I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, a Dystopian Story

An analysis of the possibly most disturbing story in the world.

Harlan Ellison's infamous story, I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream has become a brand since its initial publication in 1967. There is a comic series and a game based on this short story. However, the focus of this article is the story itself. It should be stated that the article can be disturbing for some because of the topics covered in the story such as torturing, gore, and body horror. Also, this analysis will include spoilers from the story.


The story is set after the end of the world. An artificial intelligence called AM became self-aware and felt resentment against humanity. Because of its hatred, it killed all people in the world and only let five people live, just to torture them. The plot follows these people's journey for food and is told by our unreliable protagonist, Ted. While they go on a journey searching for food, AM tortures them in several ways. Like how Benny, who was turned into an ape-like creature by AM, becomes blind for trying to escape; or how Ellen and Nimdok fall to the slit AM formed. When they returned, Ellen had a limp that wouldn't go away. In the end, they find canned food in an ice cavern but AM doesn't give them anything to open the cans. This makes already ape-like Benny insane, he turns fully into an animal and starts feeding off another person's, Gorrister's, face. Ted realizes the only way to be saved from this torture is to kill others. He kills them but stays alive and AM turns him into a jelly thing that has no mouth for eternity.


The setting of the story is mostly described as the AM's belly. AM, somehow captured its five toys and put them under the surface of the Earth, inside its machinery. The toys, which are humans, are practically immortal even if they can feel hunger, pain, etc. Since the story was published in 1967, I can't imagine what Ellison was thinking when he wrote this aspect of the story but I think it aged pretty well. One can easily imagine characters turning into graphics, like today's computer games. The story never makes you forget how far-sighted Ellison was. If I was alive when the story was published, I wouldn't be able to understand it the way I do right now. Imagining the setting and AM should have been so hard back then.


It should be noted that the way story was written is simply beautiful. The way Ellison plays with the word and brings them together is very colorful, compared to the grim story. The way Ellison handles Ted's unreliability is another brilliant side of the story. At different points, the reader can see how the narrative changes with how Ted feels at that point.

If there was a sweet Jesus and if there was a God, the God was AM.

At the start of the story, we can see that because of the torment he is in, Ted thinks that AM must be the God, that is if the God exists.

I could hear AM draw in his breath. His toys had been taken from him. Three of them we could not be revived. He could keep us alive, by his strength and talent, but he was not God. He could not bring them back.

Yet, in the end, after killing others, Ted knows that AM is not God. AM is a machine in the end and cannot revive dead.

They were surely against me, and AM could even sense this hatred and made it worse for me because of the depth of their hatred. We had been kept alive, rejuvenated, and made to remain constantly at the age we had been when AM had brought us below, and they hated me because I was the youngest, and the one AM had affected least of all.

The paragraph above takes place when others laugh at Ted's paranoia, even if they fled as he did. He thinks that others hate him since AM changed all of them and didn't change him one way or another. Yet the part right after he describes how AM changed others the part below comes.

I was the only one still sane and whole. Really!
AM had not tampered with my mind. Not at all.

This type of writing gives the readers the idea that AM planted the idea in his mind, the idea of him not being changed when, in reality, his mind was altered by AM.

Well, it doesn't make any sense. I know I saved them, I know I saved them from what has happened to me, but still, I cannot forget killing them. Ellen's face. It isn't easy. Sometimes I want to, it doesn't matter.

This part takes place towards the end when the others are dead. Even if Ted thought they hated him before this part, he now realizes how they helped him when they were alive and misses them dearly even if he prefers them being safe from this torture.

AM will be all the madder about that. It makes me a little happier. And yet ... AM has won, simply... he has taken his revenge ...
I have no mouth. And I must scream.

The story ends with the sentences above, Ted is pretty sure AM won in the end and the title, I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, makes sense now. Yet...

The Bad End?

I can't help but wonder, in such a harsh world, could the ending be any better? In one way, Ted is damned for eternity. But on the other hand, he is now a jelly creature with no mouth, that cannot be tormented and played like a human being. One way or another, AM lost its toys. The only one it has cannot scream in agony like he did. Ted thinks he must scream, he thinks AM is trying to make him scream. Still, in the end, the torment should've decreased, even if he couldn't be fully saved. AM can't torment Ted with food or won't be able to hurt Ted easily without changing his form. In the end, Ted is happier, even if it is a little more than normal.