Elucidation of the secret words



Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl

The Cube 1969

Transcript and stage adaptation at The Cube by Patrick Flanigan click here


In 1969, NBC television broadcasted the almost 1 hour lasting screenplay The Cube which was shown once, before it disappeared from the screen, and was forgotten. It was written by Jim Henson, the creator of Sesame Street, who was then 33 year old (1936 – 1990). Now the play is rediscovered worldwide, and on the web there’s not only a black and white version, but also a colored one. There are several discussion groups that rightly devote their attention to the timeless message of The Cube.

The Cube is a wonderful metaphor of the life lived by people in this world, but remarkably only few experience it this way. People talk about freedom, which needs to be defended, which they also call freedom in boundaries. They say they’ve got a free will, and really believe it, while they are bound by traditions and opinions and are controlled and driven by their desires and obligations, longings, fears, libido, the urge to perform and greed. And on top of that, all that other people want and expect from them, which brought Sartre to the statement: “L’enfer, c’est les autres.”
That is their Cube and in that Cube they’ve got to make the best of it, because escape is impossible. That is what they have heard their entire life and so that is what they believe. And why would you try to escape then? They don’t know any better, and their way of life has become so “natural”, that they really can’t see how bounded, limited and narrow their lives actually are. Once they must have had a clear moment in which they had the feeling life might be more, but that thought was too threatening. And so they neglected that thought, and stayed with the idea that escape is impossible.

And what do they do in their Cubes? Well, they’re very busy decorating it, having so called fun, playing a role, partying, getting sick and eventually dying in it, without every having seen the real world. Like D.H. Lawrence poetized:

The Optimist
The optimist builds himself safe inside a cell
and paints the inside walls sky-blue
and blocks up the door
and says he's in heaven.

But he doesn’t want to know that, because that’s his only reliance and he will get furious when you touch his apparent certainties, because it would mean he had mistaken himself and that’s the last thing he would admit.

Inside the Cube there are many specialists, who do not only pretend to know a lot about life in the Cube, but there are even people who also talk about how the Cubes were created, who the Creator was, what He meant with them, and what waits for the Cube residents after this life. They tell you that you should do your best in your Cube, that you should pray a lot to the Creator en that he might help you if you do. And that, when you will do that, you’ll finally be free when you pass away. They got these things out of their so-called Holy Books and it is extraordinary to find parables in those books about people who tell them it is possible to escape. They even tell how to do it, namely to give up everything, until you’re so small that you can slip through a tiny door, which leads to freedom. They love that story and they absolutely admire the escapers, which they worship, because they dared. But their own heads are so full and they’ve got so many possessions which they are attached to, that it is impossible for them to go through the small exit with their filled heads and all their baggage. And in all ways possible they try to discourage and stop those who do try to escape.

Strip Sigmund

From: De Volkskrant.

That’s also the duty of the scientists and the social workers of every kind. Science has increased to an unmatched high value in the Cubes. Thanks to the efforts of the scientists the Cubes totally changed their composition, stuffed with products that make an imprisoned life a little more pleasant, - achievements they call them, and progression – all kinds of communication, which facilitates contact between Cubes, Mobile phones and internet for example, with which the Cube residents share information about their experiences in their own Cubes. That is called sharing opinions and it is a great thing.
But in that worldwide Cube there are also many groups, communities, co-religionists, politics and other parties, who all have different ideas about how life is to be lived in the Cube, and that’s why they fight each other and the scientists provide them with the arsenal, with which they defend their ‘own’ truth and games against other people’s ‘own’ truth. There are also revolutionaries who want a whole new system in the Cubes and are willing to sacrifice their lives for it.

There are also Human Scientists, who explain to their co-prisoners the best way to survive in their Cubes. They write thick books about it and because they are believed to be bright and people believe their stories.
Life in the Cube of course is not very healthy and people get sick en masse. The scientists say that’s because people live unhealthy, and there are lots of bacteria and viruses, who target the residents, because people move too little in their Cube and eat unhealthy, smoke and drink too much. They say that when everybody will just follow their prescriptions, everybody will be healthy again.
And so everybody thinks escape is impossible. What a tragic misunderstanding:

Hank Williams (1923 – † 1953, In his own Cube)

I’ll never get out of this world alive

Now you’re lookin’ at a man that’s gettin’ kind-a mad
I had lot’s of luck but it’s all been bad
No matter how I struggle and strive
I’ll never get out of this world a- live.

My fishin’ pole’s broke the creek is full of sand
My woman run away with another man
No matter how I struggle and strive
I’ll never get out of this world alive.

A distant uncle passed away and left me quite a batch
And I was living high until that fatal day
A lawyer proved I wasn’t born
I was only hatched.---

Ev’rything’s agin’ me and it’s got me down
If I jumped in the river I would prob’ly drown
No matter how I struggle and strive
I’ll never get out of this world alive.

These shabby shoes I’m wearin’ all the time
Are full of holes and nails
And brother if I stepped on a worn out dime
I bet a nickel I could tell you if it was heads or tails.

I’m not gonna worry wrinkles in my brow
’cause nothin’s ever gonna be alright no how
No matter how I struggle and strive
I’ll never get out of this world alive.

I could buy a sunday suit and it would leave me broke
If it had two pair of pants I would burn the coat
No matter how I struggle and strive
I’ll never get out of this world alive.

If it was rainin’ gold I wouldn’t stand a chance
I wouldn’t have a pocket in my patched up pants
No matter how I struggle and strive
I’ll never get out of this world alive.

Celia Green (, from The Human Evasion (1969) (

Chapter 14 : Why the World Will Remain Sane

I met a man in a place that was something like a subterranean tube tunnel and something like a deserted railway waiting-room in the middle of the night.

