Kurt Vonnegut by SADIONA ABAZAJDocument Transcript
University of TiranaFaculty of Foreign LanguagesBranch: EnglishSubject: American LiteratureLecturer: Maks Daiu Kurt Vonnegut7/2/2011 Worked by: SADIONA ABAZAJ
IntroductionKurt Vonnegut, Jr was one of the most influential American writers of the 20th century. AnAmerican writer with an excessively unique and persuasive style of writing. Kurt Vonnegut, anAmerican cultural hero celebrated for his wry, loonily imaginative commentary on war,apocalypse, technology, materialism and other afflictions. His less-than typical literature mainlydeals with the matter of his own experiences, as he explains them in fancy and peculiar mannersHe was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, to third-generation German-American parents, KurtVonnegut, Sr., and Edith Lieber.Vonnegut graduated from Shortridge High School inIndianapolis in May 1940 and matriculated to Cornell University that fall. Though majoring inChemistry, he was Assistant Managing Editor and Associate Editor of The Cornell Daily Sun.While at Cornell, Vonnegut enlisted in the Army. The Army transferred him to the CarnegieInstitute of Technology and the University of Tennessee to study Mechanical Engineering.Kurt Vonneguts experience as a soldier and prisoner of war had a profound influence on his laterwork. As a private with the 423rd Infantry Regiment, 106th Infantry Division, Vonnegut wascaptured during the Battle of the Bulge on December 19, 1944, after the 106th was cut off fromthe rest of Courtney Hodges First Army. "The other American divisions on our flanks managedto pull out: We were obliged to stay and fight. Bayonets arent much good against tanks..."Imprisoned in Dresden, Vonnegut was chosen as a leader of the POWs because he spoke someGerman. After telling the German guards "...just what I was going to do to them when theRussians came..." he was beaten and had his position as leader taken away.Vonnegut was one of a group of American prisoners of war to survive the attack in anunderground slaughterhouse meat locker used by the Germans as an ad hoc detention facility.The Germans called the building Schlachthof Fünf (Slaughterhouse Five) which the AlliedPOWs adopted as the name for their prison. Vonnegut said the aftermath of the attack was "utterdestruction" and "carnage unfathomable." This experience was the inspiration for his famousnovel, Slaughterhouse-Five, and is a central theme in at least six of his other books.Upon returning to America, he was awarded a Purple Heart for what he called a "ludicrouslynegligible wound," later writing in Timequake that he was given the decoration after suffering acase of "frostbite".After the war, Vonnegut attended the University of Chicago as a graduate student inanthropology and also worked at the City News Bureau of Chicago. The University of Chicagoaccepted his novel Cats Cradle as his thesis, citing its anthropological content, and awarded himthe M.A. degree in 1971.In the mid 1950s, Vonnegut worked very briefly for Sports Illustrated magazine, On the verge ofabandoning writing, Vonnegut was offered a teaching job at the University of Iowa WritersWorkshop. While he was there, Cats Cradle became a best-seller, and he began Slaughterhouse-Five, now considered one of the best American novels of the 20th century, appearing on the 100best lists of Time magazine and the Modern Library.
