The Obsolete Man

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Burgess Meredith: Romney Wordsworth
Fritz Weaver: The Chancellor
Harold Innocent: Man in crowd

"The Obsolete Man" is an episode of the television series The Twilight Zone. It's dystopian premise is similar to Ray Bradbury's 1953 novel, Fahrenheit 451.



In a future totalitarian state, Romney Wordsworth (Meredith) is a man put on trial for the crime of being "obsolete." His occupation, to the shock of everyone, is being that of a librarian (a profession punishable by death, as the State has eliminated literacy) and he also believes in God (also punishable by death, as the State has declared that there is no God). He is prosecuted by the chancellor (Weaver), who expresses in front of the assembled court that Wordsworth, in not being an asset to the State, shall be liquidated.

After being convicted of obsolescence, Wordsworth is given a choice as to his method of dying. Drawing a somewhat questioning reaction from the court, he cryptically requests that he be granted a personal assassin to whom he may disclose his preferred method of death. He also requests that his execution be televised.

Later, a camera is installed in Wordsworth's study to broadcast live to the nation, so its citizens may see the condemned in his final hours. He summons the chancellor, who shows up at exactly 11:16 p.m. After some discussion, Wordsworth reveals to the unsuspecting chancellor that he has locked the door, and that his chosen method of death is by an explosive hidden in the room and set to go off at midnight. He intends to show the nation how a spiritual man faces death, and proceeds to read the verses of Psalm 23 and the beginning of Psalm 53, among others, from his illegal and thus cherished Bible (punishable by death). He also points out that, as the events are being broadcast live, the State will risk losing its status in the eyes of the people by trying to rescue a high-ranking chancellor. As the time winds down, Wordsworth's calm acceptance of death stands in sharp contrast with the chancellor's increasing panic.

Moments before the bomb explodes, the chancellor, in a desperate plea, finally begs the old man to let him go: "In the name of God, let me out!" Wordsworth immediately obliges, but not without repeating the mention of God — whom the State had "proven not to exist".

The chancellor bursts out of the room and down the stairs just as the bomb explodes and kills Wordsworth, who dies with dignity.

In the final scene, the chancellor returns to the courtroom, only to find he has been branded a criminal, and is declared obsolete. The crowd in the courtroom eventually surrounds him, and proceeds to drag him across the table, kicking and screaming, out of the room (presumably to be killed).

In his exit narrative, Rod Serling says the Chancellor was wrong about one thing, he was obsolete, but so was the State which he served.

See also


  • DeVoe, Bill. (2008). Trivia from The Twilight Zone. Albany, GA: Bear Manor Media. ISBN 978-1593931360
  • Grams, Martin. (2008). The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic. Churchville, MD: OTR Publishing. ISBN 978-0970331090

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