Next Door by Kurt Vonnegut

Next Door - Kurt VonnegutIn Next Door by Kurt Vonnegut we have the theme of conflict, appearance, guilt, innocence and coming of age. Taken from his Welcome to the Monkey House collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that Vonnegut may be exploring the theme of conflict. Paul’s parents are in disagreement as to whether to leave Paul at home while they go to the movies. Paul’s father thinks that he will be okay at home alone while Paul’s mother thinks differently before being persuaded by her husband. It is also noticeable that Mr Harger and the blond woman are also fighting. Something that becomes clear to the reader while Paul is playing with his microscope. It may also be important that both the Leonards and Mr Harger are talking in low voices when they argue as it is possible that they do not wish to highlight their conflict to others (their neighbours). By allowing their neighbours to hear each other fighting both the Leonards and Mr Harger would be publicly airing their disagreements and disharmony. Something they are careful not to do. They are attempting to display an image of happiness and harmony rather than one of conflict. Something that becomes clearer to the reader when Mr Harger tells the blond woman to turn up the radio when they are fighting. The reader aware that Mr Harger is attempting to drown out the sound of his fighting with the blond woman.

It is also interesting that while Mr Harger is fighting that Paul’s lens for his microscope begin to crack. Symbolically it is possible that Vonnegut is suggesting that should an individual be put under the microscope they too will crack. When their life is really exposed for what it is. Which in the case of the story is both sets of adults fighting while a child ironically plays with a microscope. It may also be important that Paul feels guilty that he might be responsible for Mr Harger’s death. So innocent is Paul that he believes that by calling All Night Sam he has contributed to Mr Harger’s death. When the reality is he was not to know that the woman in the Harger’s apartment was not Mrs Harger nor was he to know that she had a gun. This is important as it exposes Paul’s innocence when it comes to what is happening in the Harger’s apartment. In reality he does not really know what is happening apart from two adults shouting at each other.

It may also be significant that Paul through fear runs to his bedroom and isolates himself from others after the shooting. Rather than using the phone to report the shooting Paul lies in his bed unaware of what to do when the reality is an adult may have went and seen for themselves if Mr Harger was okay. An adult would have put the pieces of the incident together and not have been as concerned as Paul has been. While Paul believes that Mrs Harger has murdered her husband an adult would have seen that the incident was no more than a lovers tiff between Mr Harger and the blond woman. With the true possibility being that Mr Harger is cheating on his wife. Which in many ways would explain Mrs Harger’s absence from the apartment. The reader too is lulled into thinking that Mr Harger has been shot by his wife which may be the point that Vonnegut is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that in reality a person may never really understand the motives or actions of another person (the blond woman) when they are reliant on hearing only one argument and that argument is drowned out by sounds from the radio.

The end of the story is also interesting as Paul appears to be coming of age. No longer is he afraid having been reassured by Mr Harger that everything is alright. He also does not tell the policeman of the shooting rather he lets Mr Harger take control of the situation and remains silent. Even when his mother and father returns Paul does not mention the shooting to his parents. Which shows a sign of maturity. Though some critics may suggest that Paul has been bribed by the blond woman. However it may be important to remember that Paul doesn’t necessarily know exactly what the blond woman has given to him. Everything she gave him was wrapped up in a ball and remained in Paul’s pocket. At no stage did Paul check how much money the woman gave him. The fact that Paul may be coming of age is also noticeable by the fact that his father slightly scolds his mother for calling Paul a little boy telling her that ‘He’s not a little boy—he’s a big boy.’ Though Paul has come of age he also has some explaining to do about the ball of money in his pocket. However Vonnegut never affords the reader the opportunity as to discover how Paul will explain how he got the money. It being left to each individual reader to decide as to what tale Paul will invent to explain away the money. What is clear though at the end of the story is that Vonnegut has allowed the reader, through Paul’s eyes, an insight into the dynamics of an individual’s relationship and how despite what we may hear or see. We may not always know the truth about other people’s relationships.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "Next Door by Kurt Vonnegut." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 29 Apr. 2017. Web.


  • This story is very interesting……I’ve learned that there are signs as whether the person is matured enough or not.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Jabulani. I would agree with you it is a very interesting story.

  • I want to ask if was it Mr Harger that was shot? And by who

    Plz plz plz m lost and that why Paul’s parents are saying he is no longer a young boy?

