The title of the story ”2BR02B” by Kurt Vonnegot Jr., appear to share similarities with the phrase “To Be or Not to Be”, which is a famous quote from William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet.
The title is revealed to be a telephone number belonging to the “municipal gas chambers of Federal Bureau of Termination” (p. 3, l. 9-10).
The purpose of this institution with the terrifying name, is to provide death to those, who choose it voluntarily.
Or simply because the volunteer’s wants to make room for future generations. The title is a bit ironic. While it in Hamlet is a philosophical line, it gets a literal meaning in this short story, because it literally kills people.
In the artwork of William Shakespeare, Hamlet reflects on the value and meaning of life and whether its worth living. The painter does exactly the same in “2BR02B“, after witnessing the massacre that Edward K. Wehling Jr. brought upon himself and two others.
He reflects on the human condition (p. 7 l. 8-10) and came to the conclusion that he himself didn’t want to live anymore. It is therefore easy to establish that the title is an intertextual reference to the play of William Shakespeare.
After their short discussion on population control, Edward Wehling drew a revolver and shot Dr. Hitz, Leora Duncan and then himself, “making room for all three of his children”. (p. 7 l. 5).
After that gruesome episode the tension drops, as “nobody came running. Nobody, seemingly, heard the shots.” (p. 7 l. 6). The painter then reflects on the puzzle of life and concluded that he didn’t want to be in it.
He therefore picks up the gun, wanting to shoot himself. He couldn’t. The painter ends up calling the number 2BR02B and schedules an appointment to end his life.
It was just as easy as getting an appointment at the doctor’s office. The hostess answering the phone thanks him on behalf of the world and the future generation in a politely tone.
The main character of the story is Edward K. Wehling Jr. and the intrigue revolves around his inner conflict and moral dilemma. Edward is a 56-year-old man whose wife is pregnant for the first time.