Player Piano Character Analysis

Academic, Literary Analysis

Dunlap High School

Instructor: Chris Friedman

Player Piano Character Analysis

           It is not often that one might see a character who is almost totally described by his/her emotions and is given almost no physical description.  Authors describing characters this way can give different readers different views of how the character might look, but will construct within the reader how the personality of the character is exactly like.  Dr. Paul Proteus is an example of such character that is described in Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, Player Piano.  Because Paul is described by his changing thoughts and feelings throughout the novel, he is considered to be a dynamic character.

Dr. Paul Proteus is a dynamic, well explained by his thoughts, and the main character of the novel Player Piano.  Paul is an engineer of the factory, Ilium Works in the city Ilium, Yew York.  The novel is set in the future where machine are found to be more effective than humans in many jobs; hence, machines now do jobs once done by men and women.  Paul, near the beginning of the book, gives a speech on how the world is a better place because of the modern machines:  “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?”  The book is clearly third person omniscient since it talks about characters that Paul never seen or heard of.  However, the novel does go deep into Paul’s thoughts and feelings; this is how it describes Paul’s changing character.  The novel makes almost no attempt to describe Paul’s physical character.  The following piece from the book gives an example of how the author describes Paul by his thoughts:

“the feeling of fresh, strong identity growing within him.  It was a generalized love—particularly for the little people, the common people…he had come among them, shared their hipes and disappointments, understood their yearnings, discovered the bearty of their simplicities and their earthy values.  Whis was real…Paul loved these common people…and he wanted to help and let them love him too.

The quote above describes the feeling Paul felt after he realized that average citizens are not as happy as they should be.  After he realized the citizens’ desperate desire to be able to do jobs that the machine has taken away and be useful.  And also after he realized that these common citizens are neat people who views life in a more simple way than the super intelligent people like himself do.  It is important to notice on the quote above, the dynamic changes going on within the thoughts of Paul, which also appears in many other parts of the book.  The author also does a great job in portraying how Paul exactly feels.  An example of this can be seen when Paul becomes drunk, extremely tired and is about fall asleep in the bar:  “Paul’s eyelids grew heavier and havier and heavier as he tried to think of the phrase that would break the ice with Barbara.  He folded his arms on the table top and, for just an instant’s rest, he laid his head on them.  When he opened his eyes again, Finnerty was shaking him…Barbara…had gone”.  Near the end of the book, Paul is strictly against the new way of life, and therefore he quits his engineering job and wishes to restore the many of the jobs now running by machines, back to the People.  The following quote shows Paul’s answer to the questions being asked:

‘why are you Quitting?’   | ‘Sick of my job.’  | ‘Because what you were doing was morally bad?’…”Because it wasn’t getting anybody anywhere’…‘Because it was evil?’…‘Because it was pointless’…‘Then you’re against the organization now?’  | ‘I am not with them now’

The quote illustrates that Paul no longer agrees to what he said earlier, in his speech.  Paul, the dynamic character, is well described by his thoughts and emotions.

Dr. Paul Proteus is with the engineers’ beliefs at the beginning of the novel but changes his opinions in a totally opposite direction by the end of the book.  He is almost completely described by his thoughts and feelings.  Paul is illustrated by his personality and his dynamism.


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