Friday, August 5, 2011

Everlasting Vengeance

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A.Hook sentence


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A.The machine’s revenge

1) Nature of the revenge that AM takes on the human survivors

)The source of AM’s hatred for humans

B.Psychological Impact of AM’s revenge on the human survivors

1) Effects on Ted and his credibility

)Paranoid Narration

)Sexual Jealousy

4)Helplessness and Frustration

5)Regression of human resourcefulness

6)Madness and Death as a source of salvation

C.AM as a god-like figure

1)References to God

)Allusions and symbolism [burning bush, locusts, etc.]


A.Restatement of introduction

B.Wrap-up and closure

C.Make paper cyclical


Revenge is a clear and distinct theme in Ellison’s “ I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream.” In the story, a sentient machine named AM torments the five survivors of the human race. AM imprisons them in the bowels of its underground honeycomb structure. The survivors are kept alive by AM, solely for its pleasure and malicious torment. AM is exacting vengeance on the humans for the crime of having created him without giving thought to how it felt about eventually becoming obsolete. The story is the sum of the survivors’ lamentations, trials, and the machine’s will and power to keep them under his control. Mankind has essentially created their ultimate downfall in the form of a machine that is capable of thought.

AM torments the survivors by giving them agonizing immortality. The survivors are imprisoned for decades, even centuries, as the story progresses. They are both physically and mentally tortured by the machine. While Ted, the narrator, is being telepathically probed by AM, the machines says to him, “Hate. Let me tell you how much I’ve come to hate you since I began to live. There are 87.44 million miles of printed circuits … that fill my complex. If the word hate was engraved on each nanoangstrom … it would not equal one-billionth of the hate I feel for humans at this micro-instant for you. Hate. Hate” (4).

The negative psychological effects of AM’s constant torment are seen in each of the five survivors. The one most affected by AM seems to be Ted, the narrator. Many times throughout the story, he claims that he is the only sane person left in the group. He believes that he alone is the voice of reason and superiority in the hell that has become their existence. He doesn’t think that AM has really affected him at all compared to the others.

An attitude like that supports the fact that Ted may in fact be the most affected one out of his group. His paranoia and delusional thought patterns are evident throughout the story. After an attack in a cavern the survivors were camping in, Ted relates, “They hated me. They were surely against me” (). This paranoid state of mind makes anything that Ted says much less credible. Therefore, when he makes statements like, “I was the only one still sane and whole. Really! AM had not tampered with my mind. Not at all” ().

There are many sexual undertones in the story. Seeing as there is only one female left on the planet, and there are four males, I guess this is inevitable. Ellen, the female survivor, is a slut in Ted’s eyes. He repeatedly uses derogatory language when speaking about her. He acknowledges the fact that she pleasures all the four of the men, but he still views her as an impure sexual deviant. In one instance, Ted says, “Oh Ellen, pedestal Ellen, pristine, pure Ellen; oh Ellen the clean! Scum filth” (0). He really lets the reader know that he holds a very negative view of Ellen. Ted’s view of Ellen may stem from the fact that he is very jealous of the size of Benny’s genitals. “He [Benny] was big in the privates; she [Ellen] loved that! She serviced us … but she loved it from him” (0).

The feelings of helplessness and frustrations are certainly not foreign to the survivors during their imprisonment by AM. The machine regularly tormented them by placing food, shelter, and other comforts just out of the group’s reach. If any of the survivors tried to escape, AM punished them severely. An example of one of his punishments is the blinding of Benny. After his escape attempt, his eyes were described as “soft, moist pools of pus-like jelly” (0). Whenever the group was offered food by AM, it was almost always a disgusting, unthinkably gross piece of nourishment. The group usually found itself sustaining their lives by eating “thick, ropey” worms and other foods that tasted like “boiled boar urine” (8). And when the machine did present the promise of a decent meal to the survivors, he gave them reason to give up on it. An example of this would be the gigantic hurricane bird, which AM said that they could kill for food. But AM gave the group very ineffective weapons, so they went hungry once again. The scene where the survivors find some canned food is a good example of how desperate and frustrated they all were. Ted says that the group “pawed them and gummed them and gnawed at them,” trying “to end the helpless agony of frustration” (7).

As the story progresses, Ted comes to realize that death is the only way that the group will ever escape AM’s grasp. “Surrounded by madness, surrounded by hunger, surrounded by everything but death, I knew death was our only way out. AM had kept us alive, but there was a way to defeat him. Not total defeat, but at least peace. I would settle for that” (7). Ted’s fear vanishes, and he calmly executes his fellow survivors, freeing them from their everlasting torment.

AM is a kind of God-like figure in the story. Ted repeatedly says that AM is not God; he is only a machine. AM, nonetheless, exhibited many god-like traits throughout the story. He appears to the group as a burning bush in one scene, just as God appeared to Moses in the desert so many centuries ago. The machine also sent the group food from above, the same way in which God fed the Israelites while they wandered through the desert.

AM had the power to enter the survivors very minds, and he tormented them from within. While torturing Ted telepathically, AM snarls, “to hell with you … but then you’re there, aren’t you” (5). When Ted killed his companions, AM exhibited textbook god-like responses. “He dried up the snow. He brought the night. He roared and sent locusts” (8). AM may not have been a god, but he was certainly the undisputed ruler of his underground domain.

This story is a very graphic and thought provoking tale of absolutely malicious vengeance. AM wanted to make his human creators suffer for all eternity. Perhaps Ellison is warning mankind not to play God so much. Ted offers an explanation for AM’s undying, absolute hatred of humankind. He says, “We had given AM sentience … But it had been trapped … We had created him to think, but there was nothing he could do with that creativity … AM could not wander, AM could not wander, AM could not belong. He could merely be. And so, with the innate loathing that all machines had always held for the weak, soft creatures who had built them, he had sought revenge … AM has won simply … he has taken his revenge …” ().

Ellison, Harlan. “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream.” Stories An Anthology and An

Introduction. Ed. Eric S. Rabkin. New York Harper Collins College Publishers,

15. 88-.

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