Once a Cheater, Always a Cheater:

Adultery in Ray Bradbury’s “Marionettes, Inc.”

 

Ray Bradbury is greatly known for his 1953 classic, Fahrenheit 451, a dystopian,

futuristic novel in which books are outlawed and “firemen” burn any they can find. However,

Bradbury also wrote several hundred science fiction short stories, one of which is “Marionettes,

Inc.” This short story was originally published in Startling Stories in 1949, and then again in

1951 in The Illustrated Man, a collection of Bradbury’s short stories. “Marionettes, Inc.” focuses

on two men, Braling and Smith, and their relationships with their wives. The story opens on

Braling’s first night out in years, during which it is revealed that Braling met his wife in 1979 in

Rio when she apparently blackmailed him into marrying her. Braling tells Smith that he will

return to Rio without his wife’s knowledge because he has purchased a replica of himself named

Braling Two, a machine created by the company Marionettes, Inc. Smith decides to get his own

marionette so that he can occasionally escape his overbearing wife, Nettie. Upon returning home,

he realizes that Nettie has already purchased her own marionette, whom he has mistaken for his

wife for the past month. Meanwhile, Braling Two tells Braling he doesn’t want to stay in the

basement and that he loves Mrs. Braling. The story ends with Braling Two locking Braling in the

cellar and joining Mrs. Braling in bed.

In the short story, both Smith and Mrs. Braling are unknowingly cheating. This then

brings up the question of why Braling and Nettie decide to force their spouses into infidelity,

which is answered by societal views of the 1950s, which likely influenced Bradbury’s writing of

the story. In the 50s, divorce was an expensive and difficult process, so rather than cheating

themselves, Braling and Nettie give their partners someone to cheat with. This not only helps

them avoid the guilt of putting their spouses through the process of suing for divorce, it also

allows them to avoid the negative associations of cheating.

“Marionettes, Inc.” is not one of Bradbury’s more well-known works and not much has

been written about the story. However, Bradbury may have drawn inspiration from ancient

mythology. In “Splitting the Difference,” Wendy Doniger discusses a Greek myth about

Alcmena, Jupiter, and Leda and how adultery is unknowingly committed: “Alcmena thinks she

will avoid Jupiter in the traditional way: by sending a shadow double to a man she doesn’t want

to sleep with.” Later in the myth when Alcmena considers how she would feel if she committed

adultery, she says that she would rather kill herself than do it. Jupiter, who knows that Alcmena

has unknowingly cheated, fears she may do so if she discovers that she has (Doniger 121). This

is what happens in “Marionettes, Inc.”—Braling and Nettie create doubles of themselves to care

for, live with, and sleep with their spouses when they do not want to. When Smith finds out that

he has been sleeping with someone who only looks like his wife, he has a reaction similar to the

one Alcmena claims she would have.

Smith and Mrs. Braling in “Marionettes, Inc.” have intimate relationships with the

marionettes, which means that they cheat on their human spouses. “Marionettes, Inc.” is not the

only science fiction story to address this concept. In Phillip K. Dick’s sci-fi novel Do Androids

Dream of Electric Sheep, the main character, Deckard, sleeps with an android named Rachel,

who has had sex with several other human men. Deckard is somewhat disgusted with himself for

his actions, but he never discusses what happened with his wife. It is possible that he does not

see it as cheating since Rachel is a robot, but she has feelings and a personality of her own, just

like the marionettes in Bradbury’s story. In both Dick’s and Bradbury’s stories, having sexual

relations with robots is cheating, since the robots have thoughts, feelings, and personalities of

their own.

 

Due to technological advancements, humans and robots may be having sex in the real

world in the near future, and responses to this possibility show that sex with a robot is often seen

as adultery. The article “Intelligent Machines: Call for a Ban on Robots Designed as Sex Toys”

addresses this issue, stating that technology is moving towards the creation of sex robots. These

robots will be “a solution for people who are between relationships or someone who has lost a

spouse” and “the physical act of sex will only be a small part of the time you spend with a sex

robot—the majority of time will be spent socialising and interacting” (Intelligent Machines).

