Reverse Relationships in Emergency Contact

The summer reading book option, Emergency Contact by Mary H.K Choi was about the relationship between a Penny and Sam. But the relationship that I want to write about today is the relationship between Penny Lee and her mother Celeste Yoon. From the start of the book the reader is aware of the strange dynamic between Penny and Celeste. In the first chapter we see how Penny is often embarrassed of her mom and wishes that she could be a “normal mom”. They do not have a tight knit relationship, nor do they completely hate each other. They are share a home and have some good moments, but also share a lot of rocky moments. At one point of the book Penny complains to a friend “She’s the mom. I’m sick to death of looking out for her and being paranoid she’s going to do something dumb.” (359) At this part of the book, the reader learns a lot about how Penny thinks and feels about the relationships in her life.

This relationship is an interesting relationship because it has reversed the normal PARENT/child binary. Usually the parents are the ones who have charge over the child, while the child is in the submissive role. And while Penny does not exactly control her mother, her mother was no parent to Penny either. Penny does not feel that she was able to live her life as a kid because she was busy taking care of her mom. You notice the sacrifices that Penny has made in order to ensure that her mom is okay, one being her choosing a college that is close to home despite wanting to go far. Penny accounted that Celeste is a single mom living on her own, so she stayed close for her mom in case she was needed at home.This reverse in the normal binary was a very interesting aspect to the book. It is also seen by noticing that Penny refers to her mom by her first name, Celeste, because she does not feel that “mom” is appropriate given their relationship.

Throughout the book Emergency Contact, Mary H.K Choi wrote about many relationships and connections. Penny’s relationship with her mom was one that stood out because she went against the typical binary that we see between a daughter and her mother.

Jeff’s Perception of Love

I find it really interesting how love is shown in this short story as being only sexual. Jeff learns nothing about Heather or Rachel as people, they don’t laugh together or know each other’s favorite things, and yet they claim to be in love because they had sex three times. When talking about Heather, Jeff says “And I was definitely still feeling love for her… Why do you think they call it ‘making love’? That is what we had just made three times: love.” (51). This means that Abnesti/the drug creators also share the same ideas about love, since they are the ones that created the love drug to do that. It seems that everyone in this story just has one idea of what love is, and it doesn’t seem to go much deeper than physical attraction.

Stealing Hearts

For me, the most fascinating aspect of the short story “Escape from Spiderhead” is the idea of being able to control another person’s emotion with an administered drug, along with the consequenses of doing so. An individual’s emotions and how he/she expresses them is a defining quality that makes us unique and human. Love, is a very deep and personal feeling that is extremely hard to simply create out of thin air. However, in the story, Abnesti is able to minipulate love in his subjects with the simple flick of a switch. He claims, if proven to work, this advancement could change world for the better (end national disputes, stop soldiers from fighting, etc). But, a moral dilema is raised as a result. At what point do we start to lose our individuality/uniqueness?

If we were able to control other individuals’ emotions, we would all essentially become “robots”. Everybody would lose their authenticity and nobody would ever know when another peroson is being genuine. This would create a “distant” feeling between each person, and everyone would eventually lose their feelings of happiness. In “Escape from Spiderhead”, Jeff thinks to himself, “Why sad? Was I not a dude?… Still, honestly, I felt sadder than sad. I guess I was sad that love was not real? Or not all that real anyway? I guess I was sad that love could feel so real and the next minute be gone, and all because of something Abnesti was doing”(26). Even though Jeff was able to experience true love, he was not content with himself because as quickly as he was able to gain (the mutual) feelings, he had them taken away. The feeling of Love is desireble because it has to be earned, and when it is, it should be hard to lose. The instantaneous gain and loss of feelings for/of Jeff, made such a personal connection feel like a business transaction. Especially since it was a result of Abnesti’s decisions. Controlling emotions and feelings has always been sought after by humans, but reading this story has made me realize that, in doing so, we would lose our humanity and individuality.

Does The Drug Usage in “Escape From Spiderhead” Mean Something More?

Sorry I posted on monday, but I guess I did it wrong so here’s mine now.