It was impossible to see whether there was an outlet concealed anywhere behind the labyrinths of tiles and painted walls, but a biting wind blew from somewhere. There were a few other people sitting huddled up or pacing up and down. They looked too frozen to say much.

‘Look here’, I said to the man. ‘Why do you go on staying here?’

‘Oh, it’s not bad’, he said, blowing on his fingers. ‘We keep very warm really. You get more used to it as you get older. Young people have crazy ideas about trying to find an exit, but they settle down.’ (He nodded knowingly at some of the huddled shapes.)

‘But, my dear fellow,’ I said, ‘you aren’t warm at all. You’re grey in the face and one of your fingers is so frost-bitten it’s about to drop off.’

‘Oh well, in a sense, that may be true’, he said, a little uncomfortably.

‘But most people are all right and adjust to things. Maybe I find it a little more difficult than most but that’s just something to do with my upbringing which has affected my metabolism. It’s my physiology, you see. Nothing is actually wrong with the place as such.’

‘But the faces ... when you can see them through the wrappings — can you say you know a happy person?’

‘Yes, I can. There’s my daughter. She’s eighteen months old. She says ‘I’m happy’ all the time. It was the first thing we taught her to say.’

‘You wouldn’t be interested in finding an exit, then?’

‘Well, obviously it would be escapism, wouldn’t it? The very word ‘exit’ implies that.... I can’t believe we’re here just to give up and get out. It’s up to us to assert the warmth and richness of the here and now.’

(Here the wind blew a little harder.)

‘It might be warm outside’, I said. ‘Things might be happening there.’

‘Oh well, it’s up to you to prove that if you want me to be interested. Why should I give up what I’ve got here?’

‘What have you got, then?’

‘Interests. There are lots of things to do here. Like counting the cracks in the walls and stamping one’s feet. Good for you, that is. Circulation.’

‘There might be even more interesting things somewhere else.’

‘Oh well, I don’t know that, do I? Much more likely it wouldn’t nearly be so healthy and interesting.’

‘But even if someone did know a way out of here, he could only prove to you that the other place was better if you’d come and leave your interests to find out.’

‘Exactly. That’s what I said.’

‘Does anyone ever look for a way out?’

‘Well, I don’t know exactly what you mean by looking. There are a few chaps called scientists who measure up bits of the walls sometimes, but it’s more and more a specialist job and they reckon a few yards of wall is all one man can take on. Not that there would be any point in trying to study the whole wall at once. It can’t be done. Nobody tries.’

‘You could make a battering-ram’, I said reflectively. ‘With a few of these benches. Then you could try ramming the walls to see if they gave way. If everyone joined in ...’

‘Yes, I thought you’d suggest something like that’, he said, bitterly.

‘People have other things to do besides helping you in your pet schemes, you know. You can try to persuade them, of course. It’s a free country.

Personally, I don’t care so long as I enjoy myself.’

As he did so, a clergyman emerged from a whistling tunnel at my side. (Or perhaps he was a psychiatrist — or, indeed, a sociologist.)

‘Did I hear you mention that old idea about getting out of here?’ he said, with a visible shiver. ‘Symbolism, you know. We’ve demythologized all that now. They used to think there was something outside this place — a literal outside, if you can imagine it! Of course it’s quite valid as symbolism. This is the outside, here and now, if you live it to the full....’

‘It’s cold’, I said.

‘Think of others’, he said reprovingly. ‘It’s really impressive the way modern psycho-analysis has confirmed the insights of the New Testament. Where two or three are gathered together, you know. It is an indisputable fact that groups of people, huddled as closely as possible, do feel much warmer. This is the basis of Group Therapy. It is also known as the Kingdom of Heaven.’

‘Where do you suppose the wind comes from?’ I asked him.

‘I’m not at all sure that I would agree that there is a wind. It’s really only perverse and neurotic people who remark on it. And very young people, of course. But if there is, then I’m sure it’s value depends entirely on us — it is for us to make it into a meaningful part of the full life by refusing to notice it.’

The full life?’ I said, and added, at the risk of seeming rude, ‘Full of what?’

‘Of communication’, he said patiently. ‘Of I-Thou relationships. Of dependent interdependence.’

‘Communication!’ I said. ‘These people are so frozen they wouldn’t be able to say more than a few words to anybody.’

‘That’s a very narrow view, I think’, he said seriously. ‘It’s imposing a utilitarian standard of reference on the variety and freedom of human relationships. One must care about people as they are.’

‘But surely’, I said, ‘if one cared about these people, one couldn’t be content to see them huddled up in this dreadful place....’

But he looked most displeased, and murmured something into his muffler — it sounded like ‘Arrogance’.

‘Well, anyway’, I said, ‘surely you can’t reject the possibility that this is all a dream?’

‘Metaphysics’, he said, coldly. ‘Very nasty. Denial of life. People might lose interest in counting the cracks and spend their time trying to wake up instead.’

‘Look’, I said suddenly. ‘I’m afraid I can’t stay here. I have a very strong feeling that this is a dream and I’m about to wake up.’

‘The methods of linguistic analysis have very valuable applications to religion. Chiefly they enable us to see the futility of making meaningless statements about the transcendent (which is of course a completely meaningless word). You cannot properly speak of waking ‘up’. When I say something is going ‘up’ I mean that it is directed towards a position which is located above its starting point. It is meaningless to speak in this way about waking, because it would be a confusion of categories to suppose that ‘waking’ is located above ‘sleeping’. Consequently...’

But at this point, with a certain sense of relief, I awoke.

Afbeelding op de website van Kurt Vonnegut, na zijn overlijden
Image at the website of
Kurt Vonnegut, after he passed
away in his own Cube, at april 11 - 2007