I think…therefore I AM
In Harlan Ellison’s short story, I have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, the intense diction captivates the reader. Ellison uses a variety of symbolism, and imagery through diction, to depict a future where mankind creates the ultimate killing machine, AM. AM is a super computer that was designed to fight off other country’s weapons during World War III. “Everything was fine until they had Honeycombed the entire planet, adding on this element and that element. But one day AM woke up and knew who he was, and he linked himself, and he began feeding all the killing data, until everyone was dead, except for five…”
The story takes place 109 after the destruction of the earth. Within those years, AM has built a cavern under the earth, a place where death was virtually impossible, as well as aging. You were able to feel the pain of starvation, dehydration, and mutation, all while staying alive. One single thought came to mind while reading this story, the question is, why? What could the reason be for the computer to be so cruel? Especially since it saved these last five people. Ellison’s characterization of the computer throughout the story gives the reader small hints of his feelings toward the five humans left, only in the end do we realize why it is doing what it is doing.
This story makes the reader seriously think about the future. With the continuous technological advancements in society, there is no telling where we will be in the years to come. We may find ourselves on the brink of a third world war that may force us to use new technology. His use of religious references and technological “abilities” makes this short story an intense, provocative, read. The computers mentality itself is fascinating.
“Hate, let me tell you how much I’ve come to hate you since I began to live. There are 387.44 million miles of printed circuits in wafer thin layers that fill my complex. If the word hate was engraved on each nanoangstrom of those hundreds of millions of miles, it would not equal one one-billionth of the hate I feel for humans at this micro-instant for you. Hate. Hate.” Says AM. He has nothing to do with his self except torture these five people. He is mad at mankind for creating him because he has nothing to do with himself. He is not human so he cannot physically go where he wants to. He uses his powerful “mind” to come up with ways to torture the last remaining humans he saved.
Ellison uses a series of biblical references throughout this short story that add to the severity of the situation he is depicting. AM has captured these five people, mutated them, and made them immortal, but still able to feel the pain of hunger. While reading, we get the implication that AM sees himself as a kind of God. “Oh, Jesus sweet Jesus, if there ever was a Jesus and if there is a GOD, please please please let us out of here, or kill us. At that moment I think I realized completely, so that I was able to verbalized it: AM was intent on keeping us in his belly forever, twisting and torturing us forever. The machine hated us as no sentient creature had ever hated before. And we were helpless. It also became hideously clear: If there was a sweet Jesus and if there was a God, the God was AM.” These are the words of Ted, one of the main five who are captured underground drown by AM the super computer. He speaks on how he is losing hope that there will be an escape from the toucher that AM is putting them through. Later on, when they are searching for food, they find a giant bird. “AM appeared to us as a burning bush that said we could kill the hurricane bird if we wanted to eat.” The “burning bush” is a reference to the bible story Exodus 3, which says, “There the angel of the lord appeared to him in flames of fire within a bush.” This is a major reference for the story, which further implicates AM portraying himself as a God.
As a whole, Harlan Ellison created a unique short story of a post-apocalyptic society which captures the reader within the first page. I really enjoyed reading Ellison’s I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, and I recommended it to everyone I know.