by William Gibson
Henry Dorsett Case, a.k.a. Cutter
Eastbound and Down
At the beginning of the novel, Case is in a bad way. He's living in Chiba City as a lowlife hustler, trying desperately to get back his abilities as console cowboy. Case is, in short, a man driven by a need to relive the grass-was-greener past. Failing that, he doesn't see a lot of options. As the chances for his return to cyberspace get slimmer and slimmer, he becomes more and more suicidal. Which is fitting, since he lives close to the edge in Night City, a place where "death is the accepted for laziness, carelessness, [and] lack of grace" (1.38).
Unfortunately, his inability to care for himself extends to the people around him. He has started to grow numb to the ultra violence of Night City. And recreational drug use has filled the hole in his life left by cyberspace. His only solace would seem to be Linda Lee, but he ignores her pleas for attention and love, which eventually directly to her death.
Movin' On Up
Okay. Before you write off this guy as a one-way ticket to bummer town, rest assured that once the novel gets going, things look up for our guy. Although not in the most typical sense. He's not headed for a wife, 2.4 kids, a dog, and a picket fence. He's headed for Neuromancer's version of that American dream: the life of a renegade hacker for hire.
After joining Armitage and enduring an experimental surgery, Case can jack into cyberspace like before (of course that comes with a price). He also strikes up a tryst Molly, which coincides with his new job as a console cowboy. In short, he gets everything he ever wanted.
There's just one problem. The poor guy can't enjoy it. For one thing, Armitage holds his future ransom with the toxic sacs he installs in his blood stream. So while Case can hack, he can't exactly hack with total freedom. And on a deeper level, his time in Chiba City has scarred him, particularly the death of Linda Lee. Case's desire for a return to the way things is thwarted by the fact that the past is always gone, no matter how much you might try to relive it in some dark corner of cyberspace. Sometimes it's best to just say sayonara and move on.
By the time he hitches his wagon to Armitage's star and takes up with Molly, the stage is set for Case to undergo some big time changes.
In his drive to make peace with his past, he makes peace with Linda Lee—or at least, whatever version of her cyberspace has decided to throw his way. In his final scene with her, Neuromancer's world gets cold, so he gives her his jacket for protection. He doesn't know if she's alive or dead, real or just data meant to trick him, but he finally helps her and nurtures her in a meaningful way and maybe, just maybe, finds forgiveness for his previous cruelty (21.35). It might seem like a small gesture, sure, but can you imagine the Case from chapter 1 being so warm and fuzzy towards, well, anyone?
So what brings about this transformation? That's a tough call. One thing we do know, though, is that Case wants change throughout the novel. And he wants it bad. Yet even he can't quite put his finger on it. In his plea to 3Jane for the password, he says, "I got no idea at all what'll happen if Wintermute wins, but it'll change something!" (23.75). Now that he's made peace with his past (and with his Linda), he can move forward, even if that means moving into the unknown. And hey, anything's better than a coffin in a capsule hotel.
By the end of the novel, we're hearing from a very different Case. Sure, he's still a rough-and-tumble guy, and we're not betting our dough on the notion that he'll walk the straight and narrow anytime soon, but he's a bit gooier on the inside, a bit more shaded and nuanced.
Most importantly, he's got his hack back, so maybe he did get a piece of his past back after all. And he's in the market for a new pancreas, which tells us that he's in the market for some drugs, too. Well, one step forward, two steps back, we guess.