For Thursday: Chiang, “The Great Silence” (pp.273-276)

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: Why do you think the parrot narrator repeats the last words of Alex at the end of the story: “You be good. I love you”? While we imagine these were just common words that Alex told to his masters, why does the narrator claim that this is the parrots’ message to humanity? Is there another way to understand them?

Q2: One of the great lines in the story states, “the hush of the night sky is the silence of a graveyard” (273). What does the narrator mean by this, and how does it relate to the title of the story—“the great silence”? What made everything so silent?

Q3: According to this story, how does being a “vocal learner” change how you experience and see the world? If you didn’t speak or use verbal language, what aspects of the world would be less important to you? In other words, what concepts/values would they lack that we (and parrots) take for granted?

Q4: The Arecibo Observatory is a real place (see picture above) built in 1974 in Puerto Rico to, among other things, search for alien life. As the parrot explains, “astronomers used Arecibo to broadcast a message into outer space intended to demonstrate human intelligence. That was humanity’s contact call” (274). How does this relate to the communication of parrots and why might the parrot narrator find this somewhat ironic? 


  1. Cameron Corbin
    Q2:I believe the author is expressing two things when he says "the hush of the night sky is like the sound of a graveyard. Either the silence of the night sky means that there is no life and there has never been alien life, or that there is no alien life because every alien species that once existed has died out. The latter is almost a scarier thought, as it is utterly terrifying to think of a power great enough to wipe out an entire species of intelligent beings. What's to stop a power that great to wipe out the entire human population?
    Q3:Being a vocal learner shapes our life in such a profound way because it is our primary way of expressing everything we hold dear in our culture. Without the vocal capabilities that we posess as human beings, we would have to find alternate means to express all the feelings we hold dear, whether it be the ability to love or the capacity to hate. If we didn't use vocalization, it is scary to think how meaningless the medium of music would cease to be. The one form of art that can hit both the peasant and the king on a level that brings them to their knees in tears would simply be empty rythyms without a voice.

  2. Q1. "You be good. I love you." is used twice in this short story to emphasize the importance of it all. In a way it can be perceived as the parrot seeing humans as their pets, not the other way around. The parrot has simply been trying to say "stop looking thousands of lightyears away for intelligent life, we are right here in front of you."

    Q2. The quote, "the hush of the night sky is the silence of a graveyard" is the narrator speaking about "the great silence." In this story the silence comes from all of the other forms of civilizations that have died before we could ever figure out how to communicate with them.

  3. Q1: When the parrot says "You be good. I love you" he is telling humanity that if you keep looking out into space you miss what's right in front of you. We think we're the dominant race on the planet just because we can speak, but we're not. If dogs, parrots, apes, or any other animal/mammal tries to speak or communicate we say its a joke that there's no way that could happen.

    Q2: The narrator quotes the "the hush of the night sky is the silence of a graveyard" in the story because in graveyards no one speaks or talks to each other because everyone is dead. "The great silence" is like space, no one is speaking or communicating with each other. We don't even know if there is anyone out there to try to communicate with. In space there could be people or aliens outsides our solar system but there also could not be anyone but us in the galaxy, no one really knows if we're alone or not in this universe. We keep looking for something out there like us. I think as humans even though we are all different, we still want to find other people/aliens like us because we don't like the thought of being alone.

    Bailey Copeland

  4. Q1: When the parrot says "You be good, I love you", it's saying it in a way that is mocking us. This is something we say to our pets all the time, we tell them to be good, and to listen, because we know that we are superior. The narrator knows that we're not superior, but we just aren't listening. Us as a species need to understand, and listen that we're not alone, and just because the "intelligent" life isn't out in space doesn't mean we're the only ones.
    Q2: In this quote it is refraining to the Fermi paradox. What if great civilizations lived before us, but they all died before we ever got a chance to say hello. And as the parrot said at the end of the story, their death as a species grants them entry to the great silence, at the fault of mankind. The selfishness of a greater being is what created the silence.

  5. Q1: When the parrot ends the story with "You be good. I love you", in a way it is saying that we're not the dominant species like we think we are. Sort of like they've been watching over us but since they're about to go extinct, they can't watch over us anymore like they have been. And that we're completely looking over them, we're looking all around the universe for a species like us that can communicate when theres one right next to us.

    Q2: The narrator quotes "the hush of the night sky is the silence of a graveyard", because the universe is quite like a graveyard because for all we know any thing that has once lived before could be dead. "The great silence" is all the silence coming from the civilizations that were once out there that have died out before they learned to communicate with us. Everything is silent either because of the "fermi paradox" or because they destroyed themselves from lack of communication.


Post a Comment