The usage of drugs is a huge part in the story “Escape From Spiderhead.” Jeff’s feelings and emotions are toyed with throughout the story with these drugs. They use these drugs to make the test subjects fall in love with each other while then seeing if there is a connection after. I think this usage of drugs could be an analogy for drug usage in real life. The love from the drug was described as “This mind-scenery phenomenon was strongest during our thid bout of lovemaking. (Apparently, Abnesti had included some Vivistif in my drip)” (50). Love is supposed to be this mysterious thing that can’t be explained, yet in this story a mere drug can make him and the others feel this. I think the author wanted to show how drugs can make people feel things that aren’t real. Drugs shouldn’t be used to feel things that one doesn’t feel in real life.

Does “Escape from Spiderhead” Prove Free Will Exists?

There is no universal definition for what “free will” is. However, most people would define it as our capacity to act independently of the influences of our external environment. In theory, free will is what drives all of our decisions — like our morality or sense of self.

Free will doesn’t exist under the lens of hard determinism. Hard determinists essentially believe that everything that happens in our universe is capable of being predicted — that nothing is truly random, but instead has a concrete cause, no matter how tiny. Because everything has a direct cause, the human consciousness and decision-making are merely physical reactions to physical stimuli, internal and external. There is no “free will”, just tiny reactions.

“Escape from Spiderhead” is frequently said to be a literary proof of free will — a demonstration that consciousness couldn’t possibly be limited to the reaction of chemicals, specifically using the example of pharmaceuticals, in our brain. But it fails to account for the fact that Jeff’s decisions and feelings are still the result of reactions to stimuli. To Saunders, Jeff might feel that he loves the women but not “really” love them like one would typically define love because of his “free will”. He might have been a murderer, but he is no longer that due to his “free will”. Yet he fails to demonstrate that these realities are not each the result of a pre-existing stimulus.

Everyone Has a Boss

From the beginning of the story we are shown a very clear power imbalance between Abnesti and the prisoners. He is in charge of pretty much everything they do. But it isn’t until a very crucial moment in the text that we realize Abnesti is on the lower end of a power imbalance too. When talking to Jeff about him not wanting either girl to receive Darkenfloxx, Abnesti says those results were., “…good enough for me, but apparently not good enough for the Protocol Committee.” Abnesti then changes the experiment, “per the Protocol Committee,” to see how Jeff reacts to each girl under the influence of the Darkenfloxx. This is interesting because we can actually see how this power imbalance is weighing down on Abnesti. When Jeff is incompliant to the new rules of the Protocol Committee Abnesti acts differently than he has the whole story. He shares information about Heather’s past which he “legally can’t,” he tries to bribe Jeff to comply with more time to talk to his mom, and later in the story he curses, and gets the idea to drug Jeff so he will do whatever he wants. All of these actions stem from Abnesti wanting to please the Protocol Committee.

Human need not apply

While it’s a pleasant optimistic view to point out that humans will always have our humanity to keep us grounded, my pessimistic counter argument would be that horses probably thought they were pretty special until they were replaced by cars. There is no such thing as humanity anymore. Everyone is allowed to live in their own bubble of information and media. Objectivity has gone extinct, and we are nothing but the dead horse the market is going to keep beating until we’re dead. Meaning is pointless anymore as it doesn’t equate to progress. Human emotion is now our biggest flaw. We’re too far down the rabbit hole to even remember what it was like before we fell in it. Everyone had their own narratives, their own story, and their own sense of individuality. But two factors that are soul destroying in my opinion is that we aren’t even just consumers anymore. We are the product. Our emotional, spiritual, and sense of humanity is being manipulated 24/7 for money. We are an entire generation trapped in this prison of apathy and hopelessness where creativity is discouraged. The people in charge of our future don’t want us to think at all and just consume, and the people encouraging us to express ourselves are being replaced by AI. There is a new problem, made very evident if you apply even the most simplest forms of objectivity, humans aren’t needed any more. Concerns include how humanity is going to emotionally deal with this transition that contradicts what we have believed for so long

