They're Made Out of Meat: Summary, Theme & Analysis

They're Made Out of Meat: Summary, Theme & Analysis
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  • 0:03 Eavedropping
  • 0:28 Summary
  • 2:34 Themes & Analysis
  • 5:01 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

What do aliens think about humans? That's what we find out in 'They're Made Out of Meat.' In this lesson, you'll learn more about this short story by Terry Bisson and the themes the author presents.


Have you ever eavesdropped on a conversation? Eavesdropping is listening in on a chat between two people when, maybe, you're not supposed to.

In the short story, ''They're Made Out of Meat,'' readers assume the position of an eavesdropper, getting a glimpse of a conversation between two aliens discussing their impressions of foreign beings who are, as the title suggests, ''made out of meat.'' Let's get into the story.


Author Terry Bisson's short story, which reads as a conversation between two extraterrestrials, first appeared in ''Omni'' magazine in 1990. When it opens, the two beings are talking about an encounter they've had with creatures (presumably humans) they've ''picked up from different parts of the planet.'' The first being is questioning the second about the makeup of these creatures and cannot seem to understand how meat could be capable of making - and using - machines:

''That's ridiculous. How can meat make a machine? You're asking me to believe in sentient meat.'' To be sentient means to have feelings or senses.

The first being simply cannot believe that anything made of meat could be thinking, feeling, or creating. The second being tells the first that they probed the lifeforms and everything - including the brain - is made out of meat. In fact, these suspicious creatures are ''...thinking meat! Conscious meat! Loving meat. Dreaming meat. The meat is the whole deal!''

Reaching Out

When the first being finally understands that the meaty creatures are a possibility, the second tells him that the meat has been trying to communicate with them for almost 100 years.

Again, the first being is amazed that meat is able to not only communicate, but use tools and machines to do so. The second being advises the first, both officially and unofficially, what to do with the meat. Officially, the beings should welcome the meat creatures without prejudice. Unofficially, however, the second being recommends forgetting all about them.

The first being agrees with the notion of ignoring the meat: ''So, we just pretend there's no one home in the Universe,'' one says. The other agrees: ''That's it.''

The two aren't sure why they would even want to meet meat or what they would say. They are amused to be ''meat's dream.''

At the end of the story, they close the case of the meat creatures and turn their attention to other interesting things on that side of the galaxy. A ''rather shy but sweet hydrogen core cluster intelligence in a class nine star in G445 zone'' has reached out to them again. They're happy to reconnect: ''Imagine how unbearably, how unutterably cold the Universe would be if one were all alone...''

Themes & Analysis

For years, human beings have wrestled with the notion of intelligent life outside of what we know on Earth. Varying opinions and thoughts have emerged, ranging from humans being the only intelligent life form in the galaxy to the notion that we're not alone in this world.

In ''They're Made Out of Meat,'' the tables are turned, with two aliens showing a range of emotions about life outside their world - much the way human beings have confronted the idea of alien life throughout history. Rather than simply accepting the notion that intelligent life exists beyond our understanding, humans question, deny, and ultimately ignore signs of other life forms. Why? Because it requires us to step outside our own limited knowledge and accept the unknown or the hard-to-believe.

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