THE STORY BEGINS with a king who, while standing in reverie at the
window of his palace one evening, happened to notice a man in the town
square below. He was apparently an average man, walking home at night,
who had taken the same route five nights a week for many years.
The king followed this man in his imagination – pictures him arriving home,
perfunctorily kissing his wife eating his late meal, inquiring whether everything
was alright with the children, reading the paper, going to bed, perhaps
engaging in the sex relation with his wife or perhaps not, sleeping, and getting
up and going off to work again the next day.
And a sudden curiosity seized the king, which for a moment banished his
fatigue: “I wonder what would happen if a man were kept in a cage, like the
animals at the zoo?” His curiosity was perhaps in some ways not unlike that
of the first surgeons who wondered what it would be like to perform a
lobotomy on the human brain.
So the next day the king called in a psychologist, told him of his idea, and
invited him to observe the experiment.
When the psychologist demurred saying, “it’s an unthinkable thing to keep a
man in a cage” the monarch replied that many rulers in effect ,if not literally
done so, from the time of Romans through Genghis Khan down to Hitler and
the other totalitarian leaders; so why not find out scientifically what would
Furthermore, added the king, he had made up his mind to do it whether the
psychologist took part or not; he had already gotten the Greater Social
Research Foundation to give a large sum of money for the experiment, and why let that money go to waste? By this time the psychologist also was
feeling within himself a great curiosity about what would happen if a man was
kept in a cage.
And so the next day the king caused a cage to be brought in from the zoo-a
large cage that had been occupied by a lion when it was new, then later by a
tiger; just recently it had been home to a hyena who died the previous week.
The cage was put in an inner private court in the palace grounds, and the
average man whom the king had seen from the window was brought in and
placed therein. The psychologist with his Rorschach and Wechsler-Bellevue
tests in his briefcase to administer at some appropriate moment sat down
outside the cage.
At first the man was simply bewildered, and he kept saying to the psychologist
“I have to catch the tram, I have to get to work, look what time it is, Ill be late for
work!”. But later on in the afternoon the man began to soberly realize what
was up, then he protested vehemently. ”The king can’t do this to me!, It’s
Unjust ,It’s against the law!” His voice was strong, and his eyes full of anger.
The psychologist liked the man for his anger and he became vaguely aware
that this was a mood he has often in people he worked with in his
clinic. ”Yes,” he realized ,”this anger is the attitude of people who like healthy adolescents of any era want to fight what’s wrong, who protest directly
against it”.” When people come to the clinic in this mood, it is good-they can be
During the rest of the week the man continued his vehement protests. When
the king walked by the cage as he did everyday, the man made his protests
directly to the monarch. But the king answered ”look here, you are getting plenty of food, you have a good bed, and you don’t have to work” “We take
good care of you; so why are you objecting?”
After some days had passed the man’s protests lessened and then ceased.
He was silent in his cage generally refusing to talk. But the psychologist could
see hatred glowing in his eyes. When he did exchange a few words they were
short, definite words uttered in strong vibrant but calm voice of a person who
hates and knows whom he hates.
Whenever the king walked into the courtyard there was a deep fire in the
mans eyes. The psychologist thought “This must be the way people act when
they are first conquered” He remembered that he had also seen that
expression of the eyes and heard that tone of voice in many patients at his
clinic; the adolescent who had been unjustly accused at home or in school and
could do nothing about it; the college student who was required by his
professors to pass courses the could not prepare for if he were successful at
football` and who was then expelled from college for the cheating that
And the psychologist looking at the active hatred in the mans eyes, thought “it
is still good; a person who has this fight in him can be helped. Everyday the
king as he walked through the courtyard kept reminding the man in the cage
that he was given food and shelter and taken good care if so why did he not
And the psychologist noticed that, whereas at first the man had been entirely
impervious to the king’s statements it now seemed more and more that he
was pausing for a moment after the kings speech-for a second the hatred was
postponed from returning to his eyes-as though he was asking himself if what
the king said was possibly true.
After a few weeks more the man began to discuss with the psychologist how
is was a useful thing that a man is given food and shelter; how a man had to
live by his fate in any case and part of wisdom was to accept fate. He soon
was developing an extensive theory about security and the acceptance of
fate, which sounded to the psychologist very much like the philosophical
theories that Rosenberg and others worked out for the fascists in Germany.
He was very voluble during this period, talking at length although the talk was
mostly a monologue. The psychologist noted that his voice was flat and
hollow as he talked, like the voice of people in TV previews who make an
effort to look you in the eye and try hard to sound sincere as they tell you that
you should see the program they are advertising, or the announcers on the
radio who are paid to persuade you that you should like highbrow music.
