Neuromancer is set primarily in criminal underworlds in which characters are motivated by money and their own sense of self-interest and self-preservation. Interpersonal relationships often fall by the wayside, as men like Case and women like Molly prioritize their own financial gain or personal pleasure over the lives of others. However, over the course of the novel both Case and Molly begin to develop feelings for each other, and become motivated by their love (and lust) for each other. The novel investigates two primary forms of existence in the world—the choice to govern one’s life according to self-interest, or the search for human connection. Although selfishness helps characters survive in a dangerous, high-pressure world governed by impersonal technology and contract workers, many do retain a love of and for their fellow humans, and these connections, ironically, serve as an even more powerful safety net than pure self-interest.
Purely business relationships are presented as less praiseworthy and exceptional than friendships and relationships. The motivations in business relationships tend to be selfish. People value the business relationship because they are paid, or are able to feed their addictions, or for the sake of self-preservation. Initially, Case is coerced into working with Armitage. He is then happy to get his nerves restored so that he can plug into the matrix, but Armitage informs him that he installed slow dissolving sacs of poison in Case’s arteries, and so he must complete Armitage’s job in order to live. Molly works for Armitage purely because of the money. Unlike Case or Riviera, who were coerced onto his team, when Case asks her about their business arrangement, she explains that it is “professional pride, baby, that’s all.” At the beginning of the novel both Molly and Case are motivated by sterile self-interest, which is both amoral and passionless.
In contrast to self-interested characters are those motivated by a wide range of emotions and by human connection. Case, especially, is driven by hate—a negative emotion, but one that relies on human connection to give it power. It is hatred that drives Case out of apathy into action. Wintermute tries to get Case angry, because he knows that anger and hatred are the emotions most likely to get him to do his job. Molly, also often motivated by anger, recognizes this as well. She plans to kill Riviera, who insulted her by creating offensive pornographic holographs of her. She sees that Wintermute wants Case to hate something too. Case describes how “he still had his anger. That was like being rolled in some alley and waking to discover your wallet still in your pocket, untouched. He warmed himself with it, unable to give it a name or an object.” Less specific than a personal relationship or financial recompense, it’s nonetheless a powerful driving force. Wintermute pushes Case to remember a time from his teen years when he used a flamethrower to destroy a wasp’s nest. Wintermute explains that he recalled this memory to help Case understand their mutual enemy the Tessier-Ashpool family better, “To know what they’re like. You were starting to hate my guts for a while there. That’s good. But hate them instead. Same difference.” Wintermute knows Case is easily motivated by hatred, and its his job as the ringleader to focus that hatred productively.
Characters also engage in friendship and loving relationships, which alter their behavior and cause them to act in ways that are not purely selfish. These motivations are more highly valued by the characters in Neuromancer, and by Gibson, who flatteringly depicts those who can put others before themselves. Case and Molly are coworkers who soon become lovers. Still, their connection is tested when Molly gets trapped in the Tessier-Ashpool fortress, and Case has to decide whether he should go after her—risking his life—or cut her loose. As he considers, “he closed his eyes. He saw the sacks of toxin dissolving in his arteries. He saw Molly hauling herself up the endless steel rungs. He opened his eyes.” He is worried for himself—he knows if he doesn’t complete his mission, the poison inside of him that acts as insurance will dissolve and kill him. Still, his own wellbeing and Molly’s are of equal weight to him.
Love is complicated, though. The obligations that come from caring for another human being can lead people to behave against their best interests. Wintermute talks to Case about his late ex Linda Lee, explaining that Linda Lee stole from Case because she loved him, and wanted him to pay attention to her. He says, “she loved you. I know that. For the little she was worth, she loved you. You couldn’t handle it. She’s dead.” In this case, the bonds of love just led to pain for both parties. The downsides of connection are what lead Molly to leave Case in the middle of the night, disappearing and leaving behind only a note, which reads “HEY ITS OKAY BUT ITS TAKING THE EDGE OFF MY GAME, I PAID THE BILL ALREADY. ITS THE WAY IM WIRED I GUESS, WATCH YOUR ASS OKAY?” She knows that, if she wants to continue her work as a hitman and a bodyguard, she needs to be independent. Likely, she also remembers the pain of losing her ex-boyfriend to another assassin’s attack, and wants to avoid that kind of anguish again.
