Themes

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The role of accident in human life continues to fascinate Vonnegut. The society tells its young that if they behave in a certain manner, certain things will happen; therefore, one should behave in the socially approved way so that good things will happen to one. In nineteenth century America, the genteel tradition assumed that literature should show its readers proper ideals and values. In Europe, critics assumed that art was designed to instruct and improve; Thomas Hardy was condemned for allowing happenstance to rule at crucial points in his novels (such as in Tess of the D'Urbervilles, 1891, when Tess's letter of explanation slides under Angel Clare's door and also under his carpet rather than on top of it, so that he does not receive it; see separate entry). Hardy replied that accident is a determinant of human existence more often than we would like to think. Vonnegut seems to believe that accident is the major determinant of human existence.

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There is simply no way to know, according to Vonnegut, whether any action will have a good or bad outcome. The central event of Deadeye Dick occurs when Rudy Waltz, the main character, at the age of twelve, fires one of his father's guns at random and the stray bullet fatally wounds a pregnant housewife. Young Rudy thus becomes a double or "mass" murderer and acquires the taunting nickname "Deadeye Dick" which follows him throughout life, although he finally becomes immune to it. When Rudy's father, Otto, was studying art in Vienna, he befriended young Adolf Hitler, loaning Hitler his coat when Hitler had sold his own for food and buying one of his fellow artist's paintings so that Hitler would not starve. These kind and humane acts saved from death the greatest mass murderer of all time.

When Otto Waltz comes to the police station to rescue his son, the police savagely beat both of them. This action brings up another of Vonnegut's favorite themes, the brutality of institutional response to human misfortune. It is not just that the police enjoy violence and, because they are police, get to use it in an...

(The entire section contains 544 words.)

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