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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 280

Kurt Vonnegut’s science fiction novel, Player Piano, is set in a future world and centers around a man named Paul Proteus, an exceptionally smart engineer and manager of a company called Ilium Works, where intelligent machines are created to do the work of humans. Paul is running the machines that rule the country, but he is concerned about the state of the nation and the plight of the people whose work has been devalued and whose jobs have been replaced. When Paul is reunited with an old friend, Finnerty, he leaves his job at Ilium Works and joins his friend in a rebellion against the system. Believing that Paul is really on their side and that Finnerty is part of the Great Shirt Society, an organization that is working to obliterate the machines and give power back to the people, Paul’s bosses at Ilium works recruit him to be a spy. Paul rejects the offer, but his bosses continue to believe he is spying for them.

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When Paul goes to a bar one night, his drink is drugged, and the finds himself in the headquarters of the Great Shirt Society, a group of rebels who recruit him as their leader. Paul comes to believe wholeheartedly in the Society’s mission, and the rebellion that ensues leads to the destruction of machines all over the country. Paul is tried for treason, and the rebellion escalates, although the rebel leaders begin to realize that they are destroying machines only to rebuild them, and that they lack a vision for what they want to accomplish. Realizing that their rebellion is fruitless, the rebels surrender to the authorities and abandon their cause.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 440

Player Piano, Kurt Vonnegut’s first novel, belongs to a category referred to as dystopian fiction. Such works depict a future in which scientific advances create a new, nightmarish world. Vonnegut’s setting is the fictional city of Ilium after World War III. Society is run by an elite of manager-engineers. They all live on one side of the river. On the other side of the river live those whose jobs have been taken by automation. They are supported by the state on pensions or in make-work employment. Without jobs or purpose, these displaced persons lack identity and feel that their lives are meaningless.

Paul Proteus is the son of a former Works Manager and seems capable of moving into the highest levels of management himself, but he is troubled by doubts. His wife, Anita, pushes him to advance, but many evenings he slips into old clothes and goes to a bar on the other side of the river. In the bar is a player piano, a key symbol in this novel, as it represents perhaps an early automated replacement of a human.

Increasingly torn between dissatisfaction and pressure to advance, Paul considers...

(The entire section contains 720 words.)

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