I. Summary ""ÃÂ¦Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can't see from the center." He nodded, "Big, undreamed-of things -- the people on the edge see them first." In a world that is operated by machinery and technology, dominated by a discriminating hierarchy, and a dark sense of reality, there will be reactionaries. In a world without feeling there will be lack of emotion. This is the world of Paul Proteus, the main character in Player Piano. He is the general manager of the Ilium Industrial Plant in New York. He is extremely fortunate to have attained such a position, considering the rung on which he sits on the social ladder. His only work is to rule the factory so that its productivity still increases and so that there are no saboteurs; computers maintain all other productivity. He is a married, thirty-five year old, a tall and thin man of darkish skin.
His father was the celebrated founder of the local industrial plant and its first general manager. All Paul's career is before him, waiting. He is an aspirant for a better job; he might grow up in the hierarchy of the American industry and be offered the seat of general manager of the state industrial division. His wife, Anite, relies on him and she still keeps telling him to be a correct son of his father. She trains him in the hierarchy rules and opportunism.
The society which exists in Ilium at the time is unstable. The city is divided into sections, and in these sections are different classes of people. The managers and engineers occupy the northwest. In the northeast, there is a large industrial plant, quite a large city itself, and in the south, across the river, there is the town for ordinary people, who are the rough majority. Paul had never ventured into the realm of the ordinaries, until a friend of his, Ed Finnerty, had unmasked the true nature of what was brewing beneath the mainstream actions of the city. He had revealed to Paul that there were revolutionaries in the town, ready to strike out against the tyranny of big business and machinery. Paul believed in them, he knew this was his place and what he believed in. From this point, he had joined the Devil's Shirt Brethren, a reactionary group which had established brotherhoods all throughout New York. The Illium Hood composes an official letter to the government, which is in fact like one of the proclamations that engender tensions. It is an ultimate message; it clearly says the people are bored and disgusted by present governmental systems and that they demand change. Violence would not be ruled out as an option. Through deceit and lies, Paul is stuck between the life of his industrial reputation and his counter-government participation. The decisions he will make, and the sacrifices, which are implemented by his own charismatic thinking. He will have to ask himself, "Do I belong with the men, or with the machines?"ÃÂ II. Character Descriptions Ed Finnerty- negligent, outlandish, capricious Paul Proteus- meticulous, subservient, unadulterated Men of the Ilium Hood- intractable, strident, belligerent III. Questions 1. In what ways does our present society present similarities to that of Paul Proteus? 2. In the novel, Paul changes from a dedicated worker, to a rebellious reactionary. What factors do you think led to this change in thinking? IV. Quotation "Nobody's so damn well educated that you can't learn ninety per cent of what he knows in six weeks. The other ten per cent is decoration. Almost nobody's competent, Paul. It's enough to make you cry to see how bad most people are at their jobs. If you can do a half-assed job of anything, you're a one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind." "Yes,sir." "Want to be rich, Paul?" "Yes,sir - I guess so. Yes, sir." "All right. I got rich, and I told you ninety per cent of what I know about it. The rest is decoration. All right?" I particularly enjoy this quotation, because it reflects a lot of the work ethic of what we see here today in America, particularly in schools. A lot of students do take advantage of the fact that it is really quite simple to complete a typical workload, and what is not known can be learned quite easily. A mediocre and lazy paper handed in on time, for instance, will let you pass, but it won't guarantee that you will be competent in writing. Knowledge is a significant tool, but you need to combine that knowledge with effort and creativity in order to become successful. Learning something from someone else is something that anyone can accomplish, and it is accomplished every single day. But the ones who are lucrative, are those who apply their own bit of ingenuity to the job.