Asimov Profession Analysis Essay

Of course, Reading Day had been different. Partly, there was the simple fact of childhood. A boy of eight takes many extraordinary things in stride. One day you can’t read and the next day you can. That’s just the way things are. Like the sun shining.

And then not so much depended upon it. There were no recruiters just ahead, waiting and jostling for the lists and scores on the coming Olympics. A boy or girl who goes through the Reading Day is just someone who has ten more years of undifferentiated living upon Earth’s crawling surface; just someone who returns to his family with one new ability.

By the time Education Day came, ten years later, George wasn’t even sure of most of the details of his own Reading Day.

Most clearly of all, he remembered it to be a dismal September day with a mild rain falling. (September for Reading Day; November for. Education Day; May for Olympics. They made nursery rhymes out of it.) George had dressed by the wall lights, with his parents far more excited than he himself was. His father was a Registered Pipe Fitter and had found his occupation on Earth. This fact had always been a humiliation to him, although, of course, as anyone could see plainly, most of each generation must stay on Earth in the nature of things.

There had to be farmers and miners and even technicians on Earth. It was only the late-model, high-specialty professions that were in demand on the Outworlds, and only a few millions a year out of Earth’s eight billion population could be exported. Every man and woman on Earth couldn’t be among that group.

But every man and woman could hope that at least one of his children could be one, and Platen, Senior, was certainly no exception. It was obvious to him (and, to be sure, to others as well) that George was notably intelligent and quick-minded. He would be bound to do well and he would have to, as he was an only child. If George didn’t end on an Outworld, they would have to wait for grandchildren before a next chance would come along, and that was too far in the future to be much consolation.

Reading Day would not prove much, of course, but it would be the only indication they would have before the big day itself. Every parent on Earth would be listening to the quality of reading when his child came home with it; listening for any particularly easy flow of words and building that into certain omens of the future. There were few families that didn’t have at lean one hopeful who, from Reading Day on, was the great hope because of the way he handled his trisyllabics.

Dimly, George was aware of the cause of his parents’ tension, and if there was any anxiety in his young heart that drizzly morning, it was only the fear that his father’s hopeful expression might fade out when he returned home with his reading.

The children met in the large assembly room of the town’s Education Hall. All over Earth, in millions of local halls, throughout that month, similar groups of children would he meeting. George felt depressed by the grayness of the room and by the other children, strained and stiff in unaccustomed finery.

Automatically, George did as all the rest of the children did. He found the small clique that represented the children on his floor of the apartment house and joined them.

Trevelyan, who lived immediately next door, still wore his hair childishly long and was years removed from the sideburns and thin, reddish mustache that he was to grow as soon as he was physiologically capable of it.

Trevelyan (to whom George was then known as Jawjee) said, “Bet you’re scared.”

“I am not,’ said George. Then, confidentially, “My folks got a hunk of printing up on the dresser in my room, and when I come home, I’m going to read it for them.” (George’s main suffering at the moment lay in the fact that he didn’t quite know where to put his hands. He had been warned not to scratch his head or rub his ears or pick his nose or put his hands into his pockets. This eliminated almost every possibility.)

Trevelyan put his hands in his pockets and said, “My father isn’t worried.”

Trevelyan, Senior, had been a Metallurgist on Diporia for nearly seven years, which gave him a superior social status in his neighborhood even though he had retired and returned to Earth.

Earth discouraged these re-immigrants because of population problems, but a small trickle did return. For one thing the cost of living was lower on Earth, and what was a trifling annuity on Diporia, say, was a comfortable income on Earth. Besides, there were always men who found more satisfaction in displaying their success before the friends and scenes of their childhood than before all the rest of the Universe besides.

Trevelyan, Senior further explained that if he stayed on Diporia, so would his children, and Diporia was a one-spaceship world. Back on Earth, his kids could end up anywhere, even Novia.

Stubby Trevelyan had picked up that item early. Even before Reading Day, his conversation was based on the carelessly assumed fact that his ultimate home would be in Novia.

George, oppressed by thoughts of the other’s future greatness and his own small-time contrast, was driven to belligerent defense at once.

