WELCOME TO THE MONKEY HOUSE by Kurt,Vonnegut, Jr. (copyright 1960), is a collection of stories ranging from science fiction to wartime situations. The common denominator is the author's satiric mockery of human institutions and behavior. In this article, I will restrict my analysis to two stories I have enjoyed teaching to high school students.
"A Long Walk to Forever" is a gentle satire of the societal institution of matrimony that has overshadowed and complicated the natural response of falling in love. The only characters who appear and speak are a girl named Catharine and her long-time friend, Newt. The two "had grown up next door to each other, on the fringe of a city, near fields ...view middle of the document...
' He turned the pages of the magazine. 'A rosy bride like her - like her - like her,' he said showing her rosy brides."
Newt had received a letter from his mother informing him of Catharine's upcoming marriage to Henry Stuart Chasens of Pittsburgh. The groom-to-be with his three names contrasts with Newt, whose one-syllable name also denotes a small salamander. We infer that Newt's mother has gotten her information from a betrothal announcement in the society page of a newspaper. Henry Stuart Chasens of Pittsburgh sounds like money. Not so Newt, an army PFC.
The engagement announcement, the society page, the magazine exclusively for rosy brides are aspects of Vonnegut's satirical target, the commercialization of matrimony. Catharine hastily decides to invite Newt to the wedding if his furlough will be long enough to allow it.
"'Furlough?' said Newt. He was studying a two-page ad for flat silver. I'm not on furlough. . . . I'm what they call A.W.O.L..' said Newt."
Catharine, incredulous, demands an explanation. Newt's reply adds further detail to the matrimonial machinery being satirized. "'I had to find out what your silver pattern is,' he said. He read names of silver patterns from the magazine. 'Albemarle? Heather?' he said. 'Legend? Rambler Rose? . . . I plan to give you and your husband a spoon,' he said."
Newt tells Catharine that he has gone A.W.O.L. and hitchhiked to see her because he loves her. "'Now can we take a walk' he said. 'One foot in front of the other - through leaves, over bridges.'"
Newt must get Catharine away from her home and her bride book and her bridal registry. He must put her back in nature and hope that basic instincts and emotions will assert themselves.
They do so, one foot in front of the other. No histrionics, no adverbs, just "he said" and "she said." Catharine "realized that a woman couldn't hide love.
Newt was seeing love now. And he did what he had to do. He kissed her."
After further discussion of Henry Stewart Chasens and the thirty days in the stockade that Newt willingly assumed in order to declare his love, "Newt kissed her again. He kissed her again because she wanted him to."
Soon bells rang in the tower of the school for the blind, perhaps playing on the cliche that love is blind. They sit in the orchard beneath trees. "Bees were humming in the trees." Our romantic hero with the unromantic name falls asleep and snores softly.
Reasserting the idea of love overcoming the influence of commercialized matrimony, we hear birdsong. "'Chick-a-dee-dee-dee' went a chickadee.'" And "far away an automobile starter nagged and failed, nagged and failed, fell still." Natural replaces mechanical as a simple Newt begins to replace Henry Stuart Chasens in the heart of Catharine.