Kurt Vonnegut's Short Stories

Kurt Vonnegut's Short Stories Summary and Analysis of "Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow"


Lou Schwartz and his wife Em Schwartz stand on the balcony of their New York apartment, discussing their frustrations with Gramps. The narrator explains the situation. Lou is 112 years old and Em is 93; they and everyone else on Earth have been taking a drug called anti-gerasone that stops the aging process. It is made from mud and dandelions, and is readily available to people of all ages.

Lou and Em live in a crowded apartment with their entire extended family, crammed onto mattresses in the hallway, while Gramps keeps the only private bedroom for himself. Exploiting his seniority, Gramps decides who gets to sleep on the only other comfortable piece of furniture - a daybed - based on who is currently in his favor. At the time the story starts, Lou and Em are enjoying that comfort.

Through Lou and Em's conversation, we learn that few people are dying of natural causes because all the diseases have been cured. All the earth's supply of metal and gasoline has been used up, and there is no more arable land for growing crops. Thus, most people must eat processed seaweed and processed sawdust. Lou and Em recall the days when people were exploring space; now, escaping Earth is too expensive to be feasible. Gramps will not die until he decides to, meaning that people like Lou and Em will never have a chance to progress to greater comforts. In their conversation, Em forcefully suggests that they try to facilitate Gramps's death by diluting his anti-gerasone - this would eventually bring on his natural death.

Em and Lou return inside to face Gramps and the rest of their extended family, all of whom appear to be in their late twenties or early thirties due to anti-gerasone. In contrast, Gramps looks seventy, his age when anti-gerasone was invented. He regularly claims he will let himself die when a certain occasion has come, but then chooses a later occasion, so that the family does not believe him.

The entire family is watching the news on television. In response to nearly every news story, Gramps claims, "We did that a hundred years ago!" or "We said that a hundred years ago!" (321). Gramps commands that everyone else watch in silence. One story announces the birth of Lowell H. Hitz at the Chicago Lying-In Hospital.

At one point, Lou imitates Gramps under his breath, but the older man hears it and demands Lou fetch his will, which he alters regularly to reflect his new preferences. He scribbles an alteration to the will, writing Lou out of it and naming Lou's father Willy Schwartz as the new favorite. That means Willy will be able to sleep in the daybed, while Lou and Em will be relegated to the worst sleeping position, on a mattress in the hallway right by the bathroom.

Later, Lou takes a nap on the mattress, and is awakened when someone steps over him to get to the bathroom. He hears a gurgling noise, and opens the bathroom door to find his great-grandnephew Morty Schwartz diluting Gramps's anti-gerasone with water, after having apparently poured half of it down the drain. In effect, he is trying to trick Gramps into again again so that the older man will die.

Morty exits the bathroom without saying a word, and Lou decides to save Gramps's life by pouring the replacing the diluted anti-gerasone with full strength anti-gerasone. Unfortunately, Gramps enters as he is pouring the diluted liquid out, so that Lou looks guilty. In surprise, Lou drops the bottle and it shatters. Gramps simply instructs him to clean up the shattered bottle, and leaves quietly. Many of the family members were standing right behind Gramps, and they filter away too.

Crying, Em comforts Lou, blaming herself for suggesting the idea in the first place. The next morning, they quietly prepare Gramps's breakfast - real food, not processed food - and deliver it to his bedroom. However, he has disappeared, leaving on a note explaining that he has left to die because of what Lou did, and that he has rewritten his will to divide everything he has equally amongst the family.

Immediately, the entire family starts to fight, each person claiming he or she is entitled to the private bedroom. Willy claims it by right of seniority, while Lou argues he makes the most money so deserves the rest. Lou and Em's son Eddie Schwartz he should inherit the private bedroom because he was never alive during a time when privacy was normal. The fight grows loud and intense.

Two hours into the fight, the cops arrive and cart the entire family off to prison. Contrary to expectation, prison is spacious - each member of the Schwartz family has a private cell. From adjacent cells, Lou and Em discuss their hopes of staying there an entire year, and wonder how they could be sentenced to solitary confinement, where they would have complete privacy. Annoyed, the turnkey threatens to throw them back into the outside world if they do not quiet down. He makes it clear that prisoners are expected to stay quiet about jail's comforts once discharged, or else they are not allowed back.

Meanwhile, Gramps returns to the Schwartz home, and moves the daybed in front of the television to watch it in privacy. The whole note was a scam to rid himself of annoyances.

