“Escape from the Spiderhead” and Humanity

“Thus every human is worthy of love”
“That’s all just pretty much basic human feeling right there” (70).

“Escape from the Spiderhead” contains many themes, but among all those, is the grand theme of “What it means to be human?” As Jeff watches Heather struggle with her dose of Darkenfloxx, he monologues that every person is worthy of love, to which Verlaine replies that he believe that feeling is common among all people. Since Verlaine is a reputable scientist, it can be inferred that he is a knowledgeable source. Thus, all people feel that others are worthy of love. Therefore, George Saunders introduces the concept that despite all our flaws, people are inherently good.

This claim is then supported again in the final moments of the story as Jeff formulates his plan. Having witnessed Heather’s fate, Jeff seeks to save Rachel, which he does by killing himself (77-79). Though Jeff’s fate is grim, his suicide can be seen as more of a sacrifice than a surrender. This is ironic because Jeff is a convicted killer. Yet, he is willing to give his life to save another person. In addition, Rachel is also far from a “good person”; however, Jeff still sacrifices his life for her, believing the she is worthy of saving despite her flaws. Therefore, Saunders continues his assertion that people are inherently good, even if they have committed past mistakes. He also states that being a “bad person” does not necessarily mean that one is not worth saving.

Meanwhile, the scientists, Abnesti and Verlaine are presumed to be “good people” and they certainly believe themselves so. Yet, they administer the drugs that result in Heather’s and presumably others’ deaths. This indicates that the line between “good” and “bad” is far more blurred than one may believe and societal position has nothing to do with morality. For instance, a criminal may be more human than a brilliant scientist. However, even so, Abnesti and Verlaine do commit acts of kindness (though many are arguably for manipulative reasons) and presumably have lives outside of the Spiderhead with families. Thus, they are not entirely “bad” people either.

Therefore, Saunders asserts that to be human is to have empathy and care for others; people are inherently good. There is no societal position that determines humanity; a person is not any less human because of their crimes or flaws.

Humanity is determined not by society, but by each and every individual.

2 thoughts on ““Escape from the Spiderhead” and Humanity

  1. rclarkson41

    The idea of love being taken away and given by a drug all for an experiment is a concept that makes Jeff reconsider his situation. The text reads, “Soon she was merely fine to me, and I merely fine to her.”



    Jeff & his mom

    Jeff’s mom is super important to him throughout the story. He loves being able to talk with her every Friday, and at the end of the story before he commits suicide he talks about her. “My only regret was Mom. I hoped someday, in some better place, I’d get a chance to explain it to her, and maybe she’d be proud of me, one last time, after all these years (81).” This moment is so powerful because it demonstrates his love for her and it is the only choices that he is able to make for himself.


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