“The Man with the Strange Head,” Miles J. Breuer, 1927 – A doctor spies on a potential patient, who has been reported by his neighbors as pacing in his apartment and making strange noises. He tries to determine the man’s ailment, beginning with an analysis of the man’s life, ostensibly to determine if the man is in any way odd or remarkable. He reconstructs the story of the man’s life from others and finds it “unremarkable.” The man engages in perfectly “normal” activities, e.g., he’s a Boy Scout Troop leader and goes to the YMCA. Later, it is revealed that the man had always been insecure about the frailty and size of his body and had therefore contracted to have a better, mechanized (more masculine) body built. Unfortunately, after entering the machine, the man died and his body is entombed in the prosthetic shell. The pacing the doctor observes is nothing more than the mindless action of the machine.
Comments: Themes of masculinity, mechanization, prosthetics. Contrasts the internal man with his external signifiers (e.g., his “normal” life, his body), his armoring of his natural body with an artificial and imprisoning shield. It’s perhaps also interesting to note that in real life Breuer was a Boy Scout leader, like his protagonist, particularly due to the suggestion that has been made by scholars that the Boy Scouts–through the use of uniforms and rigid codes of behavior–can be seen as a “mechanizing” phenomenon in American culture. Lastly, Michael Page notes in the introduction to The Man with the Strange Head, a collection of Breuer’s short fiction, that Breuer “drew heavily from Wells and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis for his themes.” Breuer’s contributions to sf, which included mentoring Jack Williamson, dwindled off over the next decade, perhaps due to the tragic death of his son. (Michael Page, The Man With the Strange Head, p. xxxii)
Author: Wikipedia: “Miles John Breuer (January 3, 1889 – October 14, 1945) was an American physician and science fiction writer.”