“My father isn’t worried either. He just wants to hear me read because he knows I’ll be good. I suppose your father would just as soon not hear you because he knows you’ll be all wrong.”

“I will not be all wrong. Reading is nothing. On Novia, I’ll hire people to read to me.”

“Because you won’t be able to read yourself, on account of you’re dumb!”

“Then how come I’ll be on Novia?”

And George, driven, made the great denial, “Who says you’ll be on Novia? Bet you don’t go anywhere.”

Stubby Trevelyan reddened. “I won’t be a Pipe Fitter like your old man.”

“Take that back, you dumbhead.”

“You take that back.”

They stood nose to nose, not wanting to fight but relieved at having something familiar to do in this strange place. Furthermore, now that George had curled his hands into fists and lifted them before his face, the problem of what to do with his hands was, at least temporarily, solved. Other children gathered round excitedly.

But then it all ended when a woman’s voice sounded loudly over the public address system. There was instant silence everywhere. George dropped his fists and forgot Trevelyan.

“Children,” said the voice, “we are going to call out your names. As each child is called, he or she is to go to one of the men waiting along the side walls. Do you see them? They are wearing red uniforms so they will be easy to find. The girls will go to the right. The boys will go to the left. Now look about and see which man in red is nearest to you – ”

George found his man at a glance and waited for his name to be called off. He had not been introduced before this to the sophistications of the alphabet and the length of time it took to reach his own name grew disturbing.

The crowd of children thinned; little rivulets made their way to each of the red-clad guides.

When the name ‘George Platen’ was finally called, his sense of relief was exceeded only by the feeling of pure gladness at the fact that Stubby Trevelyan still stood in his place, uncalled.

George shouted back over his shoulder as he left, “Yay, Stubby, maybe they don’t want you.”

That moment of gaiety quickly left. He was herded into a line and directed down corridors in the company of strange children. They all looked at one another, large-eyed and concerned, but beyond a snuffling, “Quitcher pushing” and “Hey, watch out” there was no conversation.

They were handed little slips of paper which they were told must remain with them. George stared at his curiously. Little black marks of different shapes. He knew it to be printing but how could anyone make words out of it? He couldn’t imagine.

He was told to strip; he and four other boys who were all that now remained together. All the new clothes came shucking off and four eight-year-olds stood naked and small, shivering more out of embarrassment than cold. Medical technicians came past, probing them, testing them with odd instruments, pricking them for blood. Each took the little cards and made additional marks on them with little black rods that produced the marks, all neatly lined up, with great speed. George stared at the new marks, but they were no more comprehensible than the old. The children were ordered back into their clothes.

They sat on separate little chairs then and waited again. Names were called again and ‘George Platen’ came third.

He moved into a large room, filled with frightening instruments with knobs and glassy panels in front. There was a desk in the very center, and behind it a man sat, his eyes on the papers piled before him.

He said, “George Platen?”

“Yes, sir,said George, in a shaky whisper. All this waiting and all this going here and there was making him nervous. He wished it were over.

The man behind the desk said, “I am Dr Lloyd, George. How are you?”

The doctor didn’t look up as he spoke. It was as though he had said those words over and over again and didn’t have to look up any more.

“I’m all right.”

“Are you afraid, George?”

“N – no, sir,” said George, sounding afraid even in his own ears.

“That’s good,” said the doctor, “because there’s nothing to be afraid of you know. Let’s see, George. It says here on your card that your father is named Peter and that he’s a Registered Pipe Fitter and your mother is named Amy and is a Registered Home Technician. Is that right?”

“Y – yes, sir.”

“And your birthday is 13 February,and you had an ear infection about a year ago. Right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Do you know how I know all these things?”

“It’s on the card, I think, sir.”

“That’s right.” The doctor looked up at George for the first time and smiled. He showed even teeth and looked much younger than George’s father. Some of George’s nervousness vanished.

The doctor passed the card to George. “Do you know what all those things there mean, George?”

Although George knew he did not he was startled by the sudden request into looking at the card as though he might understand now through some sudden stroke of fate. But they were just marks as before and he passed the card back. “No, sir.”

“Why not?”

George felt a sudden pang of suspicion concerning the sanity of this doctor. Didn’t he know why not?

