Friday, October 16, 2009

Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut (1952)

The Player Piano was the first book by Kurt Vonnegut, and was published in 1952. The book was strongly drawn by the experiences of Vonnegut, in terms of his having seen the introduction of a large new milling machine to do a complicated cutting job, and how workers saw this as a trend whereby the dignity of workers deriving from their jobs would be destroyed. Vonnegut was working in General Electric at that time, and he visualized a world whereby there would be a large scale mechanization of society; and this automation of the world caused a huge disruption to the quality of life. The society is split into the upper classes (managers and engineers who keep society running), and who also keep a close watch on each other to ensure that they are dedicated to the faith and believe in this concept of society.

The second class in society is the dispossessed, the lower or working classes who job have been taken away and who suffer. Unless a person has graduated, there is no possibility of upward movement. If this entire concept seems familiar, then that is logical, since this was also the basis for the incredible 'Brave New World'.
Why name the novel as 'Piano Player'. It is possible that you would have seen this device, which is a scroll coded with the music to be played, and which replaces the human who would play the piano. The keys actually move up and down, and the sounds are produced by the piano, just that the keys are controlled by the unwinding scroll. This is a representation of how society is replacing human roles by automation. In the book, one of the friends of the main character, is seen playing a piano controlled by the piano player, representing the replacement of automation by humans.
The novel is about Doctor Paul Proteus, a rising member of the society, being made in charge of one of the largest such factories of the Ilium Works, but who has worries about what humans have become. Through a set of circumstances, he gets involved with the Ghost Shirt Society society (and even becomes its chief), who want to get back to a time when humans were in control.

Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut, published in 1952

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