The World Outside Spiderhead

The short story Escape from Spiderhead by George Saunders is an intense, dystopian tale that describes a system where criminals are forced to be test subjects in futuristic drug experiments. The scientists behind the experiments, particularly Abnesti, portray themselves as righteous knowledge seekers whose only goal is to advance science, no matter the cost. Abnesti viewed Heather’s death from Darkenfloxx as a regrettable event but one that could hopefully yield data, showing his indifference by saying, “‘Look, Jeff, these things happen…This is science. In Science we explore the unknown” (72). The world inside the Spiderhead is jarringly distant from our own, where laws protect the abuse of people, and prisoners specifically, in scientific experiments. But it prompts a question that isn’t directly explored in the story: what is the outside world that enables this system? It may not be as distant. One aspect of the story I found really interesting was the way the drugs are labeled, with a consumer-friendly, catchy name (“Verbaluce,” “SpeedErUp,” etc.) followed by a ™, just like a drug ad you might see on TV today. The drugs being tested in the story seem to be made to be sold in a capitalist society for a profit. While I don’t see something like these experiments happening in our society today, our world probably has some of the same incentives as the world outside Spiderhead that allows the horrific treatment of the people in Spiderhead to occur.

Looking for Humanity

Escape from spider head revolves around an unethical experiment that removes emotions and empathy from the subjects. The experiment scams these subjects into feeling intense passion and love for each other, and then rips it away from them in a second. The main subject we follow is named Jeff, and you really see him find humanity throughout the story. When Jeff was asked to “Darkenfloxx” which is basically torture, Heather or Rachel at the beginning of the story he said “I really didn’t care”(56). An answer that has no empathy behind it and shows a complete lack of humanity, speaking that this “darkenfloxx” has the power to kill someone. When Jeff was told that Heather was gonna be “Darkenfloxxed” he said “I don’t want you to darkenfloxx Heather”(67). Yet again they use their scam to get Jeff to agree. At the end when they try to “darkenfloxx” Rachel he completely disagrees. Jeff then sacrifices himself to save Rachel and says “I was happy, so happy, because for the first time in years, and forevermore, I had not killed, and never would”(81). The story ends with Jeff completing his search for humanity, and decides that he wouldn’t let anyone be hurt anymore.



In the short story Escape From Spiderhead by George Saunders, there is 2 prisoners with a criminal past. Nearing the end of the story the main character Jeff was in a tricky position as his friend Rachel was on the death block. Earlier in the story Jeff had already been forced to watch Heather take her own life and in the text Jeff reflected upon how emotional and gruesome the feeling really is, “It was like all I had to do to be a killer again was sit there and wait,”(76). While sitting there Jeff realized there had to be something he could do, so he saved Rachel by switching the Darkenfloxx into his own MobiPak. Despite Jeff’s killer tendencies he still had a soul ripe enough to save Rachel as he did not want to watch her die. Abnesti, the one who has forced this cruel pain upon them was enjoying his dominance as he looked over Jeff and Rachel. Although Jeff is viewed as a bad person, a criminal who was in prison this does not make Abnesti the ‘good guy’ in the story. Abnesti tried to convince all the prisoners he was doing the right thing but he made sure they were suffering as he looked over them. Abnesti’s respect for the prisoners was completely absent since he was unable to view them as human beings.

The Morality of Spiderhead

¨Escape From Spiderhead¨ by George Saunders goes into depth about morals and what is morally good or bad. Jeff, although he was a prisoner and was known to do bad things, is arguably a better person than the people in the story who are considered to be ¨good¨. Compared to people like albesti, who is considered to be ¨good¨ but in actuality strays away from basic human emotions and morals. Albesti does not think about the feelings and does not see the prisoners as ¨truly human¨ and disregards their feelings. Jeff on the other hand feels bad when he has to choose who to ¨darkenfloxx¨ because he still considers these people to be human. He states, ¨I just didn´t want to do it to anyone. Even if I did not like the person….¨(56). In this story, morals and morality are shown to be in a grey area when it comes to some people and clear to others considered ¨bad¨ in the story.