Major WorksVonneguts first novel, Player Piano (1952), did not attract popular or critical attention, but itestablished many of the traits which continue to typify the authors style. The novel is futuristicand explores the relationship between changing technology and the lives of ordinary humans. Hissecond work garnered greater critical reception. The Sirens of Titan (1959) is a science fictionparody in which all of human history is revealed to have been manipulated by aliens to provide aspace traveler with a replacement part for his ship. This novel, as well as the critically acclaimedCats Cradle (1963) and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965), exhibits Vonneguts uniquecombination of black humor, wit, and pessimism. Cats Cradle is an apocalyptic satire onphilosophy, religion, and technological progress while God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater concernsthe idealistic attempts of an alcoholic philanthropist, Eliot Rosewater, to befriend the poor andhelpless. Rosewater finds, however, that his monetary wealth cannot begin to alleviate theworlds misery. Like Rosewater, Vonneguts protagonists are idealistic, ordinary people whostrive in vain to understand and bring about change in a world beyond their control orcomprehension. Vonnegut tempers his pessimistic, sometimes caustic commentary withcompassion for his characters, suggesting that humanitys ability to love may partiallycompensate for destructive tendencies. Two of Vonneguts novels have dealt directly with WorldWar II. In Mother Night, a spy novel, an American agent who posed as a Nazi propagandistduring World War II undergoes a personality crisis when tried for crimes he committed to insurehis covert identity. In Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonneguts best-known work, the author confrontshis personal experience as a prisoner of war who survived the Allied fire-bombing of Dresden, acity of little military or strategic value. The absurdity of this event is filtered through the numbedconsciousness of Billy Pilgrim, a young soldier who escapes the insanity of war throughschizophrenic travels into time and space; these journeys assume realistic stature when comparedto his irrational wartime experiences. Considered a classic of postmodern literature,Slaughterhouse-Five is written in a fragmented, non-chronological style to emphasize theconfusion and absurdity of wartime life. Vonneguts subsequent novels have achieved popularsuccess but have not always elicited critical praise. In 1971 he wrote his best-known play, HappyBirthday, Wanda Jane, and throughout the 1970s and 1980s wrote several screenplays fortelevision. Vonneguts most recent works include Hocus Pocus (1990) and Timequake (1997). Inboth of these novels Vonnegut presents his ideas in new and unusual literary forms. Hocus Pocuspurports to be the autobiographical manuscript of Eugene Debs Hartke, a teacher and the lastAmerican out of Vietnam, who was fired for being too pessimistic and later charged withengineering the escape of African-American inmates from a prison. Hartke writes observationsabout his life on pieces of paper and Vonnegut masquerades as the editor. In TimequakeVonnegut merges parts of a problematic and incomplete novel with commentary about his lifeand views. The result is part memoir and part political novel. "In a nutshell," observes ThomasDisch, "everyone on Earth has to relive the 1990s on automatic pilot, observing but notparticipating in their lives." The book is a "stew" in which Vonnegut combined "the bestpickings from a novel that wasnt working and interspersed them with a running commentary onhis own life and the state of the universe. The mix is thick and rich: a political novel thats not anovel, a memoir that is not inclined to reveal the most private details of the writers life," Valerie
Sayers comments. Vonnegut has stated that he is retiring, and that Timequake will mark the endof his fiction-writing career.StyleThroughout his writings, Vonnegut uses various methods of portraying his many ideas. Theseinclude the use of similes, metaphors, the jumping from one subject to another, and irony.Similes-Metaphors; Vonnegut uses similes and metaphors for many purposes. One suchpurpose is to evoke emotion in his readers. He explains, "It was like an execution. Billy wasnumb as his father carried him from the shower room to the pool. His eyes were closed. When heopened his eyes he was on the bottom of the pool, and there was beautiful music everywhere. Helost consciousness, but the music went on.” This quote allows one to really understand what wasgoing on, but also empathized with Billy. When one imagines an execution, feelings of remorseand sadness are provoked. Once this emotion is established, we feel the extent of this action onthe boy. Another purpose of the use of similes is to demonstrate the experience for a cleardepiction, as clear as if the reader was there while it happened. For example, when Vonnegutdescribed the appearance of the Americans as they walked together to these different boxcars. Hedescribes, “They were moving like water, downhill all the time, and they flowed at last to a mainhighway on a valley’s floor. Through the