25 pages 50 minutes read

Ray Bradbury

Marionettes, Inc.

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1949

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Summary: “Marionettes, Inc.”

“Marionettes, Inc.” is a short story, first published in Ray Bradbury’s 1949 short story collection Startling Stories. The narrative, set in 1990, follows the character of Braling as he attempts to liberate himself from the confines of his marriage using a lifelike marionette named Braling Two. Through its themes, “Marionettes, Inc.” explores The Ethical Dilemmas of Technology and Marriage Versus Individual Desires.

Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) was an American author known for his contributions to science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction. His works often explored the impact of technology on society, and the human condition. Bradbury’s breakthrough came with The Martian Chronicles (1950), a collection of interconnected stories set on Mars. Another of his seminal works is Fahrenheit 451 (1953), a dystopian novel warning against censorship and the suppression of intellectual freedom. Throughout his career, Bradbury received numerous accolades, including a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation.

This guide refers to the 2009 Subterranean Press edition of Marionettes, Inc. freely available at Open Library.  

At 10 o’clock in the evening, two friends, Smith and Braling, walk home. Smith suggests that, as it is Braling’s first night out in a long time, he should have stayed out later. However, Braling admits that he did not want to push his good fortune too far. Smith jokes that Braling has drugged his wife with sleeping powder, but Braling replies that “would be unethical” (66).

Smith says he heard rumors that Braling’s wife coerced him into marriage. This event occurred in 1979, 10 years earlier, just as Braling was about to leave for Rio. Smith implies that Mrs. Braling trapped his friend into marriage with a false accusation of rape. Braling admits that he did not love his wife when he married her but had to protect his reputation. Smith complains that his own wife, Nettie, is so loving and attentive he finds it stifling, and suggests she may be “a little simple-minded” (67).

Braling reveals that he is about to leave for a month’s vacation in Rio, alone. He shows Smith his ticket for the rocket. Astonished, Smith asks how he has cleared this with his wife. As they reach Braling’s home, a figure, identical to Braling emerges from the house. Braling introduces his “twin” as Braling Two, a meticulously crafted “marionette,” programmed to emulate his every nuance. He encourages his friend to listen to the marionette’s heart which makes a mechanical ticking sound. Braling reveals that he bought Braling Two from a company called Marionettes, Inc. He keeps the marionette in a locked box in the basement. Unbeknown to his wife, Braling Two kept her company that evening while he went out for a drink. Braling Two will also stand in for him while he is in Rio. Braling describes the arrangement as “highly ethical” as it affords him freedom while convincing his wife he is at home with her. Braling Two confirms that he likes Mrs. Braling and will take good care of her. Smith gratefully takes a card for Marionettes, Inc., asserting that a marionette would give him some reprieve from his wife’s overwhelming affection. Braling suggests Smith should be grateful as his own wife hates him.

The men part and Smith takes the bus home. The small print on the card for Marionettes, Inc. states that customers must keep their purchases secret as marionettes have not yet been legalized. The company was founded two years earlier and its motto is “No Strings Attached” (72). Smith resolves to take $8,000 out of a joint account to buy a marionette.

Back at home, Nettie is asleep, and Smith briefly feels guilt and love for his wife. He remembers how she chose to marry him over “Bud Chapman.” However, the moment passes, and he goes in search of the bankbook. When he finds it, Smith is furious to discover that Nettie has spent $10,000 without consulting him. He imagines she has bought expensive clothes or the “little house on the Hudson” she always wanted (74). Smith shouts at Nettie but she continues sleeping. With a mounting dread, he puts his ear to her chest and hears a mechanical ticking.

The narrative returns to Braling who tells Braling Two it is time to return to his box in the basement. The marionette complains that the box is uncomfortable and boring. Braling tries to placate the replica pointing out that, when he goes to Rio, Braling Two can come out again. However, Braling Two announces that he is in love with Mrs. Braling and would like to take her to Rio. Braling claims that he needs to make a phone call, but the marionette grabs him, stopping him from screaming. Braling Two declares he intends to lock Braling in the box and then buy a second ticket for Rio.

Ten minutes later, Mrs. Braling is woken by a kiss. When she observes that her husband has not “done that in years” a voice replies, “We’ll see what we can do about that” (78).