Although caring about other people complicates Case and Molly’s lives, and even though their relationship doesn’t last, they are rewarded for their ability to practice empathy and learn to care for another person. They save each other’s lives and complete their mission, not because they are motivated by money or self-interest, but because they care about each other.
Self-Interest vs. Human Connection ThemeTracker
Self-Interest vs. Human Connection Quotes in Neuromancer
This was it. This was what he was, who he was, his being. He forgot to eat. Molly left cartons of rice and foam trays of sushi on the corner of the long table. Sometimes he resented having to leave the deck to use the chemical toilet they’d set up in a corner of the loft. Ice patterns formed and reformed on the screen as he probed for gaps, skirted the most obvious traps, and mapped the route he’d take through Sense/Net’s ice. It was good ice. Wonderful ice. Its patterns burned there while he lay with his arm under Molly’s shoulders, watching the red dawn through the steel grid of the skylight. Its rainbow pixel maze was the first thing he saw when he woke. He’d go straight to the deck, not bothering to dress, and jack in. He was cutting it. He was working. He lost track of days.
And sometimes, falling asleep, particularly when Molly was off on one of her reconnaissance trips with her rented cadre of Moderns, images of Chiba came flooding back. Faces and Ninsei neon. Once he woke from a confused dream of Linda Lee, unable to recall who she was or what she’d ever meant to him. When he did remember, he jacked in and worked for nine straight hours.
The cutting of Sense/Net’s ice took a total of nine days.
As they worked, Case gradually became aware of the music that pulsed constantly through the cluster. It was called dub, a sensuous mosaic cooked from vast libraries of digitalized pop; it was worship, Molly said, and a sense of community. Case heaved at one of the yellow sheets; the thing was light but still awkward. Zion smelled of cooked vegetables, humanity, and ganja.
He vomited over a rosewood railing into the quiet waters of the lake. Something that had seemed to close around his head like a vise had released him now. Kneeling, his cheek against the cool wood, he stared across the shallow lake at the bright aura of the Rue Jules Verne.
Case had seen the medium before; when he’d been a teenager in the Sprawl, they’d called it, “dreaming real.” He remembered thin Puerto Ricans under East Side streetlights, dreaming real to the quick beat of a salsa, dreamgirls shuddering and turning, the onlookers clapping in time. But that had needed a van full of gear and a clumsy trode helmet.
What Riviera dreamed, you got. Case shook his aching head and spat into the lake.
He could guess the end, the finale. There was an inverted symmetry: Riviera puts the dreamgirl together, the dreamgirl takes him apart. With those hands. Dreamblood soaking the rotten lace.
Cheers from the restaurant, applause. Case stood and ran his hands over his clothes. He turned and walked back into the Vingtiéme Siécle.
Molly’s chair was empty. The stage was deserted. Armitage sat alone, still staring at the stage, the stem of the wineglass between his fingers.
He bought a mug of Carlsberg and found a place against the wall. Closing his eyes, he felt for the knot of rage, the pure small coal of his anger. It was there still. Where had it come from? He remembered feeling only a kind of bafflement at his maiming in Memphis, nothing at all when he’d killed to defend his dealing interests in Night City, and a slack sickness and loathing after Linda’s death under the inflated dome. But no anger. Small and far away, on the mind’s screen, a semblance of Deane struck a semblance of an office wall in an explosion of brains and blood. He knew then: the rage had come in the arcade, when Wintermute rescinded the simstim ghost of Linda Lee, yanking away the simple animal promise of food, warmth, a place to sleep. But he hadn’t become aware of it until his exchange with the holo-construct of Lonny Zone.
It was a strange thing. He couldn’t take its measure.
“Numb,” he said. He’d been numb a long time, years. All his nights down Ninsei, his nights with Linda, numb in bed and numb at the cold sweating center of every drug deal. But now he’d found this warm thing, this chip of murder. Meat, some part of him said. It’s the meat talking, ignore it.
“You are worse than a fool,” Michéle said, getting to her feet, the pistol in her hand. “You have no care for your species. For thousands of years men dreamed of pacts with demons. Only now are such things possible. And what would you be paid with? What would your price be, for aiding this thing to free itself and grow?” There was a knowing weariness in her young voice that no nineteen-year-old could have mustered. “You will dress now. You will come with us. Along with the one you call Armitage, you will return with us to Geneva and give testimony in the trial of this intelligence. Otherwise, we kill you. Now.” She raised the pistol, a smooth black Walther with an integral silencer.
