Agency and Insecurity in the Change World

“There’s your basis for the Place and the wild way it goes about its work, and also for most other Recuperation Stations or Entertainment Spots. The name Entertainer can be misleading, but I like it. She’s got to be a lot more than a good party girl–or boy–though she’s got to be that too. She’s got to be a nurse and a psychologist and an actress and a mother and a practical ethnologist and a lot of things with longer names–and a reliable friend” (“The Big Time,” 35).

The initial source of comedy in this passage and in the rest of “The Big Time” is the parallel between the Entertainers in the unfamiliar Change World and the role of women who professionally entertain in reality. This passage echoes a common sentiment used to describe escorts, especially in middle class American culture, as women who perhaps perform sex work yet fulfill a dual role by providing emotional support for alienated men. The humor arises when this familiar sentiment is placed into the extremely high-stakes environment of the Change World, in which history is being altered to the extent that the consciousness and identity of the narrator and each character is constantly at risk. Another source of comedy is the position of the narrator, whose existentialist ruminations on her position in the Change World are endearing and stand in stark contrast to the serious “lectures” of her boy friends. The reader gets the sense not only of the Entertainer’s insecurity as a dead person whose reality is constantly being threatened by the shifting winds of Change, but also as a woman who performs a subordinate duty by supporting the actors of history and must remind herself of her pivotal role in this change.

Greta as Necessary Entertainer

I am dead in some ways, but don’t let that bother you- I am lively enough in others.  If you met me in the cosmos, you would be more apt to yak with me or try to pick me up than to ask a cop to do same or a father to douse me with holy water, unless you are one of those hard-boiled reformer types.  But you are not likely to meet me in the cosmos, because (bar Basin Street and the Prater) 15th Century Italy and Augustan Rome–until they spoiled it–are my favorite (Ha!) vacation spots, and as I have said, I stick as close to the Place as I can.  It is really the nicest Place in the whole Change World.  (Crisis!  I even think of it capitalized!) – page 9

The vast majority of the humor in the first part of The Big Time comes directly from Greta in her capacity as narrator; her observations of the odd cosmos she inhabits and the way in which she relays them to us are as charming as one would hope for from an Entertainer such as herself.  In this particular passage, she acknowledges the ridiculous nature of her situation (as not wholly alive–at least as we understand alive–but still, of course, able to tell the story) and turns it on its head for the sake of comforting the readers.  Rather, she makes herself into as lovable and harmless a character as Illy by twisting her status as Demon, dead, into a silly quirk.  After all, how could you think of someone who teasingly accuses readers of, upon meeting her, either wanting to “yak with [her] or pick [her] up” as a threat?  Her constant self-interruptions present her as endearingly human, too, and make the narrative–particularly in the beginning–come across as more of a journal entry or even as a casual, oral account.  More than that, the way in which Greta tells her story makes it feel all the more real; she puts so much of herself into her delivery of it, all her funny passing thoughts and candid sentiments and genuine emotions, and as a result it becomes quite difficult to experience the story without her humor as the plot progresses into far more serious territory.