valley flowed a Mississippi of humiliated Americans.”This quote allows the reader to envision this, comparing it to a river.Irony; Throughout his writings, Vonnegut using the literary element of irony to portray his ideasand to evoke something on readers. The main reason he uses irony is to poke fun at life ingeneral, and to question the motives behind many things. One way he used irony in the novelwas to describe the shooting of an American soldier for stealing a teapot after the Bombing ofDresden. Vonnegut writes "The irony is so great. A whole city gets burned down, and thousandsand thousands of people are killed. And then this one American foot soldier is arrested in theruins for taking a teapot." He goes on to explain that this man was shot by a firing squad as aresult. This was ironic because as a result of the bombing of Dresden almost everything isdestroyed, people died by the thousands, and Dresden is basically leveled. And to think that inthe midst of all this a man is shot and killed simply for stealing a teapot. It just doesnt makesense, which is what he was trying to make his audience understand. Without saying it is ironic,he displays the irony of the reaction a woman gave when told of the gruesome details of thedeath of man after the bombing of Dresden had occurred. He says, "When I got back to theoffice, the woman writer asked me, just for her own information, what the squashed guy looklike when he was squashed....I told her...Didnt it bother you? she said. She was eating a ThreeMusketeers Bar." This quote shows how ironic it was that this woman did not really care whatthe wife had said about the husbands death or anything, but wanted to know what he looked likewhen he died. It just doesnt make sense, which makes this very ironic. This specific time inwhich Vonnegut used irony to portray his ideas is connected to his use of humor as well.Little>Big; Kurt Vonnegut is always focused in on the smaller aspects of an event. Or just little
things in life. Big events such as a death get blown off by the infamous words "so it goes". Whenspeaking of Lots wife Vonnegut writes, "But she did look back, and I love her for that, becauseit was so human. So she was turned to a pillar of salt. So it goes. Vonnegut uses the small eventsto point out things such as the irony in situations. He also blows off the big events in such a waythat it creates this sense of dark edgy humor amongst him and the reader.Humor: The way Kurt Vonnegut uses humor is like throwing a curve ball at someone whosnever played baseball before; you really don’t know where it’s going or what it is going to do.Kurts type of humor is a really distinctive type of humor just because he doesn’t make anobvious joke anybody would. He talks about violent events and the detail he puts in to hiswriting is what is considered humorous. Kurt uses his "Black humor" in chapter one of SlaughterHouse Five when he talks about the guy who got killed because his ring got caught in theelevator. Whats humorous about this is that this man just died a horrible, gruesome death butKurt only seems to pay detail to a woman who is eating a three musketeers bar and asking himfor details on what happened to this man.Most readers interested in the fantastic in literature are familiar with Kurt Vonnegut, particularlyfor his uses of science fiction. Many of his early short stories were wholly in the science fictionmode, and while its degree has varied, science fiction has never lost its place in his novels.Vonnegut has typically used science fiction to characterize the world and the nature of existenceas he experiences them. His chaotic fictional universe abounds in wonder, coincidence,randomness and irrationality. Science fiction helps lend form to the presentation of this worldview without imposing a falsifying causality upon it. In his vision, the fantastic offers perceptioninto the quotidian, rather than escape from it. Science fiction is also technically useful, he hassaid, in providing a distance perspective, "moving the camera out into space," as it were. Andunusually for this form, Vonneguts science fiction is frequently comic, not just in the "blackhumor" mode with which he has been tagged so often, but in being simply funny.ThemesVonnegut was deeply interested in the Destructive Powers Technology. You can really see itin: Slaughterhouse-Five, where his fear of technology begins with a pointless fire bomb or inPlayer Piano, in which a dystopian world comes to depend entirely on technology at the expenseof every other profession, especially art. Even in Cats Cradle, in which Ice-9 destroys the world.Other themes include Art: Breakfast of Champions contains a variety of statements about art, inparticular a characters justification of his painting The Temptation of St Anthony, whichconsists of a single line on a canvas. Player Piano is about the balance of art in a technologicalworld.As far as Existentialism is concerned we can easily find it in Breakfast of Champions where isthe most commonly cited. Even Slaughterhouse-Five could certainly be considered existential, inparticular its statement about the Tralfamadorians "why me" is not a valid question, because ithad to be somebody, and it was you...