“…Remember this?” And his right hand held the charred wasps’ nest from Case’s dream, reek of fuel in the closeness of the dark shop. Case stumbled back against a wall of junk. “Yeah. That was me. Did it with the holo rig in the window. Another memory I tapped out of you when I flatlined you that first time. Know why it’s important?”
Case shook his head. “Because”—and the nest, somehow, was gone—“it’s the closest thing you got to what Tessier-Ashpool would like to be. The human equivalent. Straylight’s like that nest, or anyway it was supposed to work out that way. I figure it’ll make you feel better.”
“To know what they’re like. You were starting to hate my guts for a while there. That’s good. But hate them instead. Same difference.”
He closed his eyes. He saw the sacs of toxin dissolving in his arteries. He saw Molly hauling herself up the endless steel rungs. He opened his eyes.
“I dunno, man,” he said, a strange taste in his mouth. He looked down at his desk, at his hands. “I don’t know.” He looked back up. The brown face was calm now, intent. Maelcum’s chin was hidden by the high helmet ring of his old blue suit. “She’s inside,” he said. “Molly’s inside. In Straylight, it’s called. If there’s any Babylon, man, that’s it. We leave on her, she ain’t comin’ out, Steppin’ Razor or not.”
Maelcum nodded, the dreadbag bobbing behind him like a captive balloon of crocheted cotton. “She you woman, Case?”
“I dunno. Nobody’s woman, maybe.” He shrugged. And found his anger again, real as a shard of hot rock beneath his ribs. “Fuck this,” he said. “Fuck Armitage, fuck Wintermute, and fuck you. I’m stayin’ right here.”
Maelcum’s smile spread across his face like light breaking. “Maelcum a rude boy, Case. Garvey Maelcum boat.” His gloved hand slapped a panel and the bass-heavy rocksteady of Zion dub came pulsing from the tug’s speakers. “Maelcum not runnin’, no. I talk wi’ Aerol, he certain t’ see it in similar light.”
Case stared. “I don’t understand you guys at all,” he said.
“Don’ ’stan’ you, mon,” the Zionite said, nodding to the beat, “but we mus’ move by Jah love, each one.”
“No,” he said, and then it no longer mattered, what he knew, tasting the salt of her mouth where tears had dried. There was a strength that ran in her, something he’d known in Night City and held there, been held by it, held for a while away from time and death, from the relentless Street that hunted them all. It was a place he’d known before; not everyone could take him there, and somehow he always managed to forget it. Something he’d found and lost so many times. It belonged, he knew— he remembered—as she pulled him down, to the meat, the flesh the cowboys mocked. It was a vast thing, beyond knowing, a sea of information coded in spiral and pheromone, infinite intricacy that only the body, in its strong blind way, could ever read.
The zipper hung, caught, as he opened the French fatigues, the coils of toothed nylon clotted with salt. He broke it, some tiny metal part shooting off against the wall as salt-rotten cloth gave, and then he was in her, effecting the transmission of the old message. Here, even here, in a place he knew for what it was, a coded model of some stranger’s memory, the drive held.
He came in steep, fueled by self-loathing. When the Kuang program met the first of the defenders, scattering the leaves of light, he felt the shark thing lose a degree of substantiality, the fabric of information loosening.
And then—old alchemy of the brain and its vast pharmacy—his hate flowed into his hands. In the instant before he drove Kuang’s sting through the base of the first tower, he attained a level of proficiency exceeding anything he’d known or imagined. Beyond ego, beyond personality, beyond awareness, he moved, Kuang moving with him, evading his attackers with an ancient dance, Hideo’s dance, grace of the mind-body interface granted him, in that second, by the clarity and singleness of his wish to die.
And one step in that dance was the lightest touch on the switch, barely enough to flip—
HEY ITS OKAY BUT ITS TAKING THE EDGE OFF MY GAME, I PAID THE BILL ALREADY. ITS THE WAY IM WIRED I GUESS, WATCH YOUR ASS OKAY? XXX MOLLY