The Map of Morality

George Saunders’ “Escape from Spiderhead” explores science, emotions, experiments, crime, freedom etc. The characters are divided into the scientists and the test subjects.

The scientists are in charge of the experiments and they test the emotions that the patients feel after each session. The role of the scientists resides in the characters Abnesti and Verlaine. Their goal is to prove that the medication called ED289/290 can bring love and then take it away. The scientists would use torture to prove their medication was fool-proof.

While it is undeniable that the actions of Abnesti and Verlaine are morally wrong, does it make them bad people?

Abnesti is willing to sacrifice a life to prove that his medication is real. But throughout the story he shows acts of care towards his patients. During a conversation with Jeff, Abnesti reminds, “Do I remember birthdays around here? When a certain individual got athlete’s foot on his groin on a Sunday, did a certain other individual drive over to Recall and pick up the cream, paying for it with his own personal money?” (pg. 68). While Abnesti toys with Jeff’s emotion he also supports him in different acts. He remembers Jeff’s birthday and provides him medicine. Saunder’s story writes a man who is devoted to a ethically evil job but some of Abnesti’s actions prove that morals do not completely coincide to good or evil.

4 thoughts on “The Map of Morality

  1. I think this is a really good way to put it. Abnesti knows what he is doing when he brings up his kids and the birthdays. He is feeding into the binaries of GOOD/evil. The limited information that Jeff knows about Abnesti makes him out to be a good guy with a difficult job. On the other hand, what Jeff learns about characters like Heather and Rachel are facts that make them out to be purely criminal. All of this strengthens these binaries.

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  2. OWEN MCMILLAN

    This is an interesting point to bring up. While Abnesti and Verlaine are letting people die, they don’t seem to be bad people inherently. Is the protocol system at fault, or are they the bad ones, letting themselves lose their morality to science? Wouldn’t letting Heather die make them just as bad as Jeff and the other murderers, or is death in the name of science on a different ethical level?

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  3. MCKALE THOMPSON

    I think this is a really good point. Abnesti even points out that the drug could improve the lives of the people outside of the prison, but he then loses two people inside of the prison.

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  4. I agree with you. I think that there’s definitely gray area that I hadn’t considered before I read this post. However, I think Abnesti is a good person despite how inhumane his actions are. In my opinion, the value that the discovery of these drugs adds to society outweighs the harm that he causes during the trials.

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