Sexual relations with these robots will only happen outside of committed relationships,

suggesting that sex with a robot while in a relationship is still a form of adultery.

In “Marionettes, Inc.” the marionettes appear to have sexual relationships with their

“spouses,” proving that Smith and Mrs. Braling are unknowingly committing adultery. It is

expected for married couples to have sex, but Braling and Smith do not seem especially happy in

their relationships; Smith says that Braling’s “marriage has been awful for [him]” and Braling

responds, saying, “Poor Smith, your marriage hasn’t exactly been roses” (Bradbury 234, 235).

Neither man seems to be in a very happy, healthy relationship, so it is fair to assume that they are

not very close with their wives, emotionally or physically. However, in the past month, it seems

that Smith has had sex with his wife’s marionette. When thinking about getting his own

marionette and going on a vacation, he considers, “Two months from now my ribs will have a

chance to mend from the crushing they’ve taken. Two months from now my hand will heal from

being so constantly held. Two months from now my bruised underlip will begin to reshape itself”

(Bradbury 239). The rib and lip injuries seem to be related to having rough sex, likely because

the marionette is robotic and doesn’t know its strength or the pain that it causes Smith. Just as

Nettie’s marionette does with Smith, Braling Two seems to desire an intimate relationship with 

Mrs. Braling. Braling Two kisses Mrs. Braling on the cheek when she is sleeping, to which she

responds, “Why—you haven’t done that in years,” and Braling Two answers with, “We’ll see

what we can do about that” (Bradbury 243). Braling’s relationship with his wife hasn’t been very

intimate in quite some time, but Braling Two wishes to change that. He wants a real relationship

with Mrs. Braling, which involves intimate relations. It is evident that the marionettes are more

human than robotic and that they have sexual relations with Mrs. Braling and Smith, forcing the

two to cheat on their human spouses.

Since the robots have their own personalities and feelings, Smith and Mrs. Braling are

having intimate relations with creatures more similar to people than robots, making the adultery

more evident. Harris and Jenkin touch on this in their book Spatial Vision in Humans and

Robots. The authors pose a situation involving a test in which one has to live with a robot: “my

task is to determine whether an individual is a human or a robot [and if] it has feelings. Suppose

that after ten days … I would have developed sufficient empathy to believe that its seeing and

feeling is similar to mine. Imagine my shock when … it opens up its front panel to reveal wires

instead of meat” (Harris 197). The robots are fashioned to be humanlike, so there is no reason to

question their humanity; however, they are machines with the ability to feel. This is the same

situation in “Marionettes, Inc.” The marionettes look and act like humans, and even have the

emotional capacity that humans do, so there is no need to doubt their humanness. Nettie and

Braling purchased their marionettes believing that they were merely robotic duplicates of

themselves; however, by the end of the story, it is clear that they can love and have their own

personalities, making it apparent that Smith and Mrs. Braling are unknowingly having relations

with people other than their spouses.

In the short story, Braling Two is clearly more than an unfeeling robot, since he falls in

love with Braling’s wife. Braling does not feel as strongly for his wife as Braling Two does; in

fact, Smith says that Braling “didn’t love her” and Braling doesn’t disagree with the statement

(Bradbury 235). It does not seem like he ever really loved her since they only married because

she “blackmailed” him. Braling Two, however, does have feelings for her. He says, “Your wife

is rather nice … I’ve grown rather fond of her” and “I think—I’m in love with her’” (Bradbury

238, 242). Braling Two is able to think and feel for himself and develop love for Braling’s wife.

Braling Two even tells Braling that he’s “perfectly alive and [he] [has] feelings” (Bradbury 241).

Braling Two is able to acknowledge that he has feelings and a personality of his own. He is not a

robot like Braling and the people at Marionettes, Inc. thought, but rather he is alive, making it

apparent that Mrs. Braling commits adultery.