And the psychologist also noticed that now the corners of the man’s mouth
always turned down as though he were in some gigantic pout. Then the
psychologist suddenly remembered: this was like the middle-aged, middleclass people who came to his clinic, the respectable bourgeois people full of
resentment as if everything they did was conceived, born and nursed in
It reminded the psychologist of Nietzsche’s saying that the middle class was
consumed with resentment. He then for the first time began to be seriously
worried about the man in the cage, for he knew that once resentment gets a
firm start and becomes well rationalized and structuralized it may become like
cancer. When the person no longer knows whom he hates, he is much harder
During this period the Greater Social Research Foundation had a board of
trustees meeting, and they decided since they were expending a fund to keep
a man supported in a cage it would look better if representatives of the
foundation at least visited the experiment. So a group of people, consisting of
two professors, and a few graduate students came one day to look at the man
in the cage.
One of the professors then proceeded to lecture the group about the relation
of the autonomic nervous system and the secretions of ductless glands to
human existence in a cage. But it occurred to the other professor that the
verbal communications of the victim himself might just possibly be interesting,
so he asked the man how he felt about living in a cage.
The man was friendly t word the professors and students and explained to
them that he had chosen this way of life, that there were great values
insecurity and in being taken care of, that they would of course see how
sensible this course was and so on.
“How strange!” thought the psychologist, “And how pathetic; why is it he
struggles so hard to get them to approve his way of life?”
IN the succeeding days when the king walked through the courtyard the man
fawned upon him from behind the bars in his cage and thanked him for the
food and shelter. But when the king was not in the yard and the man was not
aware the psychologist was present his expression was quite different, sullen
When his food was handed to him through the bars by his keeper the man
would often drop the dishes or dump over the water and then he would be
embarrassed because of his stupidity and clumsiness.
His conversation became increasingly one tracked; and instead of the
involved philosophical theories about the value of being taken care of he had
gotten down to simple sentences such as “It is fate”, which he would say over
and over again, or he would just mumble to himself ”It is”.
The psychologist was surprised to find the man should now be so clumsy as
to drop his food or so stupid as to talk in those barren sentences, for he knew
from his tests that the man had originally been of good average intelligence.
Then it dawned upon the psychologist this was the kind of behavior he had
observed in some anthropological studies among the Negroes in the south people who had been forced to kiss the hand that fed and enslaved them who
could no longer hate or rebel. The man in the cage took more and more to
simply sitting all day long in the sun as it came through the bars his only
movement being to shift his position from time to time from morning to
It was hard to say just when the last phase set in. But the psychologist
became aware the man’s face seemed to have no particular expression; his
smile was no longer fawning, but simply empty and meaningless like the
grimace a baby makes when there is gas in its stomach.
The man ate his food and exchanged a few sentences with the psychologist
from time to time but his eyes were distant and vague and though he looked
at the psychologist it seemed that he never really saw him. And now the man
in his desultory conversations never used the word I anymore. He had
accepted the cage. He had no anger, no hate, no rationalizations. But he was
The night the psychologist realized this he sat in his apartment trying to write
a concluding report. But it was very difficult for him to summon up words for
he felt within himself a great emptiness.
He kept trying to reassure himself with words.” They say nothing is ever lost
that matter is merely changed to energy and back again” But he could not
help feeling something had been lost, that something had gone out of the
universe in this experiment.
He finally went to bed with his report unfinished. But he could not sleep; there
was a gnawing within him which in less rational and scientific ages would
have been called a conscience, Why didn’t I tell the king that this is one
experiment that no man can do- or at least why didn’t I shout I would have
nothing to do with the whole bloody business? (Of course the king would have
dismissed me, the foundations would have never granted me anymore
money, and at the clinic they would have said that I was not a real scientist.
But maybe one could farm in the mountains and make a living maybe one
could paint or write something that would make future men happier and more
But he realized that these musings were, at least at the moment, unrealistic,
and he tried to pull himself back to reality. All he could get however, was this
feeling of emptiness within himself and the words” Something has been taken
out of the universe and all that is left is a void.”
Finally he dropped off to sleep. Sometime later in the small hours of the
morning, he was awakened by a startling dream. A crowd of people had
gathered, in the dream in front of the cage in the courtyard, and the man in
the cage-no longer vacuous-was shouting through the bars of the cage in
impassioned oratory. ”it is not only I whose freedom was taken away!” he was
crying. When the king puts me or any man in a cage the freedom of each one
of you is taken away also. The king must Go!
The people began to chant ”The king must go” and they seized and broke out
the iron bars of the cage and wielded them for weapons as they charged the
palace. The psychologist awoke filled by the dream with a great feeling of
hope and joy-an experience of hope and joy probably not unlike that
experienced by free men of England when they forced King John to sign the
But for nothing had the psychologist had an orthodox analysis in the course of
his training, as he lay surrounded by the aura of happiness, a voice spoke
within him” Aha you had this dream to make yourself feel better: it’s just wish
“The hell it is! Said the psychologist, as he climbed out of bed. “Maybe some
dreams are to be acted on!”