“2 B R 0 2 B” by Kurt Vonnegut takes place in Chicago after the cure for all diseases and aging has been discovered. The only law in this society was that for every baby born, one had to volunteer his or her own life. Edward Wehling was told that he needed to choose which one out of three triplets born was to live because he only had one volunteer. Instead, he shot the inventor of the first gas chamber, a notable member of the bureau of termination, and himself so all four of the others can live.
“2 B R 0 2 B” (Pronounced: to be or ‘naught’ to be) was written in 1962, six years before publishing a collection of his works, Welcome to the Monkey House. The society portrayed appears utopian: there was no disease, poverty, or crime. The society valued a fruitful life, for those that lived in it truly wanted to. If one wished to die, there were advertisements by the bureau of termination with the phone number 2 B R 0 2 B; which would arrange an appointment to receive government-controlled assisted suicide with a variety of different gas chambers. Among the names of gas chambers included: “Easy-Go,”“Good-by, Mother,”“Happy Hooligan,”“Kiss-me-quick,”“Weep-no-more”, and “Why Worry?
Like other works of Vonnegut such as “Welcome to the Monkey House” and “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow”, “2 B R 0 2 B” takes place in a futuristic America where overpopulation is caused by medical and technological advancements that prevent people from aging or getting sick. What is unique in “2 B R 0 2 B”, however, is in the way that government remedies this epidemic-by only allowing life to be had at the cost of one’s own life, and so the population is capped at 40 million people. This is pivotal to the society’s dystopian values, the most prominent being the rise of government control at the cost of individuality.
In this futuristic Chicago, there are no prisons, no slums, no poverty, no war, and no disease. People can reproduce and create a family, however, there can only be new life if someone is willing to take their own. In the story, Edward Wehling, is awaiting news regarding the birth of his first child. When Dr, Hintz, the man who designed the first government-issue gas chambers, tells a gas chamber hostess that triplets were born, she exclaims “Triplets!” due to the legal implications of such. Whelming seems less-than-thrilled at the news of three healthy babies being born, and says sarcastically to Hintz “All I have to do is pick out which one of the triplets is going to live, then deliver my maternal grandfather to the Happy Hooligan, and come back here with a receipt.” This is highlighting the fact that human life is essentially meaningless and objectified in this society. Dr. Hintz tried to reason with him, confused as to why the decision was so difficult for him. Wehling shot Dr. Hitz dead, saying "there's room for one—a great big one,” He then shot the gas chamber hostess, saying "It's only death, there! Room for two.” Finally, he shot himself, making room for all three of his children. Nobody came running, and seemingly nobody heard the shots. Perhaps this was a way to imply that this isnt the first time that this has happened.
Another take on the suppression or devaluing of individuality is in self-expression. There is art and song in this society, however, they cater to the government's message and are in tribute to the gas chambers. There is an artist painting a mural on the wall of the hospital waiting room entitled “The Happy Garden of Life”, which featured important people on either the hospital stff or from the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Termination. When complimented on it, the painter says that the artwork is not how he views life himself, and tells her that he isn't proud of it, calling it a daub. He later references a foul drop cloth as his view of life saying “Frame that, and you'll have a picture a damn sight more honest than this one." Also, the song that the hospital orderly was singing went as:
If you don't like my kisses, honey,
Here's what I will do:
I'll go see a girl in purple,
Kiss this sad world toodle-oo.
If you don't want my lovin',
Why should I take up all this space?
I'll get off this old planet,
Let some sweet baby have my place.
This highlights the government control over the individual on a personal and subconscious level, there is a total repression of individuality and well-being when the reality of promoted suicide come into play. The only type of self-expression that was not controlled directly by the government was in the act of Wehling killing the doctor, the hostess, and himself. While the reasoning behind the murder/suicide was due to government reign, because it was outside of the government's control, it could be seen as Edwards protest against the society at large, and a final expression of his right to control his own fate. While it wasn’t said explicitly, this is also was a way to save his grandfather from being subject to the system, and forcing Dr. Hintz and the gas chamber hostess to be pawns in the population control they implement and speak highly of.