Although not much is said about Nettie’s marionette, it is clear that she has feelings of

her own for Smith. Smith muses that in the past month, Nettie has been more attentive than ever

before, complaining to Braling, “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” (Bradbury

235). When Smith is thinking about creating a marionette of his own, he says to a sleeping

Nettie, “It seems that in the last month you have loved me more wildly than ever before”

(Bradbury 240). Shortly after this, Smith realizes that it is not Nettie in the bed, but a marionette

of Nettie. Nettie’s marionette has developed feelings of her own for Smith, which explains her

attentiveness to him. She has fallen in love with him and is showing it. Just like Braling Two, she

is alive, has feelings, and is capable of falling in love. These marionettes are more than mere

robots; they have their own feelings and personalities and fall in love with the people they are 

supposed to have artificial relationships with. Since Smith and Mrs. Braling are unaware that

marionettes have replaced their spouses, they have had intimate relations with the marionettes.

Due to the marionettes having their own feelings, emotions, personalities, and essentially being

humans, Smith and Mrs. Braling are inadvertently cheating on their spouses.

While it is evident that Smith and Mrs. Braling are coerced into adultery, it begs the

question of why Braling and Nettie force their spouses to cheat. The answer can be found in a

study of the societal views influencing Bradbury’s writing of “Marionettes, Inc.” In Kristin

Celello’s “Making Marriage Work,” she focuses on the reasons for divorce in the 1950s. For

instance, she mentions that couples in the 1950s avoided divorce because “they were deeply

concerned about the long-term consequences” (Celello 75). Nettie and Braling in “Marionettes,

Inc.” choose to replace themselves with marionettes rather than divorcing their spouses. This

may be because the two are worried about the societal consequences of divorce, so they decided

it would be better to leave without anyone knowing, saving themselves and their spouses the

consequences of divorce. Celello also talks about how women were expected to be responsible

for their family: “[Experts] encouraged wives to have a heightened awareness of their family

members’ physical needs, and they urged them to promote their husbands’ career success.

Experts also recommended that women take responsibility for the psychological health of each

of their family members” (75). The stress and pressure Nettie was likely under could also

contribute to her leaving, and it could explain the reason for her clinginess to Smith, as well as

Mrs. Braling’s to Braling.

The societal consequences of divorce in the 1950s were not the only reasons to avoid it.

Sheila Hardy discusses divorce in “A 1950s Housewife,” saying, “divorce was not for ordinary

people, not only because of the legal costs involved but also because of the stigma that

accompanied such action” (70). This again could explain the reason for both Nettie and Braling

creating marionettes and leaving their spouses; it would be too expensive to get a divorce, and if

people thought that the couples were still married, then no one involved would suffer from the

stigma surrounding divorce. Nettie leaves Smith without telling him, forcing him to cheat on her

by having relations with a marionette. Braling intends to take a vacation without Mrs. Braling,

leaving her with his marionette and coming and going as he pleases. Braling and Nettie clearly

have not placed much value in their marriages, but they fear the effects of divorce too much, just

as Hardy suggests is happening in the 1950s.

While Nettie and Braling likely forced their spouses into infidelity to spare everyone

involved the difficulties of divorce, both Smith and Mrs. Braling are emotionally affected by

their relationships with the marionettes. Smith is deeply troubled when he finally realizes that he

has been with a marionette for about a month. Bradbury writes, “And then, the horrid thought.

And then the terror and the loneliness engulfed him. And then the fever and disillusionment”

(241). Smith goes through several different feelings. First, he is horrified at the thought that his

wife may be a marionette, even though just moments before he was planning to “slip eight

thousand out as a business venture” to pay for a marionette of his own to fool Nettie with

(Bradbury 239). He wanted to be the one to trick her, not the other way around, and he is

shocked when he discovers that she beat him to purchasing a marionette. Next, he is terrified and

lonely. He has no idea where his wife has been, what she has been doing, who she has been with,

or when she will be back. Lastly, he is filled with disillusionment. He realizes what has

happened, sees that he cannot do this to Nettie like he had planned, and he is angry.

