Published in January of 1962, Kurt Vonnegut's 2 B R 0 2 B focuses on a not so distant future in which human beings have cured disease, conquered old age, and even cheated death. In this story, Vonnegut displays his image of a dystopian society through the use of imagery, theme, and time period.
In 2 B R 0 2 B, (where the number 0 is pronounced as "naught" to rephrase Hamlet's iconic question) "There were no prisons, no slums, no insane asylums, no cripples, no poverty, no wars. All diseases were conquered. So was old age. Death, barring accidents, was an adventure for volunteers." (2). This number, 2 B R 0 N B, is the number one dials to reach an assisted suicide parlor, which is used to maintain the population of the United States at a strict forty million. Volunteers are presented to the chambers, (due to old age being cured by modern medicine), each death allowing another birth to take the place of the life (or lives) just taken. The main protagonist, Edward K. Wehling, Jr. reluctantly sits in the waiting room of a hospital for his wife, who is giving birth to triplets. Wehling must decide which two of his triplets must die, along with his grandfather, in order to not tip the scale of world population.
Much like George Orwell's Fahrenheit 451, Vonnegut's story uses the setting of a futuristic supposed utopia to expose the blindness and arrogance of its citizens. These people have cheated death by finding cures and solutions to any malady one could face in their lifetime. It's in this state of invincibility that they have become blind to the fact that it's only due to the volunteered suicide of another human being that they're able to thrive, reaping the benefits of another's death. The citizens are comfortable with the fact that the government deems their lives to be interchangeable with each other's.
While Wehling awaits the birth of his children, a painter works on a mural depicting the history of the hospital, entitled "The Happy Garden of Life". The faces in the painting represent living members of either the hospital staff or the Chicago office of the Federal Bureau of Termination. When complimented by the hospital orderly on the accuracy of the faces, the painter responds that the mural does resemble actual life in the least. This painting shows the staff pulling weeds and cutting down plants that have grown old (representative of the lives taken to make room for new life to thrive), and planting seedlings and spreading fertilizer (representing the birth of newborns made possible by those who have volunteered to die). The painter asks the orderly if she thinks this is what he pictures life as, simply pulling weeds and planting seeds in their place. He is disgusted with the process involved for life to be brought into the world, claiming that his soiled dropcloth is a more honest representation of human life. He states, when told by the orderly that he should dial 2 B R 0 2 B if he is not happy with his life, "When I decide it’s time to go," he said, "it won’t be at the Sheepdip." (3).
Vonnegut's main theme in 2 B R 0 2 B is individuality. As stated by the painter, he prefers to die by his own hand as opposed to that of the government. With the government's "a