What literary devices or figurative language, such as metaphor, imagery, etc., are used in Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s novel Mother Night? How does the author use them to demonstrate the meaning of the...

What literary devices or figurative language, such as metaphor, imagery, etc., are used in Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s novel Mother Night? How does the author use them to demonstrate the meaning of the work as a whole?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The term literary devices refers to any language or literary technique a writer uses to create a specific effect and relay meaning. Rhetorical devices count as literary devices because rhetoric refers to the use of words to create persuasive meaning. Parallelism is one type of rhetorical device, and one literary/rhetorical device we find within the first page of Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s novel Mother Night is parallelism.

There are even many multiple forms of parallelism. One form of parallelism is specifically created when a writer uses three parallel structures in a sentence; we call this tricolon parallelism. Dr. Wheeler gives us the famous example of tricolon parallelism: "That government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth." In this example, the phrase "the people" is repeated three times, creating parallel structure ("Schemes").

In Mother Night, we find the following example of tricolon parallelism:

I am behind bars.
I am behind bars in a nice new jail in old Jerusalem.
I am awaiting a fair trial for my war crimes by the Republic of Israel.

Here, the repetition of the opening phrase "I am" creates tricolon parallelism. In addition, the two instances of repetition of the clause, "I am behind bars," creates two parallel structures, which we call isocolon parallelism. Hence, these very interesting three lines contain a combination of isocolon and tricolon parallelism.

These lines become even more interesting when we notice they are also paradoxical. Paradoxes are created when a writer makes a statement that is contradictory but also "oddly makes sense on a deeper level" (Dr. Wheeler, "Literary Terms and Definitions: P"). Dr. Wheeler gives us the example, "And all men kill the thing they love," written by Oscar Wilde. It is contradictory to think that we would kill that which we love since we would want to preserve it; yet, we all also know we often hurt that which we love, so there is a great deal of truth in Wilde's statement.

In Vonnegut Jr.'s parallel sentences above, the second sentence makes the interesting claim, "I am behind bars in a nice new jail in old Jerusalem." It's contradictory to have a "nice new jail" in an old, even ancient location. Yet, we also know it's true. The novel is set just after World War II, and the Israelis are now pursuing charging war criminals who are guilty of annihilating their race. So, we know it is true the Israelis have just built a brand new jail to house brand new war criminals.

A second paradox can be seen in the third parallel sentence: "I am awaiting a fair trial for my war crimes by the Republic of Israel." It is contradictory to believe the Republic of Israel would deliver a fair trial considering that the law officials would be prejudiced to a degree. The image the paradoxical sentence conveys can be likened to the image of an African American being tried before an all-white jury, especially during the days of the Jim Crow laws. Yet, we know it is true the Republic of Israel would call it a fair trial.

Hence, the second literary device we see in the first page is paradox.

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