What is the psychological meaning behind Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut?

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The psychological meaning behind Player Piano can be found in the consequences of class division. The world affects people living in the homestead by treated them as less valuable than the machines that replaced their jobs. The world affects the managers and engineers by giving this a since of superiority. Both groups feel purposeless and resentful.

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In Player Piano, America is run by machines and the engineers and managers who operate these machines. This system brutally divides society into two classes: the have and the have-nots. Both groups resent the other, and both groups feel purposeless.

The people in the homestead yearn to contribute to society and to be valued as human beings. While a few of the homesteaders hold jobs such as bartender, artisan, or athlete, the majority “cannot support himself by doing a job better than a machine [and] is employed by the government, either in the Army or the Reconstruction and Reclamation Corps” (Vonnegut 27). These individuals are essentially told that they are of less value to society than a machine. They understand that their job in the Army or the Reeks and Wrecks (the Reconstruction and Reclamation Corps) is merely an activity used by the government to keep them busy and to justify their paycheck. With their choices and opportunities removed, the homesteaders feel a deep sense of purposelessness.

The feelings of purposelessness and the removal of choice for the homesteaders gives way to feelings of resentment for the managers, engineers, and their privileged families. From sneer looks and mumbled insults to full-on riots and rebellions, the homesteaders attempt to make their resentment of the system and those that perpetrate it heard. Unfortunately, the rebellions of the homesteaders and their allies are shut down, leading to a continuous cycle of purposelessness, dissatisfaction, growing resentment, and rebellion.

While the managers and engineers certainly live a more privileged life, they are not without problems. They have watched the previous two industrial revolutions sweep through the United States. With each passing revolution, they saw another layer of jobs become obsolete often leaving them to ponder if a third revolution would eradicate their jobs. One worker explains her worries stating, “First the muscle work, then the routine work, then, maybe, the real brainwork” (22). These upper-class workers understand that with advancing technology their jobs will likely be replaced by machines, just like the homesteaders.

Many of these managers and engineers also believe themselves superior to the homesteaders. This superiority often shows up as antipathy toward the homesteaders. The privileged upper-class workers see the homesteaders as lazy and unintelligent. In reality, it was often the born-into privilege that landed these managers and engineers their jobs. The upper-class workers' sense of superiority further divides the society and spurs resentment from both sides.

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