“Welcome to the Monkey House”, the title story in Kurt Vonnegut’s short story collection Welcome to the Monkey House carries many similar themes as his other short story “Miss Temptation”, including religion, sex, and ethics. While the premise of the story is pleasantly progressive, Vonnegut’s romanticization of rape through the “hero” sours the story with its savior complex.
“Welcome to the Monkey House” takes place in a futuristic America, where citizens take “ethical birth control”: a pill that numbs everything from the waist down. This is to make sure that sex only happens for reproductive purposes. To tackle the overpopulation issue, the American government invents “ethical suicide”, through which people volunteer to be killed via lethal injection.
The story follows a Hostess (a young woman working at an ethical suicide parlor) as she is kidnapped by Billy the Poet, an outlaw forming a group that abstains from ethical birth control and suicide. After kidnapping her, Billy rapes her to indoctrinate her into the group, claiming that he has sexually liberated her in doing so.
The issues with this are clear. Rape is the farthest thing from sexual liberation; it is literally the absence of liberation in sex. However, this point is not made in the story. Instead, the rape is romanticized as an evil necessity for the greater good. Vonnegut uses words like “deflowered” to describe the scene, proving that he sees Billy as a good guy. Raping someone into submission is never for the “greater good”.
The male entitlement also seen here is astounding. Billy assumes that the only reason the Hostess will not have sex with him is because of the ethical birth control, not because she just may not want to. He treats the act like it is a sacrifice on his part to “free her mind”, assuming that he knows better than her about her own body.
The reason that this is so disappointing is because “Welcome to the Monkey House” has good intentions. It points out the contradictions in demonizing recreational sex via religion, and the separation of church and state. Without the added rape and savior complex, it could have been as powerful and progressive as “Miss Temptation”.
Overall, “Welcome to the Monkey House” has a lot of great themes, but the justification of rape casts a nasty shadow on the story.