Kurt Vonnegut’s “Player Piano”

If you are politically conscientious, enjoy a good satire, or are an avid reader of science fiction, I recommend Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Player Piano. The novel has some “all too close to our time” parallels to present day politics. Published in 1952, Kurt Vonnegut created a literary masterpiece around a plot where only one percent of Americans actually hold job positions.

Vonnegut does not tame the subtle symbolism and references that suggest the rest of the world is enslaved to the one percent who hold jobs. Because Americans do not have jobs by the wealthiest that control hiring, the lower class do not make enough money to ever overthrow the highest people in power. With the invention of robots that are far more superior to the average American’s intellect, the need for most labor is eliminated, and the people who created the robots were upper class Americans to begin with.

The novel explores economic disparity painted with communist undertones. It exposes the power and financial gaps between the one percent and the 99 percent, and how these gaps could remain forever. Vonnegut questions the balance of power in a “free” country that allows such economic inequalities. Player Piano portrays a possible future of slavery to social immobility. Rioters in groups of thousands could not reverse the damage of replacing laborers with computers and robots. However, the country in the future is wealthy enough to support each of its own citizens, but without a chance to ever move up financially.

Vonnegut’s characters in the novel are portrayed with a day-in-the life style of what it’s like to be one of the elite citizens in America with an actual job position. They often have awkward encounters with desperate citizens who plead to them on a daily basis for hire. Vonnegut also portrays a picture of a total lack of work ethic amongst the elite who do hold positions. The historical highlights of this future are well put by Vonnegut, “First there was the Industrial Revolution which devalued muscle work, then the second one devalued routine mental work”.

The novel ends with a scary tone implying that eventually machines would devalue human thought altogether. Vonnegut is known for his humor and this novel is filled with funny lines of a dark and dry sense of humor.