The Walls

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Laumer, Keith. "The Walls." Amazing March 1963. Coll. Nine by Laumer.

Feminist-inflected dystopian fiction, with a central S.F. device. Harry Trimble arrives home from work and tells his wife Flora that "We'll be the first in our cell block to have a Full-wall" TV screen installed (Nine by Laumer [55]). Flora wants to GET OUT, go on a trip into a more natural world—one that may have been paved over in their lifetimes (64); Harry is more impressed with the "technical progress" that is meant to replace nature and open spaces: the "whole new system" of the Full-wall "programming scheme," where "they plan your whole day" (56). In the course of the story, Flora is sealed into the "coffin" of their apartment by TV screens that are either repetitive TV shows or "a perfect mirror" (57-58). "The Walls" can be read as a kind of post-Death-of-Nature, third-person narration Diary of a Mad Housewife (1967 book title and later movie), or, more relevantly, a fictionalization of the materially well-to-do suburban woman's "Problem that Has No Name" as analyzed in The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (articles 1962 f.). "The Walls" ends with Flora's vision of all the cell block walls becoming transparent so she could see "the other women—the other wives, shut up like her in these small, mean cells; they were all aging and sick, and faded, starved for fresh air and sunshine" (67). Cf. TV screens in R. Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and various elements in E. M. Forster's "The Machine Stops," Y. Zamiatin's We, and KL's "Cocoon" (all under Fiction). (RDE, 07/05/01)