  • Very interesting story indeed but I am a bit puzzled at the end by the meaning of the word “Tabu”.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Sydney. Tabu may be a perfume. Paul has an assortment of things that were given to him by Mr Harger’s girlfriend. One of the items may be perfume. That’s what Paul’s father may be smelling Tabu perfume.

    • I think if refers to a perfume – the mother probably thinks Paul had a woman in the apartment while they were at the movies – another sign of his ‘coming of age’.

  • I’m puzzled were Mr Harger and the blonde woman fighting at first before All-Night Sam sent a dedication to the Hargers?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Senny. Yes Mr Harger and his girlfriend (the blonde woman) were fighting before All-Night Sam sent a dedication at Paul’s request. Paul was hoping that it would stop the fighting. Paul also thought the woman in the Harger’s apartment was Mrs Harger and not Mr Harger’s girlfriend.

  • Wow this is awesome hey x-(.

  • Confirm, really blond woman was busy making sex with Mr Harger?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Mbambo. Vonnegut doesn’t clearly state as to whether Mr Harger was having sex with his girlfriend but it is a possibility.

  • Why is Paul interested so much in the microscope ? …was it mentioned that he was a science student??

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Lindo. I’m not really sure as to why Paul has such an interest in the microscope. It may be a case that Vonnegut is using the microscope as symbolism. Just as a microscope is used to focus closer on an object. Vonnegut may be suggesting that Paul too needs to focus on things. Particularly Mr Harger’s relationship with his girlfriend who Paul had originally assumed to be Mrs Harger. In reality Paul may have needed to grow up and understand the world around him a little better. Something he may have done after his engagement with Mr Harger’s girlfriend.

  • This review is revealing – especially the analogy of the microscope and how it’s suggestive of life crumbling under pressure if one’s life is under the gaze. I didn’t really think much about it apart from the literal thrill the story posits in the reader.
    Other aspects of the review are also microscopic.

    Thanks for this Dermot.

    p.s: I am an educator in South Africa, and I think some of the interest in the story – together with your review – and the typographical flaws in most of the comments come from students who are in Grade 12 who may not have understood the story from the first readings they may have had with their teachers.

    I don’t know if you wrote the review to support students at grade 12? But, I doubt it. Haha.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      I’m working off a book called Changes (ed Brian Walter). Which I believe is part of the Grade 12 curriculum. I came across the book by accident but have noticed that there is a lot of interest from South Africa for many of the stories in the book.

  • So mr Harger was shot?… Why didn’t the police men see some blood?

  • A great read this story is, would I be correct to suggest a theme of bribery in this story? How so?

    Paul is bribed by the blonde woman to keep quiet about the events that took place. The one bribe is for three things( 1 stone hitting 3 birds perhaps?)

    1. He is bribed not to tell the police about the gun shot he has heard.
    2. He is bribed not to tell his own parents about the events that took place in their absence.
    3. He is bribed not to tell Mrs. Hager about the affair happening between her and Mr. Harger.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment and insight Siya. You make a valid and interesting point. I hadn’t thought of bribery as a theme but after reading your comment I see how it could be.

  • When referring to music players how is the phrase high fidelity usually abbreviated.

    A chrysanthemum is a flower that has many colourful petals: why do you think Vonnegut uses it in the metaphor at the end of story

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Ntshuxeko. High Fidelity is usually abbreviated to Hi-Fi. I’m not too sure about the chrysanthemum perhaps Vonnegut is using it as symbolism to highlight the colourful or eventful evening that Paul had.

  • What figure of speech does the DJ All Night Sam use when he says that marriage “isn’t any bowl of cherries?

    How did Paul try to stop the fight from next door house?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Ntshuxi. The figure of speech used is called a metaphor.

      Paul called All Night Sam to try and stop Mr Harger and his girlfriend (who Paul assumed was Mrs Harger) from fighting. He thought that a song dedication would stop the fighting.

  • Is Harger cheating on his wife n plz support your answer by making reference to the story

  • Is Paul dreaming after his parents have left?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Nompilo. I don’t think that Paul is dreaming. If he is he has a very vivid imagination. Too much happens in the story for it to be a dream in my opinion.

  • Is this statement false and plz explain it for me:’the woman handed paul some cash’ plz plz

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      That line isn’t in the story. However the following line is ‘She dug into her purse and brought out a perfumed mulch of face tissues, bobbypins and cash.’ So it does look like Paul got some money from the blond woman in order for him to remain silent about what has happened.

