Player Piano – Theme

Academic, Literary Analysis

Dunlap High School

Instructor: Chris Friedman

Player Piano – Theme

Why does one feel the need to discover; the need to be educated; the need to challenge challenges; the need to be a part of something, and be appreciated; the need to be useful?  It is something that almost everyone will agree, that is natural to the human mind.  People today will compete in colleges to become a part of a field that interest them the most.  People also will join clubs and organization and do much to help.  People want to be with there friends and be loved and appreciated by others.  Almost everyone feels that they need to be a part of the world.  Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, Player Piano provides a theme of feeling useful as it describes people’s feelings of life when their needs to be appreciated and to be useful is taken away from them.  Because Player Piano deals with people feeling useless, the theme of the novel can be the feeling to be needed.

One of the themes of the novel Player Piano is the feeling to be needed.  The novel takes place in the future where the world—America particularly, have technology advanced enough to have most of the country’s industrial jobs done automatically by machines.  This advance in machinery have helped the economy of the country strengthen significantly as described in the novel:  “Machines were doing America’s work far better than Americans had ever done it.  There were better goods for more people at less cost, and who could deny that that was magnificent and gratifying?”  However, is the current condition of the country as satisfying to the average citizens as it appear to be from what the quote above stated?  America may be leading in economy, but according to what the average citizens feel about the current way of life, there seems to be a problem.  A barber from this novel comments on these feelings; he quotes, “And, oh, I guess machines have made things a lot better…though there’s plenty who say they haven’t, and I can see what they mean, all right.  It does seem like the machines took all the good jobs, where a man could be true to hisself and false to nobody else”.  The barber states hear that the development of technology caused the machines to be more effective than people in doing many jobs.  And in these “good” jobs, as he states, people “could be true to hisself”, in which he means that people enjoyed doing their jobs and therefore, did their best to do those jobs.  So the barber explains that because the machines have now taken over these jobs, many people lost jobs that they loved the most.  People who lost jobs did not suffer the living expenses however; the engineers from the novel clearly states this:  The average citizens now “have a social insurance package that paid all of…medical bills…dentist bills, and provided for food, housing, clothes, and pocket money in…old age”.  So it is the economical problem that the average citizens are facing, but it is actually the fact that they can no longer do work they once enjoyed.  And because these people can no longer do those jobs, they can feel the fact they are no longer needed in society, and are feeding on what the government provides them with (most via machines).  It is stated on the book, “Men, by their nature, seemingly, cannot be happy unless engaged in enterprises that make them feel useful”.  As the book dwells upon the problem of people feeling useless for not having jobs they are skilled with, one of the themes of the book is the feeling to be needed.

Machines have now replaced people from many jobs for more effective output of America’s economy.  While most engineers are convinced that this has a greatly positive impact on the average citizens, it is clear that the citizens believe otherwise.  The common people are desperate for they are bored of not having jobs to do.  Thy feel useless, and they do not feel that they are any longer needed.  The book greatly talks about the complains made by citizens feeling useless, which identifies one of the themes of the book as being the feeling to be needed.


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