On the news, the announcer speaks of a new invention called super-anti-gerasone, which reverses aging in those people who were already old when the original anti-gerasone was developed. For just dollars a day, they can become indistinguishable from everyone else on the planet, rather than being marked by age. Gramps writes down the information to receive a free trial carton of super-anti-gerasone, and immediately feels younger.


This short story was originally titled "The Big Trip Up Yonder" when it first appeared in Galaxy Science Fiction magazine in January, 1954. It was not printed with the title "Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow" until the 1961 collection Canary in a Cat House. The new title comes from Shakespeare's famous line from the play Macbeth:

She should have died hereafter;

There would have been a time for such a word.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,

To the last syllable of recorded time;

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury

Signifying nothing. — Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 17-28)

The soliloquy here paints life as a succession of useless moments, lots of "sound and fury" that amount to "nothing." Through the allusion, Vonnegut comments upon the lives of characters who live in a world where everyone has the comfort of life, but no duty or pressure to contribute anything good or positive.

Indeed, this idea resonates throughout Vonnegut's story. Rather than living their long lives to the fullest, the Schwartz family spends most of their days watching television. The irony is that they live in a world that had gotten rid of the most severe dangers - sickness and death - and yet this comfort only elucidates the meaningless of their lives. They escape from the misery of their wasted, useless days by watching a serial show called The McGarvey Family, which Gramps has been watching for one hundred and twelve years. Just before Gramps catches Lou appearing to pour out his anti-gerasone, Lou overhears the episode wrapping up with the words: "Thus ends the 29,121st chapter in the life of your neighbors and mine, the McGarveys" (325). The announcer's voice points out the parallel between the lives of the McGarvey family and those of the Schwartz family, all of which seem to go on forever without ever producing anything of note.

The theme of overpopulation that is prevalent throughout Vonnegut's short fiction appears here again: in this case, the drug anti-gerasone has enabled everyone on Earth to live an indefinitely long life by preventing the aging process. There is simply not enough room on the planet for all the people who are still alive and refuse to die. It is a hallmark of Vonnegut's comic science fiction that wonderful inventions only illustrate the ugliness of human nature, and this story provides a perfect instance of that, especially when we learn at the end that Gramps has in fact decided not to die. Instead, he only wanted to have even more of the family's limited resources for himself. Rather than thinking of his family's discomfort, he looks out only for himself, even ordering the new super-anti-gerasone that will reverse his aging process so he can live even longer.

Of course, Vonnegut is no idealist, and his world's comfort comes at the price of certain controls. Through Em and Lou's expository conversation, we learn that the government has raised taxes for the purpose of funding defense and old-age pensions. This theme of an overpowering, controlling government is common throughout Vonnegut's work, and is often linked to the problem of population control. The most immediate question this situation raises concerns the environment, the question of how humans can continue to take advantage of the planet's resources without destroying them. In this story, the answer is that we make compromises, making our lives miserable (through over-crowding and limited food) for the sake of survival. The story does not answer which option is better, but does suggest that we cannot have it all.

This situation also evokes the theme of individual identity, which gets lost amongst so many people. Though we only see the Schwartz apartment, it serves as a microcosm of a world where individuals get lost to the crowd, unable to distinguish themselves. Anti-gerasone is actually a symbol of sameness; it makes everyone the same age and wipes out distinctions in appearance. Most grotesque is that everyone wants to be this way. As Gramps watches television alone in his newly vacated apartment, the announcer asks, "Wouldn't you pay $5,000 to be indistinguishable from everyone else?" (330). It is a rhetorical question. Thanks to the messages the population has been receiving from the media and government, the answer is obviously yes. Again, Vonnegut presents a situation where an ostensibly positive situation also has a demented flipside.

Vonnegut's tone is ironic throughout the story; he uses the characters to point out how ridiculous this extension of everyone's lives has become. For instance, when Em suggests diluting Gramps's anti-gerasone for the first time, Lou scolds her, saying that such a thing would be "against Nature" (315). The dramatic irony is that this society has already configured an entirely unnatural situation. The point here is that mankind tends to justify its manipulation of the environment as 'natural,' rather than face the reality of what he is doing. Another example of irony is the situation the Schwartz family discovers in jail: it is much more comfortable than the home they had been inhabiting, since they have their own private cells with beds and toilets. Overall, it seems that humans were in such desperate fear of mortality that they flipped the world on its head, and worst of all, do not even realize it.