George said, “I can’t read, sir.”

“Would you like to read?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Why, George?”

George stared, appalled. No one had ever asked him that. He had no answer. He said falteringly, “I don’t know, sir.”

“Printed information will direct you all through your life. There is so much you’ll have to know even after Education Day. Cards like this one will tell you. Books will tell you. Television screens will tell you. Printing will tell you such useful things and such interesting things that not being able to read would be as bad as not being able to see. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Are you afraid, George?”

“No, sir.”

“Good. Now I’ll tell you exactly what we’ll do first. I’m going to put these wires on your forehead just over the corners of your eyes. They’ll stick there but they won’t hurt at all. Then, I’ll turn on something that will make a buzz. It will sound funny and it may tickle you, but it won’t hurt. Now if it does hurt, you tell me, and I’ll turn it off right away, but it won’t hurt. All right?”

George nodded and swallowed.

“Are you ready?”

George nodded. He closed his eyes while the doctor busied himself. His parents had explained this to him. They, too, had said it wouldn’t hurt, but then there were always the older children. There were the ten- and twelve-year-olds who howled after the eight-year-olds waiting for Reading Day, “Watch out for the needle.” There were the others who took you off in confidence and said, “They got to cut your head open. They use a sharp knife that big with a hook on it,” and so on into horrifying details.

George had never believed them but he had had nightmares, and now he closed his eyes and felt pure terror.

He didn’t feel the wires at his temple. The buzz was a distant thing, and there was the sound of his own blood in his ears, ringing hollowly as though it and he were in a large cave. Slowly he chanced opening his eyes.

The doctor had his back to him. From one of the instruments a strip of paper unwound and was covered with a thin, wavy purple line. The doctor tore off pieces and put them into a slot in another machine. He did it over and over again. Each time a little piece of film came out which the doctor looked at. Finally, he turned toward George with a queer frown between his eyes.

The buzzing stopped.

George said breathlessly, “Is it over?”

The doctor said, “Yes,” but he was still frowning.

“Can I read now?’ asked George. He felt no different.

The doctor said, “What?” then smiled very suddenly and briefly. He said, “It works fine, George. You’ll be reading in fifteen minutes. Now we’re going to use another machine this time and it will take longer. I’m going to cover your whole head, and when I turn it on you won’t be able to see or hear anything for a while, but it won’t hurt. Just to make sure I’m going to give you a little switch to hold in your hand. If anything hurts, you press the little button and everything shuts off. All right?”

In later years, George was told that the little switch was strictly a dummy; that it was introduced solely for confidence. He never did know for sure, however, since he never pushed the button.

A large smoothly curved helmet with a rubbery inner lining was placed over his head and left there. Three or four little knobs seemed to grab at him and bite into his skull, but there was only a little pressure that faded. No pain.

The doctor’s voice sounded dimly. “Everything all right, George?”

And then, with no real warning, a layer of thick felt closed down all about him. He was disembodied, there was no sensation, no universe, only himself and a distant murmur at the very ends of nothingness telling him something – telling him – telling him –

He strained to hear and understand but there was all that thick felt between.

Then the helmet was taken off his head, and the light was so bright that it hurt his eyes while the doctor’s voice drummed at his ears.

The doctor said, “Here’s your card, George. What does it say?”

George looked at his card again and gave out a strangled shout. The marks weren’t just marks at all. They made up words. They were words just as clearly as though something were whispering them in his ears. He could hear them being whispered as he looked at them.

“What does it say, George?”

“It says – it says – ‘Platen, George. Born 13 February 6492 of Peter and Amy Platen in...’ ” He broke off.

“You can read, George,” said the doctor. “It’s all over.”

“For good? I won’t forget how?”

“Of course not” The doctor leaned over to shake hands gravely. “You will be taken home now.”

It was days before George got over this new and great talent of his. He read for his father with such facility that Platen, Senior, wept and called relatives to tell the good news.

George walked about town, reading every scrap of printing he could find and wondering how it was that none of it had ever made sense to him before.

He tried to remember how it was not to be able to read and he couldn’t. As far as his feeling about it was concerned, he had always been able to read. Always.

