"The Landlady" and Other Short Stories

"The Landlady" and Other Short Stories Summary and Analysis of "The Great Automatic Grammatizator"


The story begins with John Bolen calling Adolph Knipe into his office to congratulate him on a job well done. Knipe is unenthusiastic about the acclaim given to his computer, though Bohlen explains his contributions were especially important. Still disinterested, Knipe thinks about how he doesn't like Bohlen's hands or his "tiny mouth and purple-coloured lips" (296). Meanwhile, Bohlen disapproves of Knipe's constant slouching and untidiness, and he gives Knipe two weeks off of work.

Knipe returns to his two-room apartment and sits at his typewriter, cursing the great electrical computing machine. Adolph then has an epiphany, and starts thinking of an idea that would allow him to exact revenge on his greatest enemies. Knipe decides to feed his computer various words and plots, and leave the computer to write the sentences of a story. Though he faces an obstacle in that a computer cannot have an original thought, he also knows that it can have an almost unlimited memory, and that English grammar is governed by strict, almost mathematical, rules.

Knipe begins to draft intricate plans, feeding the computer words, plots, names, and providing it with an electric typewriter and knobs with the names of famous American magazines. Knipe brings his plans to Bohlen's office, as Bohlen thinks to himself that Knipe looks as disheveled and bent as ever. Knipe shows Bohlen his idea, and Bohlen rejects it, remarking that no one on earth would want a machine that writes stories.

In response to Bohlen's rejection, Knipe explains that he is unhappy with his job, and wants to be a writer. In the past ten years, he has written 506 stories, and he has an immense creative urge, even though no one will publish his stories. Bohlen relaxes at the thought that Knipe is not a good enough writer to leave his job, but Knipe insists his stories are significantly better than most of the published material in magazines. Even though Knipe is currently unpublished, his machine is programmed to produce stories that each magazine prefers to publish. From a commercial standpoint, each published article will earn a sizable profit.

Though Bohlen still believes the machine is impracticable trickery, Knipe works to convince him with projections of potential profit margins, suggesting that they fabricate writers by setting up their own literary agency. When Knipe suggests that Bohlen can put his name on some of the articles, Bohlen begins to fantasize about his life as a famous writer. Within a week, Bohlen agrees to the idea, planning to conceal the machine as a mathematical calculator.

Six months later, the machine is completed, and Knipe and Bohlen stand in front of the machine, waiting to generate their first story. They decide to press Today's Woman but the machine only generates a string of gibberish. After Knipe makes several adjustments, they try the machine again, generating an article for the Digest that does not have spaces between the words. With some more tweaks, Knipe and Bohlen generate their first correctly formatted story and send it to a famous women's magazine. Adolph runs several other stories, and Bohlen and Knipe finally set up a literary agency. The duo sends off 12 stories to various magazines, and five of the stories get published. The story with Bohlen's name was rejected, but Adolph immediately runs a new story with Bohlen's name which is promptly accepted.

In another six months' time, Adolph is putting out 30 stories a week, and selling about half of them. Knipe begins to build up a slightly more prestigious name for himself than Bohlen in literary circles, but Bohlen does not yet know this. The two now set out to produce a novel. Bohlen begins to see that Knipe is saving some of the better stories for himself, and demands a highly-intellectual novel be produced. Knipe upgrades the machine to write novels with any plot and writing style. The machine now has ten rows of pre-selector buttons, and the author has to sit at a control station and modulate variable qualities like tension, pathos and surprise. Finally, Knipe adds a control to include passion, the most important ingredient of a novel.

After many hours of practice, Bohlen is ready to write his first novel. While his first attempt goes poorly, as he rides the machine similarly to someone driving a car for the first time, his second attempt is quickly published. Knipe creates a dozen additional novels, and sends them through the Adolph Knipe Literary Agency.

With this achievement, Knipe grows greedier, and makes plans to buy out several writers in the country by offering them money if they agree to never write again. The first writer decides Knipe is a lunatic and shows him to the door. The second writer attacks Knipe after realizing he is serious. When Knipe approaches a third writer, a successful female romance novelist, she agrees to sign the contract after realizing the machine produces better writing than her own. At the end of his rounds, Knipe is able to convince about 70% of the writers on his list to sign his contract, and after the first full year of the machine's operation, half of all novels published in the English language are produced by Adolph Knipe.

At the end of the story, the narrator reveals that they are also a writer with nine starving children. For now, the narrator refuses to sign Knipe's contract, and begs God to give him strength "to let our children starve."


"The Great Automatic Grammatizator" is a morality tale about the seductiveness of selling one's integrity and one's soul. The story begins with a disheveled, slouching young man who desperately wants to be a writer. While on vacation, Knipe gets the idea to create a machine that would tailor each story to a specific publication. This machine serves as a commentary on magazine publishing, as Knipe is able to generate a story that will be successful at each of these magazines based on exact formulas and inputs, gaining more money as he does so. Knipe also begins as a writer who believes his stories are significantly better than what is printed in magazines, but he still decides to be published, and acclaimed, rather than to be a commercially unsuccessful but self-respecting writer.

The corrupting nature of greed is a key theme here. Knipe presents the machine as a profitable endeavor, a way to generate publishable stories in order to gain money and acclaim. As the power of the machine continues to grow, Knipe also gains more power. Knipe's greed leads him to create a contract and to buy out more and more writers, as his endeavors turn into a push for monopoly power.

The progression of Knipe and Bohlen's relationship also serves as an interesting critique of power. While Bohlen begins as Knipe's boss, funding the original machine, as Knipe gains more money and more acclaim, he overtakes Bohlen, naming the literary agency after himself and ensuring that he is better regarded in literary circles. Eventually, as Knipe's business endeavors stretch to his contracts with writers, Bohlen sees Knipe's plans as overly ambitious. In this moment, Bohlen fully cedes power to Knipe, who continues to grow his influence and monetary control. In this story, money is power, and the more ambitious and wealthy Knipe gets, the more powerful he becomes.

This story also serves as a powerful allegory for signing a contract and selling one's soul to the devil. Indeed, instead of integrity and honesty, writers choose money and simplicity. As Knipe begins with the desire to "reveng[e] himself in a most devilish manner upon his greatest enemies," he achieves this goal and much more. Knipe continues to grow more power-hungry and greedy as his influence grows. When Bohlen comments that the machine feels like trickery, Knipe disregards this commentary. Knipe asks Bohlen to imagine becoming a famous author, using vanity to convince Bohlen to lie and cheat. Knipe eventually begins to target several writers, convincing them to sign his contract and participate in his greed and deception.

At the end of the story, the narrator, who has otherwise been a transparent presence, addresses the audience directly. Unlike the other characters in this story, the narrator maintains hope that they will not sign the contract, even though they have nine children to feed. This strength serves as a moral conclusion to the story, as the narrator prefers honesty and integrity to the easy money of Knipe's evil contract. In the final line of the story, the narrator begs God for the strength to let his children starve. In the end, the story is a complex meditation on creativity, work, and automation. When machines take your job, what options do you have? If your sense of self is wrapped up in creative expression, like the narrator's, is it ever acceptable to "sell out" in order to survive, especially when others depend on you?