Despite surface differences in Jeanettes Wintersons Disappearance, and Welcome To The Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut, both authors have created stories with pointed commentary at the worlds progression into the future.. Both stories are set in a futuristic society that has abandoned human needs ( sex and sleep) in order to benefit what the mass thinks of as the greater good.
Through the plot sequences and characters used both authors have established a common theme with a simple, but multi-faceted message: Human nature will and must prevail.
This theme is demonstrated through the demise of both main characters, the style in which sleep and sex are described throughout the stories, and the way in which the author has attempted to create disdain for the characters oppressors ( the government/society).
Vonneguts story spans the untimely kidnapping of a women named Nancy McLuhan, a civil servant working for the Ethical Suicide Service. In the society Nancyis a part of, there is severe overpopulation and people are encouraged not to reproduce. It was made compulsory for each person to take ethical birth control pills, drugs which didnt interfere with ones ability to reproduce, rather just numbed all feeling from the waist down; rendering sex unpleasurable. Nancy strongly supports this ideal and had contempt for those who did not abide by the law. In the storys closing however, Nancy is slowly but surely moving towards an epiphany of sorts that allows her to realise the relevance of human sexuality.
Wintersons story take the opposite route for its bed torn demise. In the world created by Winterson, people are deprived of sleep and beds themselves are slowly becoming obsolete and illegal. The story is told from the viewpoint of the main character -who remains unnamed. I will continue to refer to the character as a male, but in retrospect have realised there is no direct mention of a gender- Winterson also happens to be a lesbian so the references to the characters girlfriends are quite possibly a reflection of her personal lifestyle, though it remains open ended for interpretation. It is about his life as one of the few remaining sleepers and the difficulties involved with his struggle to stick to his instinctual love for sleep when faced with a world that think of sleep as dirty, unhygienic, wasteful, and disrespectful to others ( quote taken from Disappearance). The plot closes softly toward the end with the character searching for the women he had slept with that night before awakening to find his bed, and her having been in it, gone.
The intent of both writers is to show the reader that human nature cannot be compromised. The stories create blatant statements so as to clearly inform the reader who the good guys and the bad guys are by the way things are described.
This is well illustrated by passages which romanticize either sex or sleep. Often figurative language is used and it is much more poetic than when the author is describing an aspect or action of the opressor. The following excerpts from Disappearance delicately convey the beauty of sleep and dreaming which the author wished to extend to the reader:
Under the night rug, the star rug, moon as lantern, man in the moon watching over us, dog star at heels, we lay. The planets are bodies in the solar system and so are we. You and I in elliptical orbs circling life…….
When I hold you in this night soaked bed it is courage for the day I seek. Courage that when the light comes I will turn towards it. It couldnt be simpler, it couldnt be harder….
Head to head, she and I, ordinary receivers of dreams. But the dreams are not ordinary. The coded lunar language is only half heard. The Aztecs believed the moon would tell the way to the sun god. The way of darkness to the way of light . Sign into speech.
Will it be so? Let me sleep with you. Let me hear the things you cannot say.
In Vonneguts story ,sex is not openly praised, however there is an attempt to portray it as a sentimental interaction ( even though one might consider the physical events in the story as rape). I believe Vonneguts intent was to show the true nature and need for sex in human discourse. He illustrates the emotional impact of sexual intercourse in the following passages:
Billy took the book from the table, opened it. His diary tells which poem it was. While we arent bride and groom , and while we may not meet again for many years, Id like to read this poem to you, to have you know Ive loved you.
Thereafter Billy continues to tell her the poem is the one beginning How do I love thee? Let me count the ways., a famous poem freely associated with true love even to this day.
The forces at work in both stories can be related to many DIY and grassroots movements of the past. People have come together and endured hardships, and though the alledged suffering in both stories is not as striking or harsh and apparent, it is something which we can relate to oppression in our own history.
In Disappearance, the main character presents himself as what might be called one of the sole survivors of the workaholic day and age, however there are other sleepers featured in the story. This can be parallelled with the nothinghead culture in Welcome To The Monkey House . They both show the prevalence of an underground movement trying madly to recapture and awaken others into realising what has been missing from their lives.
Though Nancy, in Welcome to The Monkey House appears to have a dislike for the subversive nothinghead movement , it is revealed in the end that she may have come full circle to appreciate what has been done for her benefit ( her deflowering).
So you see, both authors have tried their best to shade the oppressors in each story for their true nature; hinderances to natural human functions.
There is a need to name the oppressive force in both stories – the government and society as a whole. The gruff hand of the government is a reality many people have come to realise throughout history and even today people are being forced to live through bad circumstances created by the very system which is supposed to be working to benefit them. Therefore, it is not hard to grasp the situations in which both main characters are made to live.
Each story tells of the rigid and linear rules the citizens are made to live in and clearly demonstrate the strict decorum of the two worlds. In Disappearance, all public areas are designated non- sleeping and all beds at home are required by law to have a personal alarm clock built into the mattress. Getting caught on a mattress with a broken alarm entails a fine and after 3 fines one is disqualified from sleeping for a year. In Welcome To the Monkey House , refusal to take ethical birth control pills resulted in a fine of $10,000 and ten years in jail.
Naturally occuring human needs cannot be changed. Meaning there are a few basic things we all need to live as healthy human beings. Sleep being one of them. While sex cannot be considered truly essential, it can be compared to the likes of parental care. As illustrated in that famous experiment where a monkey was raised in isolation from maternal care, he grew dysfunctional and depressed. Much the same way people could be affected from a lack of any particular kind of positive social behaviour.
Both stories serve to show the reader the true human potential to overcome. The main characters in both stories have been set apart, whether willingly or unwillingly. Vonnegut and Winterson have re-inforced the theme shared in both stories stylistically and literally through the plots of both stories.
They have shown the enduring qualities in human nature, even in a world without beds.