Jeff’s Belief of Predetermination

Towards the end of George Saunders’ Escape from Spiderhead, Jeff goes on a long rant during his trip on the Darkenfloxx. In it he references how the world has screwed the prisoners over because of predetermination of their fate as prisoners. Jeff explains that all of the prisoners in Spiderhead had been “charged by God with the responsibility of growing into total fuck ups”. However, Jeff also includes that the surroundings of each individual had a part in waking up these violent moments. At the end of his rant he claims “and yet their crooked destinies had laid dormant within them, seeds awaiting water and light to bring forth the most violent, life-poisoning flowers”. While I don’t agree with the notion of predetermination of destiny at birth, it is important to notice that he mentions the negative surroundings as the “water and light” that cause the “seeds” to grow into harsh reality.

Ascend from Spiderhead

“I joined them, flew among them, they did not recognize me as something apart from them, and I was happy, so happy, because for the first time in years, and forevermore, I had not killed, and never would,” (81).

Abnesti had been trying to create a drug that made people artificially happy and in love; his experiments for this eventually drove Jeff to an arguably heroic suicide. Jeff had cleared his conscious by leaving his body, and his human life, behind. He felt happy, peaceful, and in a way in love. In love with an existence in which he had not killed another.

This could have many meanings, and some may see it as glorifying suicide, but I argue something different. Jeff was trapped and being controlled both physically and emotionally, but after he ascended from that pain he was truly happy. His death represented breaking free from environments that restrain and control who you are.

Abnesti’s Prison

Abnesti’s interactions with the patients provided another layer of complexity in Escape from Spider Head. Throughout the story when speaking with his patients Abnesti highlights his acts of kindness, especially when he is committing an act that seems inhumane and heartless. It can be concluded that for Jeff, Spiderhead represents his mental prison of guilt. For Abnesti, I think that Spiderhead represents his mental prison which stems from his inability to sympathize with others. On page 72, in regards to Heather’s death, Abnesti says, “I hated it. I’m a person. I have feelings.” Then later on page 73, he contradicts this statement with an emotionless and factual response to Jeff when Jeff asks if Rachel could die. Abnesti says, “Is it possible that the Darkenfloxx will kill Rachel? Sure. We have the Heather precedent.” This juxtaposition is used often in the story, and it emphasizes Abnesti’s use of manipulation to cover up his emotional downfalls. He is trapped in his commitment to “the mandates of science”(74). Abnesti cannot see the prisoners as people because of his own mental prison within Spider Head.

Darkenfloxx™=Darkened Flocks?

In the concluding paragraphs of Escape from Spiderhead, there is recurring imagery of birds, and I found it significant and interesting. It begins while Jeff is dying, and the birds “were manifesting as the earth’s bright-colored nerve endings, the sun’s descent urging them into activity, filling them individually with life nectar, the life nectar then being passed into the world, out of each beak, in the form of that bird’s distinctive song, which was, in turn, an accident of beak shape, throat shape, breast configuration, brain chemistry: some birds blessed in voice, others cursed; some squawking, others rapturous,” (80). As the birds release their “life nectar” into the world, Jeff chooses to die, and, “From across the woods, as if by common accord, birds left their trees and darted upward. I joined them, flew among them, they did not recognize me as something apart from them, and I was happy, so happy, because for the first time in years, and forevermore, I had not killed, and never would,” (81).

Towards the beginning of this extended imagery, the birds were described as delivering their “life nectar” through “bright-colored nerve endings” into the world. This implies that every bird is an integral part of the world that makes it what it is, because each releases a bright, nectar-filled nerve from its beak, producing a unique, distinct mark on the world visible to all. This is the case for Jeff, and one of the greatest impacts he made on the world, or one of the primary components of his nectar was that he had murdered someone. This was viewed by others as one of his defining characteristics, and as a result, due to shame and regret and not wanting to fortify this image by being complicit in Rachel’s murder, he wanted to dissociate himself from his nectar, or his life as a whole. Consequently, he chose to die, and from there, joined the flock of darkened, lifeless birds who had released the entirety of their nectar into the world and having none left to supply, flew away from earth, and with it, their mark on it. This was his cause for great happiness at the end of the story, because he realized that he would no longer be associated with, nor would he be able to fuel his murderous nectar that he abandoned on earth. Jeff opted for death via Darkenfloxx™, meaning he chose to become part of the flocks of darkened birds that no longer reside on earth. This is my interpretation of the potential source of the name Darkenfloxx™.