Of course, Reading Day had been different. Partly, there was the simple fact of childhood. A boy of eight takes many extraordinary things in stride. One day you can’t read and the next day you can. That’s just the way things are. Like the sun shining.

And then not so much depended upon it. There were no recruiters just ahead, waiting and jostling for the lists and scores on the coming Olympics. A boy or girl who goes through the Reading Day is just someone who has ten more years of undifferentiated living upon Earth’s crawling surface; just someone who returns to his family with one new ability.

By the time Education Day came, ten years later, George wasn’t even sure of most of the details of his own Reading Day.

Most clearly of all, he remembered it to be a dismal September day with a mild rain falling. (September for Reading Day; November for. Education Day; May for Olympics. They made nursery rhymes out of it.) George had dressed by the wall lights, with his parents far more excited than he himself was. His father was a Registered Pipe Fitter and had found his occupation on Earth. This fact had always been a humiliation to him, although, of course, as anyone could see plainly, most of each generation must stay on Earth in the nature of things.

There had to be farmers and miners and even technicians on Earth. It was only the late-model, high-specialty professions that were in demand on the Outworlds, and only a few millions a year out of Earth’s eight billion population could be exported. Every man and woman on Earth couldn’t be among that group.

But every man and woman could hope that at least one of his children could be one, and Platen, Senior, was certainly no exception. It was obvious to him (and, to be sure, to others as well) that George was notably intelligent and quick-minded. He would be bound to do well and he would have to, as he was an only child. If George didn’t end on an Outworld, they would have to wait for grandchildren before a next chance would come along, and that was too far in the future to be much consolation.

Reading Day would not prove much, of course, but it would be the only indication they would have before the big day itself. Every parent on Earth would be listening to the quality of reading when his child came home with it; listening for any particularly easy flow of words and building that into certain omens of the future. There were few families that didn’t have at least one hopeful who, from Reading Day on, was the great hope because of the way he handled his trisyllabics.

Dimly, George was aware of the cause of his parents’ tension, and if there was any anxiety in his young heart that drizzly morning, it was only the fear that his father’s hopeful expression might fade out when he returned home with his reading.

The children met in the large assembly room of the town’s Education Hall. All over Earth, in millions of local halls, throughout that month, similar groups of children would he meeting. George felt depressed by the grayness of the room and by the other children, strained and stiff in unaccustomed finery.

Automatically, George did as all the rest of the children did. He found the small clique that represented the children on his floor of the apartment house and joined them.

Trevelyan, who lived immediately next door, still wore his hair childishly long and was years removed from the sideburns and thin, reddish mustache that he was to grow as soon as he was physiologically capable of it.

Trevelyan (to whom George was then known as Jawjee) said, “Bet you’re scared.”

“I am not,’ said George. Then, confidentially, “My folks got a hunk of printing up on the dresser in my room, and when I come home, I’m going to read it for them.” (George’s main suffering at the moment lay in the fact that he didn’t quite know where to put his hands. He had been warned not to scratch his head or rub his ears or pick his nose or put his hands into his pockets. This eliminated almost every possibility.)

Trevelyan put his hands in his pockets and said, “My father isn’t worried.”

Trevelyan, Senior, had been a Metallurgist on Diporia for nearly seven years, which gave him a superior social status in his neighborhood even though he had retired and returned to Earth.

Earth discouraged these re-immigrants because of population problems, but a small trickle did return. For one thing the cost of living was lower on Earth, and what was a trifling annuity on Diporia, say, was a comfortable income on Earth. Besides, there were always men who found more satisfaction in displaying their success before the friends and scenes of their childhood than before all the rest of the Universe besides.

Trevelyan, Senior further explained that if he stayed on Diporia, so would his children, and Diporia was a one-spaceship world. Back on Earth, his kids could end up anywhere, even Novia.

Stubby Trevelyan had picked up that item early. Even before Reading Day, his conversation was based on the carelessly assumed fact that his ultimate home would be in Novia.

George, oppressed by thoughts of the other’s future greatness and his own small-time contrast, was driven to belligerent defense at once.

