The Shah of Bratpur in Player's Piano

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One literary technique that authors often employ is to use a character who is a “visitor” to provide insight into a society’s culture. In Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Player Piano, the author employs the Shah of Bratpuhr in such a manner. Instead of seeing a society that is better because of its reliance on machines, the Shah instead observes that the people of Ilium have become slaves to their machines instead. Instead of observing a society that worships a religious God and looks to him for inspiration and guidance, the Shah sees that Proteus’ world instead ridiculously worships and obeys the dictates of the giant computer brain EPICAC. Instead of admiring Paul Proteus’ society for granting worth based solely on intelligence, status, and education, the Shah recognizes the value of any and all men and the hypocrisy and flaws in the value system used in Ilium. By using the Shah’s distance as a visitor in Player Piano to show the flaws in a world that puts machines over humans, Vonnegut also conveys the negative idea of a society based mainly on mechanical productivity, and the horrors it can bring.

Vonnegut’s use of the Shah as someone who is there to study the workings of Ilium is evident almost from the beginning. He is introduced as early on as the second chapter of the novel where it is stated that his purpose in visiting Ilium is “to see what he could learn in the most powerful nation on earth for the good of his people” (20). One of the things about which the Shah proves most curious is about the role of citizens in the society of Ilium, most particularly about how they fit into a world that is run by machines. The Shah’s guide Halyard tries to convince him that ‘by eliminating human error through machinery, and needless competition through organization, we’ve raised the standard of living of the average man immensely’ (21). However the Shah is not accepting of this portrayal of how the mechanized society of Ilium is good and liberating for man, and instead...
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