  • What figure of speech is used in this line and explain.

    ‘Numb, Paul crept out of the hot, dark cave, and answered the door’

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      It’s a metaphor. A metaphor is a figure of speech that describes an object or action in a way that isn’t literally true, but helps explain an idea or make a comparison.

  • May I ask this last question plz: Explain the use of ‘nossir’ and why is Paul terrified?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      The term ‘nossir’ is in fact the words ‘no sir.’ Paul is replying to Mr Harger when Mr Harger asks Paul has he being playing with his father’s guns. Paul is possibly terrified because there is an argument next door, a gun is fired, the police arrive and Mr Harger takes no responsibility for what has happened. Leaving Paul to feel as though he is on his own.

  • Was Mr hanger really shot and why was Paul running away?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Mary. Mr Harger wasn’t shot. A gun was fired but Mr Harger wasn’t hit by the bullet. Paul was running away because he was afraid.

  • Why is All Night Sam referred to as a record man?

  • Sorry I don’t have a clear clue in terms of the theme coming of age.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Abongwe. Coming of age would refer to growing up and no longer seeing the world as just a place of harmony but a place where things can go wrong too. That’s why I suggest that Paul has come of age or grown up. He has seen a darker side of the world.

  • Why is Sam impressed?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Siwaphiwemakeleni. Sam thinks that Paul is trying to get his parents back together and that impresses Sam. He thinks that it is Paul’s parents who are fighting and he admires Paul for reaching out and requesting a song in the hope of a reconciliation.

  • Can you explain the whole theme of the short story ‘next door’ please?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Nokukhanya. The central theme is probably coming of age. However there are offshoots of the central theme which I describe throughout the post. They include conflict, appearance, guilt and innocence.

  • Why did All Night Sam call himself a record man?

  • I don’t understand this conflict of Vonnegut and Mrs Harger? Can u plz just tell me and why Paul’s parent are in disagreement when it comes to leaving Paul at home while they go the movies?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Princess. The conflict between the Hargers’ is possibly due to the fact that Mr Harger has a girlfriend and is not committed to Mrs Harger (his wife). When it comes to the disagreement between Paul’s parents about leaving him home alone. Paul’s mother thinks that Paul may be too young to stay at home on his own and this causes the disagreement with Paul’s father. Who thinks Paul is old enough to be allowed stay alone in the house.

  • Ok so what about Mr Harger and the blonde (Harger’s girlfriend). Why are they fighting?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      As readers we are never told as to why Mr Harger is fighting with his girlfriend. However it is possible that Mr Harger’s girlfriend wants him to leave Mrs Harger.

  • I really don’t know what lessons we ought to glean from this short story. What is the ball of stuff from his pockets. Whose lipstick kleenex petals did Paul have. Pungent musk of perfume Tabu?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Des. If you focus on Paul growing up or coming of age over what happened. That would be a good starting point. The ball of stuff from Paul’s pocket is what Mr Harger’s girlfriend gave him in order for Paul to stay quiet. Same with the lipstick, that is Mr Harger’s girlfriend’s. Paul also smells of the perfume that Mr Harger’s girlfriend had on (Tabu).

  • Hi. What does WJCD stand for?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Sanele. I’m not sure what WJCD stands for. It’s the radio station that All Night Sam works at. That’s all I’d know.

  • Can you plz explain the coming of age of Paul in the story? and the themes of the story

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Nzuzo. Coming of age would mean growing up. Paul from the experience of the evening has grown up. He encountered difficulty and handled it well. Overcoming any obstacle that might have been in front of him. As for each theme in the story. I go through each theme in the post.

      Conflict – Mr Harger is fighting with his girlfriend.
      Appearance – Paul assumes that it is Mr and Mrs Harger fighting.
      Guilt – Paul feels guilty that he might be responsible for Mr Harger’s death. Though he doesn’t die or get injured.
      Innocence – So innocent is Paul that he thinks he may have contributed to Mr Harger’s death by the fact that he has called All Night Sam.
      Coming of Age – Paul grows up as mentioned after the evening’s events.

  • Where is the setting of the story?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Courtney. The story is set in an old dwelling that has been divided into two house. The city or town is unknown to the reader.