“My father isn’t worried either. He just wants to hear me read because he knows I’ll be good. I suppose your father would just as soon not hear you because he knows you’ll be all wrong.”

“I will not be all wrong. Reading is nothing. On Novia, I’ll hire people to read to me.”

“Because you won’t be able to read yourself, on account of you’re dumb!”

“Then how come I’ll be on Novia?”

And George, driven, made the great denial, “Who says you’ll be on Novia? Bet you don’t go anywhere.”

Stubby Trevelyan reddened. “I won’t be a Pipe Fitter like your old man.”

“Take that back, you dumbhead.”

“You take that back.”

They stood nose to nose, not wanting to fight but relieved at having something familiar to do in this strange place. Furthermore, now that George had curled his hands into fists and lifted them before his face, the problem of what to do with his hands was, at least temporarily, solved. Other children gathered round excitedly.

But then it all ended when a woman’s voice sounded loudly over the public address system. There was instant silence everywhere. George dropped his fists and forgot Trevelyan.

“Children,” said the voice, “we are going to call out your names. As each child is called, he or she is to go to one of the men waiting along the side walls. Do you see them? They are wearing red uniforms so they will be easy to find. The girls will go to the right. The boys will go to the left. Now look about and see which man in red is nearest to you –”

George found his man at a glance and waited for his name to be called off. He had not been introduced before this to the sophistications of the alphabet and the length of time it took to reach his own name grew disturbing.

The crowd of children thinned; little rivulets made their way to each of the red-clad guides.

When the name ‘George Platen’ was finally called, his sense of relief was exceeded only by the feeling of pure gladness at the fact that Stubby Trevelyan still stood in his place, uncalled.

George shouted back over his shoulder as he left, “Yay, Stubby, maybe they don’t want you.”

That moment of gaiety quickly left. He was herded into a line and directed down corridors in the company of strange children. They all looked at one another, large-eyed and concerned, but beyond a snuffling, “Quitcher pushing” and “Hey, watch out” there was no conversation.

They were handed little slips of paper which they were told must remain with them. George stared at his curiously. Little black marks of different shapes. He knew it to be printing but how could anyone make words out of it? He couldn’t imagine.

He was told to strip; he and four other boys who were all that now remained together. All the new clothes came shucking off and four eight-year-olds stood naked and small, shivering more out of embarrassment than cold. Medical technicians came past, probing them, testing them with odd instruments, pricking them for blood. Each took the little cards and made additional marks on them with little black rods that produced the marks, all neatly lined up, with great speed. George stared at the new marks, but they were no more comprehensible than the old. The children were ordered back into their clothes.

They sat on separate little chairs then and waited again. Names were called again and ‘George Platen’ came third.

He moved into a large room, filled with frightening instruments with knobs and glassy panels in front. There was a desk in the very center, and behind it a man sat, his eyes on the papers piled before him.

He said, “George Platen?”

“Yes, sir,said George, in a shaky whisper. All this waiting and all this going here and there was making him nervous. He wished it were over.

The man behind the desk said, “I am Dr Lloyd, George. How are you?”

The doctor didn’t look up as he spoke. It was as though he had said those words over and over again and didn’t have to look up any more.

“I’m all right.”

“Are you afraid, George?”

“N – no, sir,” said George, sounding afraid even in his own ears.

“That’s good,” said the doctor, “because there’s nothing to be afraid of you know. Let’s see, George. It says here on your card that your father is named Peter and that he’s a Registered Pipe Fitter and your mother is named Amy and is a Registered Home Technician. Is that right?”

“Y – yes, sir.”

“And your birthday is 13 February,and you had an ear infection about a year ago. Right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Do you know how I know all these things?”

“It’s on the card, I think, sir.”

“That’s right.” The doctor looked up at George for the first time and smiled. He showed even teeth and looked much younger than George’s father. Some of George’s nervousness vanished.

The doctor passed the card to George. “Do you know what all those things there mean, George?”

Although George knew he did not he was startled by the sudden request into looking at the card as though he might understand now through some sudden stroke of fate. But they were just marks as before and he passed the card back. “No, sir.”

“Why not?”

George felt a sudden pang of suspicion concerning the sanity of this doctor. Didn’t he know why not?

