Kurt Vonnegut’s short story “Welcome to the Monkey House” satirizes the reaction that the Catholic church, as an institution, has to sexuality. Vonnegut doesn’t mention the Catholic church in “Welcome to the Monkey House” per se, but, every “ethical” law instituted by the government in his story draws a parallel to the moral code outlined by teachings of Catholicism in reality, and I don’t think it should go unnoticed. “Welcome to the Monkey House” outlines a potential future America and almost acts as a warning of what could become if American people continue to do something that is only right or wrong because the government, church, or a mixture of both, simply said it was.
I had so much to say about this work when I read it for the first time, but none of those things involved feelings, or even what I would consider opinions. It took 5 days of sitting on it to realize that I did have an opinion, and it’s that I agree with Vonnegut’s message: People shouldn’t buy into things just because someone tells them to. The problem with reaching that conclusion was that it’s always been something I considered obvious, and certainly came natural to me. In “Welcome to the Monkey House” people took government-issued birth control because the government would punish them if they didn’t. An example of that in my life was when I was on the Middle School Cheerleading team. My teammates always tried to pressure me into bullying other people because that’s what they all did. I always knew that if I didn't, they would continue to bully me. Despite that, I deeply disagreed with the “norm”, and like Billy the Poet, I was willing to accept whatever punishment I would face for doing so.
Where Billy the Poet and I disagree, however, lies in the fact that I don’t think that I know what’s best for other people. Billy thought he was doing mankind, women especially, a favor by abducting and raping virgins. Nancy didn’t ask for Billy’s help when it came to bringing the corruption of society to light. That was something that Billy wanted. Therefore, Billy should stay out of her work, her home, and her body.
I began to think about the allure of a hostess, for they were the only victims Billy preyed on: was it that she was a virgin, she was attractive, or her skin-tight uniform and heavy eye make-up? Perhaps a combination of all three. I think this may be be Vonnegut talking about the rape culture of America. Nancy reflects feminism in different ways throughout “Welcome to the Monkey House”, the first was mocking the Officer for trying to protect or “save” her by leaving out the crucial part of his warning: that Billy was coming for her Suicide parlor next. Hostesses could only be women, they had to be pretty, and they had to be friendly. They also had to listen to their clients’ stories, and they had to seem interested, all while wearing a skin-tight purple body sock with heavy make-up, and white lipstick, which I suppose was supposed to symbolize their virginity. If they acted out of character, they’d be punished. Vonnegut essentially took the most cookie-cutter version of a female role and put it in his text, and the feminist voice inside of me was screaming. Billy even blatantly said “I don’t listen to women until the pills wear off...women aren’t women until the pills wear off.”At first, Billy the Poet is portrayed as this creepy sex-crazed criminal, but by the end of the story,
Vonnegut lines up a pretty reasonable argument that Billy the Poet is somehow a not-so-bad guy.
After the rape, Billy claims that he was trying to bring back an “innocence” that has been stolen
away from humanity by the government, and its during this conversation, the reader starts to
sympathize with him. We find out that he isn’t confident, he’s short, and a self-proclaimed “bad
lover”. I don’t appreciate that Vonnegut is instilling a “poor rapist, he’s just misunderstood” message
in the work, for I don’t think that Billy can really claim to have a moral purpose when his mission
involves invading people the way he does. Forcefully terrifying, abducting, and raping innocent
people in order to combat fake morality, claiming it’s in the betterment of mankind and for the
victim, is just a different form of fake morality. Frankly, I think it clouded the real message of the
work: when people blindly follow things without the support of their free-thinking brain, they lose
their free will. It’s something that’s incredibly valuable today more than ever, for people have
progressively became more concerned with trying so hard to be liked, and Vonnegut outlined the
very fear that I have: Society can’t progress and evolve if we all jump on the bandwagon when it
comes to social and political concerns.