Government Control of Individuality in the Short Story "2Br02B"
Government Control on Individuality
Individual autonomy is an idea that is generally understood to refer to the capacity to be one's own person, to live one's life according to reasons and motives that are taken as one's own and not the product of manipulative or distorting external forces. This is what we will talk about in "Government Control On Individuality in The Short Story "2Br02B" Essay" paper.
In 2BR02B, a short story by Kurt Vonnegut, a reoccurring theme is that because of the social design, no real individuality ex-ists. In the story, the United States seems to be perfect. Diseases and old age have been eliminat-ed, as have prisons, slums, mental asylums, poverty and war. No one has to struggle with handi-caps or hardship. It seems like the ideal place to live. However, these perks come at a cost. In order to keep the United States population at its strict 40 million people, the government has im-plemented a rule where someone must die in order for a child to live in the world. This means that every time a baby is born, someone must sacrifice his or her own life to allow a space for the child.
The government does not care who dies, because it sees all lives as interchangeable, or as the painter in the story says, “A body is a body, eh?” (Vonnegut 524). Vonnegut has imagined a world where the government sees no one as special and where the drive to create a perfectly or-dered society results in a homogenized population. Even in this “perfect” world, not everything goes as planned. Mr. Wehling, a main char-acter in the story, has just found out he is having triplets. Now he must find three volunteers to die if he wants to save all his babies. Wehling’s maternal grandfather has agreed to terminate himself, but if Wehling can’t find two more volunteers, he’ll have to choose which baby gets to live.
To Dr. Hitz, the hospital’s Chief Obstetrician, it doesn’t matter who chooses to volunteer their life for the children, nor does it matter that Mr. Wehling may end up having to choose which of his children gets to live because, to him, all life is interchangeable. It is because of this that he is unable to sympathize with Mr. Wehling and the impossible choice he is faced with of choosing which one of his children get to live. When Wehling expresses that he wants to have all three children but also doesn’t want his grandfather to die either, Dr. Hitz responds with “No-body’s really happy about taking a close relative to the Catbox” (Vonnegut 527). Dr. Hitz is inca-pable of sympathizing with Mr. Wehling because he is ultimately so concerned with the popula-tion control that he sees people as numbers rather than as individuals, but Dr. Hitz also values his life above others since he is not volunteering himself to allow space for the children.
Another example of the lack of individual autonomy in this dystopian society is the painter having to paint a mural he does not like. The painter is tasked with painting a mural for a room that is being redecorated as a memorial to a man who had volunteered to die. The mural depicts a nice garden with men and women in white and doctors and nurses with well spread fer-tilizer, planted seedlings, and no bugs. The mural shows a perfect life and ideal place to live, but the painter does not feel as if this is an accurate representation of a truly ideal life. Even in the painting, everyone is interchangeable. Many faces of the figures in the picture are left blank and “were to be filled with portraits of important people on either the hospital staff or from the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Termination”.
The blanks for the faces again rep-resent the lack of individuality. When the painter is complimented on his ability to make life look so great he responds with “You think I’m proud of this daub?…You think this is my idea of what life really looks like?” He goes on to gesture at a foul drop cloth and says “Frame that, and you’ll have a picture a damn sight more honest than this one”. An orderly goes on to call the painter a “gloomy old duck” and tells him that if he doesn’t like it here, he should call the phone number to be terminated. The painter responds, “When I decide it’s time to go…it won’t be at the Sheepdip,” implying that instead of leaving his death up to the government, he will handle it himself .
In the end, death is the only way to express individuality in this society. Refusing to con-form to the government’s demands, Wehling pulls out a revolver and shoots Dr. Hitz and Leora Duncan dead. As they fall to the ground, Wehling states, “It’s only death… There! Room for two”. He then turns the gun and shoots himself, thus making room for all three of his chil-dren. It is in this desperate act that Wehling finally has the ability to control his own life. The death of Dr. Hitz and Leora Duncan is ironic because they are now taking part in the population control that they have promoted.
After the painter watches all of this transpire, he just sits on top of his ladder, looking down at the scene completely unfazed, as if it didn’t even matter that these lives had been taken since it was such a normal occurrence. After pondering the puzzle of life, the painter “decided that he had had about enough of life in the Happy Garden of Life, too, and he came slowly down from the ladder”. He then takes the pistol intending to shoot himself but is unable to go through with it. Instead, he calls the well remembered number “2 B R 0 2 B” and makes an appointment with the Federal Bureau of Termination for himself.
The painter is done with this world where he cannot even express individuality in his art. In the world of Vonnegut’s 2BR02B, no one is forced to contend with mortality. Without the looming fear of death and its mystery of what happens after, life stretches out in an endless bucolic but bland existence. There is no sense of urgency to live a life that matters, to find mean-ing in one’s life. There is no compelling desire to make memories that count or to differentiate oneself in order to be remembered. There is no need for a legacy. In this world where loss does not exist, there is no need to stop and smell the roses; the roses are always blooming.