‘2BR02B’ by Kurt Vonnegut

There are times when a novel just won’t do.

It’s not like you don’t want to read, but an entire novel is just too much of a commitment. I have been there and I have been lucky enough to stumble upon ‘2BR02B’ by Kurt Vonnegut.

I read this story a few years ago, but it came to my mind these days, after reading both ‘Brave New World’ and ‘Rossum’s Universal Robots’. It’s almost striking how relatable these stories are today.

First of all, can we stop a second to appreciate the fantastic reference he makes to no other than the Dane himself?

2BR02B. Please read it aloud with me: Two Be Ar Naught Two Be.

Exactly.

2BR02B is a phone number. It connects you to the Federal Bureau of Termination, in order to fix an Assisted Suicide.

In the USA described by Vonnegut, science has cured aging and people have the possibility of indefinite life spans. Technically, everybody is immortal, safe for accidents.

Not just that. There are no prisons, no insane asylums, diseases, nor wars. The society is as perfect as it can possibly get. But is it really?

As a consequence of nobody dying, population has reached the so-called Malthusian limit of 4 million people (which means that there’s no space for more people than that in this country). Hence, measures for population control have been put into place: for someone to be born, someone else has to volunteer to die.

The story follows Edward K. Wehling, as he waits in a hospital hall for his wife to give birth to triplets. Normally this would be one of the most joyous moments, except his grandfather has to be sacrificed, as well as two of the children, for whom nobody volunteered to die for.

The entire scene is witnessed by a 200-year-old painter, who is painting a portrait of the most important doctors of the time, surrounded by a well-kept garden, a metaphor for the carefully controlled and tidy world they are keeping.

Leora Duncan, from the Service Division of the Bureau, comes to pose for the portrait. Later Dr. Hitz, Chief Obstetrician comes in.

Then a revolver appears.

For three children to be born, it is necessary for three people to die. Edward knows it too well.

 

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