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"Marionettes, Inc.", is a short story by Ray Bradbury from his collection of short stories, The Illustrated Man. It was originally published in Startling Stories (March, 1949). In the story, Bradbury conjures a conflict between man and machine and depicts the human dependence on technology, a common theme for Bradbury's stories.
The characters are Braling and Smith and their annoying wives.
Smith and Braling, both men of middle age, find themselves trapped in their marriages. Braling (whose wife is nervous and authoritarian) and Smith (whose wife is too dependent and constantly demands his presence and affection) both long for personal freedom. However, both characters fear the uncertainty of change and the possible consequences of their selfish desires, and thus endure their situation.
Smith learns about "marionettes", exact robotic duplicates produced by Marionettes, Inc. The manufacturer, whose motto is "No Strings Attached", markets the marionettes as temporary replacements for the customer. Braling reveals to Smith that he has been using a marionette to fulfill his obligations as a husband while he pursues his personal interests. His wife is completely unaware of the duplication, and he plans to visit Rio De Janeiro while his marionette is replacing him at home. Braling shows off his marionette to Smith. Smith, fascinated by this solution, decides to buy his own marionette to escape his domestic prison.
Conflict is introduced when Braling's duplicate expresses emotions towards Braling's wife, and resists Braling's attempts to remove the marionette from his homelife. Smith then finds out that he himself has been tricked by his wife's own marionette.
Braling tries to call Marionettes, Inc. for support, but is physically restrained by the duplicate. The marionette reveals his plans of traveling to Rio with Braling's wife, and then says goodbye to his owner.
The story ends in the bedroom with "Braling" kissing Mrs. Braling, but Bradbury skillfully uses pronouns to make it unclear whether "Braling" is really Braling or his marionette duplicate. The reader's interpretation could indicate either that the duplicate has disposed of his former master, or that Braling has won out and subsequently found new appreciation for his wife.
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As many of Bradbury's stories, "Marionettes, Inc." can be interpreted as a warning to society. Bradbury comments on the rise of technology as a way to solve marital conflicts. He points at the probable dangers of dehumanized, machine-driven world where AI slowly substitutes for man and eliminates its makers.[original research?]
The company Marionettes, Inc. later appears in the story "Punishment Without Crime", part of the collection Long After Midnight (1976). Marionette use has become increasingly frequent in this world, and the story concerns a man who murders a marionette replica of his unfaithful wife. He does this to get over his failed marriage and move on with his life. However, he is subsequently arrested and sentenced to death; he is to be made an example to society that murder of marionettes will no longer be tolerated.[original research?]
The short story was adapted to the radio program X Minus One on December 21, 1955 and to television as a 4th season episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (titled "Design for Loving") and a 1st season episode of The Ray Bradbury Theater (under the original title).