In “Marionettes, Inc.,” the protagonist, Braling, illegally buys a lifelike android (called a marionette) so that he can have a temporary escape from his overbearing, controlling wife, Mrs. Braling. By setting up the marionette (Braling Two) in his place, Braling thinks he will be free to travel for a month without his wife even knowing. Braling’s good friend Smith has a similar problem with his own wife, Nettie, though she is overbearing in the sense that she is annoyingly loving and clingy. Through the characters of Braling, Braling Two, Smith, and Nettie, Ray Bradbury demonstrates how secrecy and deception are dangerously self-perpetuating.
The very concept of the marionette illustrates that secrecy is self-perpetuating—that is, harboring secrets only creates more secrets. According to Marionettes, Inc.’s business card, “Clients must be pledged to secrecy, for while an act is pending in Congress to legalize Marionettes, Inc., it is still a felony, if caught, to use one.” Significantly, the company claims that it is a felony to use a marionette only if the user is caught. Besides showing some murky morality, this wording highlights how Marionettes, Inc.’s underground operation forces its customers to also use their marionettes discreetly, thereby perpetuating a cycle of secrecy. The repercussions of this are massive, especially for Braling. Since Braling is forced to use Braling Two in secret—the only person who knows about the marionette is Smith—Braling’s (presumable) murder at the hands of the marionette will also likely remain a secret. In this way, Braling’s secret about his marionette feeds Braling Two’s secret about killing Braling.
Smith and Nettie’s tenuous marriage also highlights how deception breeds even more deception. Smith is convinced that his wife, Nettie, “loves [him] madly.” He tells Braling, “My wife loves me so much she can’t bear to have me gone an hour.” However, by the end of the story, it’s clear that the real Nettie has been gone for at least a month, leaving a marionette in her place. It seems, then, that Nettie has been deceiving her husband by putting on an act that makes him think she is crazy about him, when in actuality, she also desires some space. It’s unclear why she would pretend to be so clingy and loving—perhaps she felt compelled to play the part of the “good, loving wife”—but nonetheless, her deception is what spurs Smith to covet his own marionette so that he can have a little space from his wife. This is sad, because it’s likely that Nettie thought that Smith was the one who craved an exorbitant amount of love and affection—spurring her to purchase a marionette who could do so more convincingly and also give Nettie a break. Unknowingly, both Nettie and Smith were deceiving one another and consequently encouraging further dishonesty.
“Marionettes, Inc.” largely deals with the dangers of secrecy and deception, ultimately revealing how both are self-perpetuating. All the characters in the story are guilty of harboring secrets and acting deceptively, which only invites more secrecy and deception. In this way, Bradbury uses strong negative examples—that is, examples of how not to behave—in order to teach his audience about the value of honesty and transparency.
Secrecy and Deception ThemeTracker
Secrecy and Deception Quotes in Marionettes, Inc.
“What did you do, put sleeping powder in your wife’s coffee?”
“No, that would be unethical.”
“[I’m] married to a woman who overdoes it. I mean, after all, when you’ve been married ten years, you don’t expect a woman to sit on your lap for two hours every evening, call you at work twelve times a day and talk baby talk. And it seems to me that in the last month she’s gotten worse. I wonder if perhaps she isn’t a little simple-minded?”
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“It may be splitting hairs, but I think it highly ethical. After all, what my wife wants most of all is me. This marionette is me to the hairiest detail. I’ve been home all evening. I shall be home with her for the next month. In the meantime another gentleman will be in Rio after ten years of waiting.”
“Thank you […] You don’t know what this means. Just a little respite. A night or so, once a month even. My wife loves me so much she can’t bear to have me gone an hour. I love her dearly, you know, but remember the old poem: ‘Love will fly if held too lightly, love will die if held too tightly.’ I just want her to relax her grip a little bit.”
“Really, you make me feel like a criminal. You have been such a good, loving wife. Sometimes it is impossible for me to believe you married me instead of that Bud Chapman you once liked. It seems that in the last month you have loved me more wildly than ever before.”
And then, the horrid thought. And then the terror and the loneliness engulfed him. And then the fever and disillusionment. For, without desiring to do so, he bent forward and yet forward again until his fevered ear was resting firmly and irrevocably upon her round pink bosom. “Nettie!” he cried.
“Did my wife put you up to this?”
“Did she guess? Did she talk to you? Does she know? Is that it?” […]
“You’ll never know, will you?” Braling Two smiled delicately. “You’ll never know.”
Braling struggled. “She must have guessed; she must have affected you!”
Ten minutes later, Mrs. Braling awoke. She put her hand to her cheek. Someone had just kissed it. She shivered and looked up. “Why—you haven’t done that in years,” she murmured.
“We’ll see what we can do about that,” someone said.