Religion; Vonnegut was descended from a family of German freethinkers, who were skeptical of"conventional religious beliefs."His great-grandfather Clemens Vonnegut had authored afreethought book titled Instruction in Morals, as well as an address for his own funeral in whichhe denied the existence of God, an afterlife, and Christian doctrines about sin and salvation. KurtVonnegut reproduced his great-grandfathers funeral address in his book Palm Sunday, andidentified these freethought views as his "ancestral religion," declaring it a mystery as to how itwas passed on to him.Vonnegut described himself variously as a skeptic, freethinker, humanist, Unitarian,Universalist, agnostic, and atheist. He disbelieved in the supernatural, considered religiousdoctrine to be "so much arbitrary, clearly invented balderdash," and believed people weremotivated by loneliness to join religions.Vonnegut wrote: "I am a humanist, which means, in part, that I have tried to behave decentlywithout expectations of rewards or punishments after I am dead."Vonnegut consideredhumanism to be a modern-day form of free thought, and advocated it in various writings,speeches and interviews.Critical ReceptionVonneguts first decade of work did not attract much critical attention: most early discussion ofhis writing centered on how to classify it. Citing his futuristic settings and the paramount role oftechnology in his work, some critics insist that Vonnegut is a science fiction writer. Others arguethat despite these elements, Vonnegut is ultimately writing about the universal human conditionand that he only employs science fiction devices to create distance and irony, just as he employssatire to the same effect. In recent years Vonnegut has come under fire from commentators whoclaim that he has failed to develop stylistically and that his characters are little more thanmouthpieces for his opinions. Such critics claim that Vonneguts work after Slaughterhouse-Fivehas offered more or less the same style, theme, and message. Tom Shone, for instance, writesthat "all the same subjects are there, novel after novel" and that "Vonneguts highly distinctivestyle has eclipsed Vonnegut the author." Others remain enamored of Vonneguts distinct style,praising him for continually presenting his message in a deceptively skillful manner. John Irvingremarks, "Vonneguts subject has always been doomsday, and nobody writes about it better. Thathe is also so terribly funny in how he describes our own worst nightmare is, of course, anotherelement that confuses his dumber critics."Vonnegut introduces the terms karass and granfalloon in Cats Cradle, a satiric novel whoseobservation of social structures was so keen it fulfilled Vonneguts anthropology dissertationrequirement long after the author had abandoned his studies at the University of Chicago.Instead of going off to study "primitive" cultures, Vonnegut brings his curiosity and talent tobear on the society in which he lives --America in the latter half of the 20th century-- andexposes its flaws, foibles, and frailties with a wit and insight which is inevitably compared tohis heros, Mark Twain.
Criticized by his own father for never having created a villain, Vonneguts characters aremotivated by either lonesomeness, boredom ("What are people for?"), or biological andenvironmental factors beyond their control. But an at least partial corrective for all threeconditions exists--artificial extended families analogous to the tribal cultures of hisanthropology studies and the real-life extended family of Vonneguts idyllic Indiana boyhood.The theme gains prominence with each subsequent book most overtly explained in the flawedSlapstick and most eloquently summarized in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater: "Were here tohelp each other get through this thing, whatever it is."Vonneguts ideas are so humane, his words so compassionate, his advice so sensible, thathis readers feel a strong connection to the man, and, by extension, to one another. Perhaps hisgreatest contribution has been the unwitting creation of a global family of admirers who shareand recognize in one another the desire to exhibit that most uncommon of human traits--common decency.Although he was disdained by some critics who thought his work was too popular andaccessible, his fiction inspired volumes of scholarly comment as well as websites maintainedby young fans who have helped keep all 14 of his novels in print over a 50-year career. Five ofhis novels have made the leap into films.Conclusion"There was never a kinder and, at the same time, wittier writer to be with personally," authorTom Wolfe, a friend and admirer of Vonneguts, told The Times. "He was just a gem in thatrespect. And as a writer, I guess hes the closest thing we had to a Voltaire. He could beextremely funny, but there was a vein of iron always underneath it, which made him quiteremarkable."He was never funny just to be funny,"An obscure science fiction writer for twodecades before earning mainstream acclaim in 1969 with "Slaughterhouse-Five," Vonnegutwas an American original, often compared to Mark Twain for a vision that combined socialcriticism, wildly black humor and a call to basic human decency. He was, novelist JayMacInerny once said, "a satirist with a heart, a moralist with a whoopee cushion." He is"together with John Hawkes and Gunter Grass ... the most stubbornly imaginative" of writers,novelist John Irving once wrote of Vonnegut. "He is not anybody else, or even a version ofanybody else, and he is a writer with a cause." The end
Bibliography-Los Angeles Time-An article by Elaine Woo/criticism-Mighty Students- : Kurt Vonnegut Writing Style-OPPAPERS.COM- Style Analysis of Kurt Vonnegut-Wikipedia sources-www.vonnegut.com/artist-www.avclub.com-www.about.com