AM the Father, Ted the Son
At times, his vision of mans fate appears darkly pessimistic - it is survival of the fittest in a universe both violent and cruelly indifferent. But it would be wrong to reduce things merely to some form of post-Darwinian determinism. Battles, in Ellison, are fought on a strangely intimate level.
- George Slusser, Unrepentant Harlequin
The humanity of Ted, the narrator of "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream", and the other characters is reflected in the machine that is AM. While Ted refers to it as a machine as well as by its name, AM also receives the curious appellation of creature in addition to that of computer:
Most of the time I thought of AM as it, without a soul; but the rest of the time I thought of it as him, in the masculine the paternal the patriarchal for he is a jealous people. Him. It. God as Daddy the Deranged. (Ellison, 29).
As much as the reader can trust Teds paranoid point of view, supposedly put in him by AM, he maintains a dual perspective in viewing AM alternately as impersonal force and personal demon; AM actualizes its punishments within the context of Teds narrative, implicating Ted as "the true creator of this hate machine" (Slusser, 360). An underlying irony to this relationship is that AMs name evokes the Hebrew concept of God, existing outside of human comprehension, as being self-defined: "I am who I am." Ellison clearly plays around with this notion, including the wrath of the Old Testament Yahweh. Appearing as a burning bush, using celestial choruses that sing "Go Down Moses," and strolling through Teds mind, the machine emulates a deity but never fully possesses the omnipotence of a god:
There was an eternity beat of soundless anticipation. I could hear AM draw in his breath. His toys had been taken from him. Three of them were dead, could not be revived. He could keep us alive, by his strength and talent, but he was not God. He could not bring them back. (Ellison, 46)
Somewhere within the anthropomorphization of the computer lies a connection between the torturous machine and the humanity which created it, an "innate loathing that all machines had always held for the weak, soft creatures who had built them" (Ellison, 40). This connection, however, goes both ways, and the data which was originally fed to AM taught it only of the darker side to human nature until it is consumed by the protocols within its memory banks; "in its hatred for mankind, this machine has acquired a human heart" (Slusser, 360). Ellison re-encodes this sentiment in an interview where he states, "The only thing that can make machines hurt us is ourselves. Garbage in, garbage out. If we program them and we have madness, then they will be programmed mad" (Wiloch, 175).
Ted further strengthens this symbiotic bond by referring to AM and its actions in human terms. AMs tortures become a sexual outlet equivalent to masturbation, while a range of emotions cruise through the systems data processing angstroms at light speed. Even the derivation of AMs name from the cogito ergo sum postulate demonstrates the capacity for thought, although not always what the human mind of Ted might call rational. AM likes to have sardonic fun with the characters: giving them toy bows and arrows and water pistols to fight monsters, providing them with canned food but no way of opening the cans, and manipulating Bennys genetics to make him sub-human but the most well-endowed, and thus phallicly potent, male of the group. A considerable amount of AMs humor gravitates toward the sexual, possibly because "AMs degradation of the sexual lives of his subjects reveals his jealousy of the physical pleasure and [the] fulfillment of human love" (Ower, 59-60). Due to the violent content of its programming, AMs attitude regarding the sexual aspect of human nature becomes a crude transaction of raw data, something to be ridiculed because it exists beyond the realm of its experience, like William Gibsons vision of meat in Neuromancer:
It belonged, [Case] knew - he remembered - as she pulled him down, to the meat, the flesh the cowboys mocked. It was a vast thing, beyond knowing, a sea of information coded in spiral and pheromone, infinite intricacy that only the body, in its strong blind way, could ever read. (Gibson, 239)
Case, the narrator of Gibsons novel, prefers cyberspace (or virtual reality) within a massive computer system over that of the analog, everyday world; only after his experiences does Case realize that there is something within the physical realm that the digital can never emulate. This sort of limitation once again manifests itself not only in AMs ability to reanimate life but also in its failure to fully comprehend its tortured humans.
AM does try to force a type of intimacy upon its human subjects. Although it either keeps the characters sterile or has no way to regenerate that ability in them, AM maintains a maternal posture, in addition to its paternal one, by keeping the humans safe within its subterranean complex, repeatedly referred to as AMs belly (Harris-Fain, 148). Ted even refers to AM as "Earth" and the humans as "the fruit of that Earth" (Ellison, 40). AM goes one step further with Ted during its intrusion into Teds mind, a "rape, a mental sodomy of sorts" (Harris-Fain, 147):
AM went into my mind. AM touched me in every way I had ever been touched AM withdrew from my mind, and allowed me the exquisite ugliness of returning to consciousness with the feeling of that burning neon pillar still rammed deep into the soft gray brain matter. (Ellison, 38-40)
In some ways, Ted has become the adopted and abused son of AM - "Daddy the Deranged" - by being favored enough to avoid any physical change, although his mind is repeatedly fondled by the machine. During these excursions into his mind, could AM somehow have missed Teds continual references to death as the only avenue of escape for the humans? As an unreliable narrator, Teds motivations and commentaries must constantly be questioned, particularly concerning the supposed hatred the other victims direct toward him. Are they, like Ted, eager to die in order to escape their fate? Even at the moment where he finishes killing the others and feels some measure of triumph at thwarting AMs plans, his thoughts betray a sense of doubt and remorse:
It struck her and she folded toward me, bleeding from the mouth. I could not read meaning into her expression, the pain had been too great, had contorted her face; but it might have been thank you. Its possible. Please. (Ellison, 46).
In a final rage born of impotence, the irony of AMs humor reaches a meltdown with its final jest that reveals the meaning behind the title. For committing the sin of disobedience, Ted finally does suffer a transmogrification at the hands of AM, becoming "a thing that could never been known as human", a manifestation of his inner nature, and a corrupted file within the pathways of AMs data banks (Ellison, 47). In this respect, AM has replicated itself in Teds new form, becoming father and mother after all: both of them exist as acutely sharp minds trapped in worthless bodies. These bodies themselves are devoid of gender, further problematizing the identity of either one; AMs failure to understand the sexuality of its human toys has caused it to delete this problematic routine. Through its continual abuse and violation, AM has transferred part of its essence to Ted. Their thoughts are constantly looping through routines of hatred and paranoia. We as readers are alone with Ted as he revisits his story, telling it repeatedly to himself, with the fragile format of memory his only recordable medium. In his memoir to "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream," Ellison sees Ted in a more upbeat light, demonstrating "his uncommon courage and transcendentally human sense of self-sacrifice, overcoming the core derangement in him, by performing a final act of love and self-denial" (Ellison, 61). While each readers interpretation regarding the conclusion of the story will already differ to a certain extent, the forms of the graphic novel and computer simulation encourage an even greater plurality of response.