Jeff Has Compassion

In the story Escape from Spiderhead by George sanders Jeff finds himself falling in love then falling out of love with two different women in the span of a few hours. Jeff then has to torture these women that he had once loved and now has no feelings left for them. Jeff who is there because he killed a person now has to watch these two women get tortured. First he watches Heather get tortured and she then ends up dead. Then Abnesti is making him do the same thing to Rachel. The thing is Abnesti won’t go ahead and start the torture with out Jeff saying “acknowledge”. We hear Jeffs internal struggle with letting this torture happen to someone that Jeff has no hard feeling about. So Jeff decides to to take his life instead of torturing Rachael to her death. I think this says a lot about Jeff because he is sacrificing himself to save Rachel and at the end you hear that Jeff is finally at peace when he says “for the first time I’m at ease ..” Jeff is a compassionate person at the end and in the end he stood up to the oppression from Abnesti and realizes that he can make positive decisions that will make an impact for the better.

No Escape from Stereotypes

Although Escape from Spiderhead is written as being futuristic, it actually accurately exaggerates very modern stereotypes that people hold about women and prisoners. Although never stated, Abnesti treats the prisoners as though they are hardly human simply because they are criminals. When talking to Jeff, Abnesti asks him, “How many kids do I have?” as if to remind him that because he has children and a life outside of the prison walls, he is somehow better than him. This reflects the misconception that some might hold that criminals are simply criminals, not complex human beings like everyone else. Furthermore, the story refers to the belief that women are objects and can only be used for sex. When Jeff is thinking about having sex with Heather, he refers to her in his head as an “unworthy-seeming vessel”. Even though at one point he felt love for her, the word “vessel” shows how he, maybe even subconsciously, feels that women are only objects designed for his pleasure.

Who is Jeff?

Jeff was a subject in a dangerous experiment, but Jeff was also human. He found himself caring for other people as humans despite there past. He was able to escape the system, though it was a harsh way he was now free.

Acknowledgement Paradox

In the short story Escape from Spiderhead by George Saunders, the illusion of choice within the piece, is present in Jeff’s use of the word, “Acknowledge.” Jeff and the other test subjects are required to address the drugs to being administered to them before Abnesti and Verlaine are allowed to do so. However, it is not exactly as if they have any choice in the first place. We see the outcome of this when Jeff refuses to let Abnesti administer Darkenfloxx, the most pain inducing drug, into Rachel. Abnesti immediately wants to give Jeff adore of Docilryde, a drug to make him follow all his orders, to make him acknowledge the administering of Darkenfloxx into Rachel. When Verlaine states “‘There’s Docilryde in every MobiPack,”‘(75) It connotes that even though a waiver would need to be signed, Jeff can be very easily manipulated with that drug. Thus the illusion of decision is made present if the scientists went without signing a waiver. They would very easily have the ability to use the Docilryde to make him approve of its usage in the first place. That being said, with no cooperation from Jeff needed to, “Acknowledge,” then there is no choice to begin with. Both Abnesti, Verlaine, and the rest of those operating within Spiderhead, have total control over their subjects. Concluding that Jeff’s words and wishes are meaningless, and he is merely a puppet to their science.

Emotions Are a Drug

In the short story Escape from Spiderhead by George Saunders, Jeff faces the realities of emotional connections in his modern prison. Jeff, a criminal, goes through his imprisoned life being administered drugs that can twist his emotions in the blink of an eye. With a simple “Acknowledge”, Jeff’s MobiPak™ releases a drug fit to the experiment being performed. In the most recent experiment, Jeff is given a drug that makes him fall madly in love with two different girls as quickly as he falls out of it. Not only does Jeff realize the reality of his situation, but he begins to question his so called “emotions”. “I was sad that love was not real?…I was sad that love could feel so real and the next minute be gone” (55). I think that Saunders writes Jeff feeling the same way the reader would be, along with having the same realizations. When Jeff finally takes initiative and begins to think for himself, it leads to even greater character development later on in the story.