  • The role played by All Night Sam? Where does Mrs Harger live?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Khuliso. All Night Sam acts as a type of reconciler, trying to bring Mr and Mrs Harger back together again, or at least Paul hopes that that is the role that All Sight Sam will play. I’m not sure where Mrs Harger lives as Vonnegut doesn’t say.

  • Paul’s parents went to movie All Night? & The conflict between Harger’s family take place during a night? Paul used microscope to detect fight? while he is at his room. Does a microscope work like that?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Tom. Paul’s parent’s went to a movie at night time. That is correct and the fight between Mr Harger and his girlfriend takes place at night. That’s also correct. As for the microscope. It does not detect a fight. A microscope is used to look at objects closely under a lens. Symbolically Vonnegut may be using the microscope to suggest (when the glass on the microscope breaks) that should an individual be put under the microscope or have their life examined closely they too will crack. Vonnegut may also be suggesting that Paul too needs to focus on things. Particularly the assumption that Paul makes regards Mr Harger’s girlfriend being Mrs Harger. In reality Paul may need to understand the world a little better.

  • What happens when Paul detects that there’s a fight. Does he go there? or call All Night Sam?

  • I need to understand the end of this fight between Mr Harger and his girlfriend. What happens?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Shane. Mr Harger’s girlfriend fired the gun and then walked out of the house. She attempts to bribe Paul and Paul (and Mr Harger) tell the policeman that they didn’t hear a gun firing. There is a sense of reconciliation at the end of the story when Mrs Harger returns home and Mr Harger welcomes her with open arms.

  • Mr Harger’s girlfriend escaped after the gun was fired? All Night Sam was still there? Who called the police?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Tibo. Yes Mr Harger’s girlfriend escaped after she fired the gun. All Night Sam was on the radio in Mr Harger’s home so I assume the radio was still on throughout the story right till the end. As for who called the police. Some neighbours heard the shots and called the police.

  • OK thanks man. So Mr Harger’s girlfriend when she fired the gun what was the reason? to kill or to warn ? or is that the way she used to escape Mr Harger.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      I’m not sure if Mr Harger’s girlfriend’s intention was to kill Mr Harger. It’s difficult to say as the reader is not in the room with Mr Harger and his girlfriend and is seeing things through Paul’s eyes and observations. I also doubt that she fired the gun to escape from Mr Harger. Though it is possible. Her real reason for firing the gun may have been because she was angry with Mr Harger.

  • After the shot from Charlotte (Mr Harger’s girlfriend) she escapes. So where does she meet Paul when she started to bribe by perfumes?

  • I need the conclusion only when Paul’s parents came back until Paul’s father saw something in the pocket of his boy

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Tebogo. Paul falls asleep with his clothes on. When his parents return his mother sings him a nursery rhyme while his father undresses him. Paul sleepily asks his mother how the movie was and she tells him that it wasn’t for children. Which is somewhat ironic considering what has happened Paul while he was at home on his own. As Paul’s mother is hanging up Paul’s trousers she finds the ball of money (and other things) in Paul’s pocket. She asks Paul what the ball is and Paul’s father asks about the smell coming from the ball. It is at that stage that Paul’s mother tells her husband that the smell is from a perfume called Tabu. It is at this point that the story ends.

  • At the end of story we are left in the air. How?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Roy. Not necessarily. As readers we become aware of Paul’s growth as a person. He has come of age. He is now aware that not everything in the world is nice. That there are problems in the world. Some of which he may not be able to resolve.

  • What kind of person is Mr Harger?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Zwelihle. It’s difficult to say for sure as to the type of person Mr Harger is. On the surface he appears to think only of himself. Having both a wife and a girlfriend. However as readers we don’t know if Mrs Harger left first and then Mr Harger had a girlfriend. He also has an ability to lie when it suits him. Something that is noticeable when he asks Paul was he playing with his father’s guns. When he knows that his girlfriend fired the gun. The joy he shows when he sees Mrs Harger at the end of the story may also not be real as Mr Harger’s girlfriend may still be on the scene.

  • I’ve enjoyed the comments immensely such a better understanding of concepts and themes. spot on.

  • Thanks for your patience in answering questions. It doesn’t matter how many times a question is asked, you always come up with an answer. You are the Best!

  • The summaries of the short stories helped me a lot with my studies for English Lit! Thank you

  • Thank you for making me understand the story a combination of the summary and the comments has enlightened me thanks.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Mathews. I’m glad that you found the post and comments of some benefit to you.

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