcomes and instruct readers. Most early editions of Make Room! Make Room! include a three-page bibliography of nonfiction texts that deal with environmental, population, and resource-depletion issues. Readers interested in other novels that focus on these concerns and that were written during roughly the same period may wish to compare Harrison’s book with John Brunner’s influential Stand on Zanzibar (1968).
The film version of Make Room! Make Room!, titled Soylent Green (1973), departs from the story in the novel in a number of significant ways. Students and instructors cannot rely on it to give them knowledge of the plot or central themes of the book.