The recently departed Kurt Vonnegut Jr. strikes gold with this 1952 novel “Player Piano” which is in my view a brilliant social critique of how the modern world of industrialization tends to dehumanize and in the opinion of Kurt Vonnegut it seems to make us unhappy in many respects. Not only does this magnum opus make the reader question the merits of a society that is so dependent on mechanization it also makes you question how much control the average person has over their daily lives and how much is controlled by those on the higher end of the economic ladder. The main character Paul is a man who has been given plenty of privilege in life, however he begins to ponder about whether his life is headed in the right direction when his wife Anita contends that he must strive for further success in his field of engineering by taking a high paying opportunity to transfer within his firm to Pittsburgh.
Throughout the story we have different elements pulling Paul this way or that way. He truly has two options at this juncture in life. Either to develop a further enchantment (like he use to have) with his current status in life and take the employment opportunity in “The Steel City” or to stay where he’s at and find a way to change if only just a small reform the system, the rat race in which he has begun to loathe. Throughout the book Paul meets people who struggle within the dog eat dog world of the “second industrial revolution” that Paul calls it, this being a futuristic prognostication piece of fiction. Whether it’s the minor characters like the old, blind unemployed man who he use to work with at Illium Works, the engineering firm where Paul is very important. The man has since gone blind, smells like urine and all he does is sit at the bar and pet his mangy old dog. Then there is the downtrodden biker who Paul also meets in the bar who is unsure about his son’s future because his son did poorly on a civil service exam. You see in the world now, there are only basically three kinds of jobs. “The Reeks and Wrecks” and the Army or a job at the factory working with robots like Paul does.
Paul goes on to suggest that maybe the biker’s son can open up a repair shop and when he does this the biker gets frustrated. Due to all this happening the pressure becomes too mastodonic for Paul to handle so he leaves the bar. Now it is time for you the reader to find out where he goes from there.+
In this Vonnegut also takes a jab at patriotism with his character the Shah of Bratpuhr who is led through a tower of modern America and he can’t speak a lick of English, but comes to the conclusion that during this expedition that a ambassador is leading him on that not only the plight of the working man, but also the obedience that the Army shows to their country must make them slaves or “takuru” as he calls it.
Other characters that play an important role in the plot are:
Ed Finnerty-Paul’s friend who quit his job in Washingon D.C. because he is fed up with the current path that he is on and he wants to mutate the direction of it.
Paul Sheperd-Once a protégé of Paul who now wants the Pittsburgh job for himself because he feels he has been wronged by the engineering company.
Rev. Lasher-Who Paul goes on to discuss life with a time or two.
With Vonnegut’s witty humor he ties together the elements of this story in a very humorous way. The book does take some strange turns once Paul finally does make the decision about his life. Readers should be given a little bit of background on Mr. Vonnegut’s politics before picking this up. Vonnegut was a humanist and an admirer of former Socialist Party nominee for President Eugene Debs. If you do not enjoy opposing points of view whether you are a “liberal” or a “conservative” this book is not for you, but if you want to take a look at some of the issues that America is facing through a different lens then this is definitely some good fiction that you will enjoy and I highly recommend that everyone either buy it or go check it out at the local library.