Khai Johnson | November 3, 2018
“I have no mouth, and I must scream” is a quote from but also the title of a ‘67 short story that follows five characters as they suffer rigorous physical and psychological torment due to a supercomputer first called the “Allied Master-Computer” and then simply AM. The story is famous for portraying a grim and brutal outlook on humanity and a plain but harsh perspective on the futility of life. Ellison believes, in his words, “the world is as the world is and one must deal with it as one finds it.” From this, Ellison conveys his views on random violence and bigotry with no rational background. Ellison wants people to feel what this hate is like, not first hand but through the eyes of the characters and the scenarios he puts them through.
Ellison went on to win a Hugo Award for the story. One of Ellison’s more famous talk show interviews, conducted in 1976 on Good Afternoon!, prompts him to recount his childhood. Harlan describes his childhood as being all alone and having none to fall back upon. Ellison believes Being bullied and “knocked on like a door,” making him a cynical and mean child all of which eventually lead him to run away from home. The interview also touches on what American culture was like during the ‘70s and during Ellison’s life.
Ellison’s life experiences, whether good or bad, caused him to become an interesting writer and thinker. He developed a unique and intriguing perspective on society that looks at humanity in a convicting light: are we people of morality? What does it mean to be human? Assassination attempts on Ellison’s life have reinforced his grim outlook on society. Yet Ellison feels that we as people shouldn’t hide the sad truths of a violent and unpredictable society, but instead learn from mistakes and use them as example of what not to do, but what to expect inherently from society. “When you lie about (violence), When you pretty it up you lead people to believe that it is possible to go around shooting each other, and punching each other, and stabbing each other with impunity.” - Ellison, Good Afternoon!, (1976). The quote Above encapsulates the aim Ellison had with a lot of his literature. This is especially true for “I have no mouth, and I must scream”, a piece that could be considered an absolute summary of Ellison's beliefs furthermore his literary legacy.
Harlan Ellison died on June 27th of this year but his morals live on through his literature.