The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The world envisioned in Player Piano, Kurt Vonnegut’s first novel, is one in which highly efficient, automated machines have replaced most industrial workers except for a managerial class, largely consisting of engineers who maintain the machines. The protagonist is Dr. Paul Proteus, the son of the chief architect of the second industrial revolution, which resulted in the new machine age. As manager of the Ilium Works, one of America’s foremost industrial centers, he is in the upper echelon of the managerial class. Proteus’ rise to even greater prominence seems certain. He is intelligent, is obviously being groomed by his superiors, and is driven by his ambitious wife, Anita, whom, he constantly reminds himself, he dearly loves.

There is, however, something that eats at Proteus, some grating dissatisfaction that he never quite understands and that leads to eccentric behavior. He drives an old car with a broken headlight that he never repairs, enjoys crossing Ilium’s river bridge to the seedy side of town to mix with the chronically unemployed in run-down gin mills, and insists on maintaining a dangerous friendship with Dr. Edward Finnerty, a genius who finally ensnares Paul in a full-scale rebellion against the system.

Initially, Paul does not seem a very likely leader against his own class. Unlike Finnerty, who resigns an important post and flaunts his contempt for the system, Paul, far less sure of himself, is circumspect...

(The entire section is 589 words.)


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Suggested Readings

Klinkowitz, Jerome, and J. Somer, eds. The Vonnegut Statement. New York: Dell Books, 1973.

Leeds, Marc. The Vonnegut Encyclopedia. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995.

Merrill, Robert, ed. Critical Essays on Kurt Vonnegut. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1990.

Reed, Peter J. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1976.