Kurt Vonnegut (1922 -
Kurt Vonnegut, Welcome to the Monkey House
The year was A. D. 2l58 and Lou and Emerald Schwartz were whispe-
ring on the balcony outside. Lou's family's apartment on the seventy-
sixth floor of Building 257 in Alden Village, a New York housing develop-
ment that covered what had once been known as Southern Connecticut.
05 When Lou and Emerald had married, Em's parents had tearfully
described the marriage as being between May and December; but now,
with Lou one hundred and twelve and Em ninety-
to admit that the match had worked out well.
But Em and Lou weren't without their troubles, and they were out in the
10 nippy air of the balcony because of them.
"Sometimes I get so mad, I feel like just up and diluting his anti-
gerasone," said Em.
"That'd be against Nature, Em," said Lou, "it'd be murder. Besides, if
he caught us tinkering with his anti-
15 inherit us, he'd bust my neck. Just because he's one hundred and
"Against Nature," said Em. "Who knows what Nature's like anymore?
gerasone or anything like that, but, gosh, Lou, a body can't help thinking
20 Gramps is never going to leave if somebody doesn't help him along a
little. Golly -
Verna's dying for a baby, and Melissa's gone thirty years without one."
She stamped her feet.
"I get so sick of seeing his wrinkled old face, watching him take the
25 only private room and the best chair and the best food, and getting to
pick out what to watch on TV, and running everybody's life by changing
his will all the time."
"Well, after all," said Lou bleakly, "Gramps is head of the family. And he
can't help being wrinkled like he is. He was seventy before anti-
30 was invented. He's going to leave, Em. Just give him time. It's his busi-
ness. I know he's tough to live with, but be patient. It wouldn't do to do
anything that'd rile him. After all, we've got it better'n anybody else, there
on the daybed."
"How much longer do you think we'll get to sleep on the daybed be-
35 fore he picks another pet? The world's record's two months, isn't it ?"
"Mom and Pop had it that long once, I guess."
"When is he going to leave, Lou?" said Emerald.
"Well, he's talking about giving up anti-
40 "Yes -
series, and before that the Presidential Elections, and before that I -
I don't think we're ever going to get a room to ourselves or an egg or
45 "All right -
make good money, but the whole thing, practically, is taxed away for
defense and old age pensions. And if it wasn't taxed away, where you
think we'd find a vacant room to rent? Iowa, maybe? Well, who wants to
live on the outskirts of Chicago?"
50 Em put her arms around his neck. "Lou, hon, I'm not calling you a
failure. The Lord knows you're not. You just haven't had a chance to be
anything or have anything because Gramps and the rest of his genera-
tion won't leave and let somebody else take over."
"Yeah, yeah," said Lou gloomily. "You can't exactly blame 'em, though,
55 can you? I mean, I wonder how quick we'll knock off the anti-
when we get Gramps' age."
"Sometimes I wish there wasn't any such thing as anti-
"Or I wish it was made out of something real expensive and hard-
60 instead of mud and dandelions. Sometimes I wish folks just up and died
regular as clockwork, without anything to say about it, instead of decid-
ing themselves how long they're going to stay around. There ought to be
a law against selling the stuff to anybody over one hundred and fifty."
"Fat chance of that," said Lou, "with all the money and votes the old
65 people've got."
He looked at her closely. "You ready to up and die, Em ?"
"Well, for heaven's sakes, what a thing to say to your wife. Hon! I'm not
even one hundred yet." She ran her hands lightly over her firm, youthful
figure, as though for confirmation. "The best years of my life are still
70 ahead of me. But you can bet that when one hundred and fifty rolls
around, old Em's going to pour her anti-
quit taking up room, and she'll do it smiling." (...)
from: Triad Panther, London, 1985, pp. 272 – 274, extract
Note: Read all the questions first, then answer them in the given order. Use your own words as far as is appropriate.
1.1. What background does the opening sentence establish?
1.2. What can you tell about housing and old age in the year 2158?
1.3. Who are the main characters? Show their attitudes and behaviour.
1.4. Guess how Vonnegut's story ends. Write a possible ending to the story and give reasons for your ending.
2. Analysis and discussion
2.1. Find a suitable title for the extract.
2.2. What do you consider to be Vonnegut's message of the story? Give reasons for your answer.
2.3. Compare the society the Schwartz family lives in to other utopian societies you've read about.
2.4. If you were given the chance to live as long as possible, would you take the chance? Write a short composition of about 150 words.
2.5. What kind of ideal world would you like to live in?