Mrs. Braling, on the other hand, does not know about marionettes. However, it is implied

that she realizes something is off with her husband. She awakes from her sleep and “put[s] her 

hand to her cheek. Someone had just kissed it. She shiver[s] and look[s] up” (Bradbury 243). She

does not identify that it is her husband who had kissed her, just “someone.” This suggests that

she does not know who has kissed her and that Braling Two feels different than Braling. She

even shivers, indicating either pleasure, discomfort, or both. A few sentences later, Braling Two

is again identified as “someone” speaking, indicating that Mrs. Braling doesn’t recognize Braling

Two as her husband, but as a nameless stranger (Bradbury 243). So while Smith goes through

mental and emotional trauma upon discovering that his wife replaced herself with a marionette,

Mrs. Braling seems to feel that something is not right with Braling, even though she is not aware

of marionettes, and may never know the truth about her husband. Both Nettie and Braling have

forced their spouses into adultery and discomfort; however, by considering the societal norms of

the 1950s, it is evident that there are legitimate reasons for their wrongdoings, even though their

decisions may have ended up hurting their spouses more than divorce would have.

It is apparent that Braling Two and Nettie’s marionette are their own beings; they have

their own thoughts, feelings, and personalities separate from Braling and Nettie. Additionally,

they have sexual relationships with Smith and Mrs. Braling, which results in the two humans

unintentionally cheating on Braling and Nettie. Since Braling and Nettie purchased the

marionettes, replaced themselves with the marionettes without telling their spouses, and then left,

they are responsible for Smith’s and Mrs. Braling’s infidelities. They essentially force their

spouses into cheating, which seems like a rather cold, heartless action when they could just get

divorces if they are unhappy enough to wish to leave. However, looking at the societal views and

circumstances of the 1950s, it appears as though leaving their spouses with marionettes may

have been the easier solution. By replacing themselves with marionettes, Braling and Nettie tried

to make their leaving easier on their spouses by protecting them from the hardships and the 

negative societal views that accompany divorce. They used the marionettes as a way to lessen the

guilt of abandoning Smith and Mrs. Braling. Initially, the actions of Braling and Nettie seem

deplorable and unforgivable. However, considering the societal circumstances of the 1950s, they

may have been attempting to protect their spouses from the difficult process of divorce rather

than harm them. Luckily, since the 1950s, society has modified its views on divorce, and if the

story was rewritten today, Braling and Nettie would have been able to divorce their spouses

without worry of societal disgrace or adversity, and Smith and Mrs. Braling would not be

unknowingly forced into infidelity.

 

Works Cited

Bradbury, Ray. “Marionettes, Inc.” The Illustrated Man. Burton, MI: Subterranean, 2009. Print.

Celello, Kristin. Making Marriage Work: A History of Marriage and Divorce in the Twentieth-

Century United States. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina, 2009. Print.

Dick, Philip K. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? New York: Ballantine, 1996. Print.

Doniger, Wendy. Splitting the Difference: Gender and Myth in Ancient Greece and India.

Chicago: U of Chicago, 1999. Print.

Fellous, Jean-Marc, and Michael A. Arbib. Who Needs Emotions?: The Brain Meets the Robot.

Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005. Print.

Hardy, Sheila M. A 1950s Housewife: Marriage and Homemaking in the 1950s. Stroud: History,

2012. Print.

Harris, Laurence, and Michael Jenkin. Spatial Vision in Humans and Robots: The Proceedings of

the 1991 York Conference on Spatial Vision in Humans and Robots. Cambridge: U, 1993.

Print.

“Intelligent Machines: Call for a Ban on Robots Designed as Sex Toys” BBC News. N.p., 15 Sept. 2015. Web. 28 Oct. 2015.

Bekka Lancucki

Bekka Lancucki majored in Secondary Education-English at NAU and graduated in May of 2016. She is currently working as a freshman English teacher at Red Mountain High School in Mesa, AZ, where she shares her love of writing, reading, and sarcasm with her students. Her current submission in The Tunnels is her first publication, and she would like to continue getting her writing published.
 
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