George said, “I can’t read, sir.”

“Would you like to read?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Why, George?”

George stared, appalled. No one had ever asked him that. He had no answer. He said falteringly, “I don’t know, sir.”

“Printed information will direct you all through your life. There is so much you’ll have to know even after Education Day. Cards like this one will tell you. Books will tell you. Television screens will tell you. Printing will tell you such useful things and such interesting things that not being able to read would be as bad as not being able to see. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Are you afraid, George?”

“No, sir.”

“Good. Now I’ll tell you exactly what we’ll do first. I’m going to put these wires on your forehead just over the corners of your eyes. They’ll stick there but they won’t hurt at all. Then, I’ll turn on something that will make a buzz. It will sound funny and it may tickle you, but it won’t hurt. Now if it does hurt, you tell me, and I’ll turn it off right away, but it won’t hurt. All right?”

George nodded and swallowed.

“Are you ready?”

George nodded. He closed his eyes while the doctor busied himself. His parents had explained this to him. They, too, had said it wouldn’t hurt, but then there were always the older children. There were the ten- and twelve-year-olds who howled after the eight-year-olds waiting for Reading Day, “Watch out for the needle.” There were the others who took you off in confidence and said, “They got to cut your head open. They use a sharp knife that big with a hook on it,” and so on into horrifying details.

George had never believed them but he had had nightmares, and now he closed his eyes and felt pure terror.

He didn’t feel the wires at his temple. The buzz was a distant thing, and there was the sound of his own blood in his ears, ringing hollowly as though it and he were in a large cave. Slowly he chanced opening his eyes.

The doctor had his back to him. From one of the instruments a strip of paper unwound and was covered with a thin, wavy purple line. The doctor tore off pieces and put them into a slot in another machine. He did it over and over again. Each time a little piece of film came out which the doctor looked at. Finally, he turned toward George with a queer frown between his eyes.

The buzzing stopped.

George said breathlessly, “Is it over?”

The doctor said, “Yes,” but he was still frowning.

“Can I read now?’ asked George. He felt no different.

The doctor said, “What?” then smiled very suddenly and briefly. He said, “It works fine, George. You’ll be reading in fifteen minutes. Now we’re going to use another machine this time and it will take longer. I’m going to cover your whole head, and when I turn it on you won’t be able to see or hear anything for a while, but it won’t hurt. Just to make sure I’m going to give you a little switch to hold in your hand. If anything hurts, you press the little button and everything shuts off. All right?”

In later years, George was told that the little switch was strictly a dummy; that it was introduced solely for confidence. He never did know for sure, however, since he never pushed the button.

A large smoothly curved helmet with a rubbery inner lining was placed over his head and left there. Three or four little knobs seemed to grab at him and bite into his skull, but there was only a little pressure that faded. No pain.

The doctor’s voice sounded dimly. “Everything all right, George?”

And then, with no real warning, a layer of thick felt closed down all about him. He was disembodied, there was no sensation, no universe, only himself and a distant murmur at the very ends of nothingness telling him something – telling him – telling him –

He strained to hear and understand but there was all that thick felt between.

Then the helmet was taken off his head, and the light was so bright that it hurt his eyes while the doctor’s voice drummed at his ears.

The doctor said, “Here’s your card, George. What does it say?”

George looked at his card again and gave out a strangled shout. The marks weren’t just marks at all. They made up words. They were words just as clearly as though something were whispering them in his ears. He could hear them being whispered as he looked at them.

“What does it say, George?”

“It says – it says – ‘Platen, George. Born 13 February 6492 of Peter and Amy Platen in...’” He broke off.

“You can read, George,” said the doctor. “It’s all over.”

“For good? I won’t forget how?”

“Of course not” The doctor leaned over to shake hands gravely. “You will be taken home now.”

It was days before George got over this new and great talent of his. He read for his father with such facility that Platen, Senior, wept and called relatives to tell the good news.

George walked about town, reading every scrap of printing he could find and wondering how it was that none of it had ever made sense to him before.

He tried to remember how it was not to be able to read and he couldn’t. As far as his feeling about it was concerned, he had always been able to read. Always.

0 comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *