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Dystopias by Kurt Vonnegut and Robert Silverberg Essay

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Updated: Dec 15th, 2021


The world of literature is rich in different genres and styles implemented in it. In this respect people should judge on the literature solely from the perspective of time and philosophical trends relevant to it. In this way one is able to shape the reality of this or that work of literature through glancing at the author himself/herself and his characteristic features in writing novels or stories.

Main text

Dystopia is a genre that is quite opposite to something good that awaits people in the future. It is quite pessimistic narration on the drawbacks of current society with glimpses at the future. Turning out to the fact that reality can be deceitful and governmental unities can have an extra plan of making people obedient is an inevitable fact that is upon suspicion of many intelligent people. In this respect Modernism was going the way quite unique in its philosophical and rational coloring. Thereupon, one may suppose that the power of word used by Modernists, such as Kurt Vonnegut or Robert Silverberg was influenced by many social changes of the time. Scientific and technological progress and attempts of a man to reach out the areas of knowledge and influence that were not accessible for a long period of time provoked it. This is why it is vital to comparatively analyze the works by aforementioned Kurt Vonnegut and Robert Silverberg.

The main ideas of dominance concentrated at hand of a higher straum of people are presupposed with the books by two outstanding dystopia writers. The manifestation of the everlasting longing of mind and spirit to the freedom of self-expression is common place for all three works under analysis.

First of all, it is necessary to admit the works that are of great significance in this comparative essay. The first one is Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut. The second is Welcome to the Monkey House by the same writer. Finally, the third short story is The Pain Peddlers by Robert Silverberg. Each of them is a futuristic description of imaginary society in which people are void of freedom in almost everything. The main idea is that freedom of self-expression is harshly controlled by the top caste described in each story. Thus, it is about time to get deep into the peculiarities of these three works.

Harrison Bergeron amazes by the fact that the main character is fourteen-year-old boy who wants to show people the truth. It is his great desire to make people understand what is great in life. Done in best features of Vonnegut’s style, this story characterizes the society of the future that is overloaded with scientific innovations. In turn it makes people spurred to the higher powers of the society due to being handicapped by special collars. The main motivation is to reduce the power of mind in every human being and achieve equality, as a result. This idea is particular to totalitarian regimes where people are highly controlled to prevent any obstacle to criminal regime of oppressors. It is, possibly, something like in North Korea or so. Harrison is a genius who managed to break down the system of personal control. Moreover, he used mass media (television) to project truth of living beyond those collars. He influenced public opinion for a while. However, he was stopped.

Such tragedy is seen on the example of the ominous medicine headed by Dr, Northrop. Under his command people (assistants) were trying make things with other individuals go well. The feature of the story The Pain Peddlers is in the fact that the situation in it reminds bureaucratic procedures in reality. It also states the danger of autocratic societies. Such hazard is not in the society itself, but in its ruler or rulers. A very significant statement characterizing the whole idea in the book follows: “The organization couldn’t tolerate inefficiency” (Silverberg 218). The affairs of some organization (meaning the power leading the society) may go apart from the natural needs of individuals on the whole. Northrop intentionally ignores providing anesthetic measures for patients. He tries to give scientific grounds on the use of pain, as an alternative to anesthesia. Northrop is a pain peddler, for the scientific progress made him think of its use to decrease the natural martyrdom of individuals.

Welcome to the Monkey House is peculiar for the same idea that in Harrison Burgeron. It is seen here that the system tries to control people related to it. In this respect different tools are used. These are different pills letting people be apart from the entire truth. ESS (Ethical Suicide Service) was something of the most dangerous type. The main rule for Hostesses, Nancy, Mary, and other girls reads: “A woman’s not a woman till the pills wear off” (Vonnegut 235). This truth shakes all of them, but it is senseless, for all are under the control of sheriff. Women are prevented from having sexual relations, as something wrong for the society. Otherwise, such people would be called “nothingheads.”

Now it is necessary to point out that the works of literature outlined above have several similarities and differences as well. In this case, first point concerns the way the stories are written. They are short but rich in content. Such paradoxical statement is possible owing to the deep thoughts put forward in them. Both Vonnegut and Silverberg tried to predict the hazards of overall technological progress as being used in selfish aims of some people to control others. Vonnegut is best in this feature of discussion. Both works, Harrison Burgeron and Welcome to the House of Monkeys, are mutually related to the political and social changes that may be assumed if the society stops developing. Each individual is precious in this case. Each one is a bearer and, perhaps, generator of ideas.

Washing peoples’ brains out is a travesty on what is done currently in totalitarian societies and in some communities of people led mostly by religious motives. Both works of Kurt Vonnegut are different to The Pain Peddlers in this feature. It is vital to admit that Silverberg tries to make emphasis on the possibility of wrongness that is generated inside the society. It concerns solely the field of medicine. However, the author highlights that persuasion in scientific use of wrong methods is painful. Pain cannot be distorted, unless being reduced.

Harrison Burgeron is similar in thematic character to Welcome to the House of Monkeys. However, it is more expressive due to the deeds that are supposed with the main character when he ordered to put collars off. Vonnegut attempted to maintain the truth of being alive in peoples’ inner world. He also showcased that there are a lot of fallacies which one can trap into. Nonetheless, both stories can be united on similar ideas of happiness. Nancy tried to guess which the true idea of being happy is. She was trying to imagine it apart from the pills. She trapped into a pitfall when realized that there is something better. Billy the Port helped her feel this peculiarity of intimacy. In this respect The Pain Peddlers can be understood as the story of people who prevented people from being relieved.

One more touch concerns the time when three works were published. It is the middle of 1960s when the world seems to blow up at any time. The authors used this peculiarity of social differences that were apparent in different countries of the world. The ideas of their main characters reflect their vision on what is good or bad about living in a “promising” society. They forecast that it is possible to make people obey to people in authority. It is especially seen due to the experiment of Stanley Milgram The Perils of Obedience which took place at the same period of time. The instruments and technologies were invented. Thus, the humanity should keep it in mind that the end may come, unless the reason is considered to be the main for decision making.


All in all, three works analyzed above serve to be a warning for those having no idea of the real charms of life, love, thinking, creating, feeling, etc. Provided in accordance with the dystopia genre these stories opened the way to think over the reality, notwithstanding their somewhat exaggerated setting in themes.

Works cited

Vonnegut, Kurt. Welcome to the monkey house: a collection of short works. NY: Delta Trade Paperbacks, 1998.

Silverberg, Robert. ‘The Pain Peddlers.’ In The Galaxy and If Years: 1960-1969; 216-224.

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