Ilium (Kurt Vonnegut)

  (Redirected from Ilium, New York)

Ilium is a fictional town in eastern New York state, used as a setting for many of Kurt Vonnegut's novels and stories, including Player Piano, Cat's Cradle, Slaughterhouse-Five, and the stories "Deer in the Works" and "Poor Little Rich Town".[1] The town is dominated by its major industry leader, the Ilium Works, which produces scientific marvels to assist, or possibly harm, human life. The Ilium Works is Vonnegut's symbol for the "impersonal corporate giant" with the power to alter humankind's destiny.[2] The town has been compared to Zenith, the fictional setting in Sinclair Lewis' 1922 novel Babbitt.[3]

In one sense, the name may refer to Troy, New York because "Ilium" was the name the Romans gave to ancient Troy, although Troy is mentioned as a separate city in Player Piano.[4] In many other respects, Ilium closely resembles Schenectady, New York, with the fictional Iroquois River standing in for the real Mohawk River, which flows west–east through Schenectady. The Ilium Works is in roughly the same geographic location as the General Electric plant in Schenectady, where Vonnegut worked as a public relations writer.[5] The city of Ilium is distinct from Schenectady in Player Piano (1952), Cat's Cradle (1963), and Slaughterhouse-Five (1969). In those novels, characters refer to Schenectady as a separate place.

Cohoes, longtime residence of Vonnegut's character Kilgore Trout, is in the vicinity of Ilium, and of the real towns that inspired it.

In Vonnegut's 1985 novel, Galápagos, Mary Hepburn was a high school teacher in Ilium, and in Cat's Cradle, it is the former home of Dr. Felix Hoenikker—one of the fathers of the atomic bomb—thus, it is the town that John visits to interview Dr. Asa Breed, Hoenikker's former supervisor. In Player Piano, it is where most of the action takes place. In Slaughterhouse-Five, it is also the home town of the book's primary protagonist, Billy Pilgrim. Ilium is also where the events of the short story "Ed Luby's Key Club" (from "Look at the Birdie") take place.


  1. ^ Leeds, Marc (2016). The Vonnegut Encyclopedia. Delacorte Press. pp. 338–340. ISBN 9780385344234. Retrieved 27 September 2020.
  2. ^ Reed, Peter J.; Gridley, Josiah A. (1997). The Short Fiction of Kurt Vonnegut. Greenwood Press. p. 49. ISBN 9780313302350.
  3. ^ Schriber, Mary Sue (April 1971). "You've Come a Long Way, Babbitt! From Zenith to Ilium". Twentieth Century Literature. 17 (2): 101–106. doi:10.2307/606816. Retrieved 27 September 2020.
  4. ^ Player Piano, Ch. 1, pg. 9.
  5. ^ Giannone, Richard (1977). Vonnegut: A Preface to His Novels. Gateway/Associated Faculty Press. p. 14. ISBN 9780804691673. Retrieved 27 September 2020.