Hocus Pocus

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Awaiting trial for a crime he did not commit, Eugene Debs Hartke--West Point graduate, decorated Vietnam veteran, and self-proclaimed atheist--has time to meditate on his life. HOCUS POCUS purports to be the product of Hartke’s reflections, written in the year 2001. Hartke’s testament is fragmentary in form; having been written on whatever scraps of paper came to hand, it is divided into many short sections, some only a sentence long. These fragments have been assembled by “editor” Kurt Vonnegut, who in a prefatory note describes the text and the circumstances in which it was composed.

Hartke’s real subject, the thread that connects his scattered memories and musings, is his education--not education as it is usually understood, but rather a kind of unlearning. In Vietnam he was a true believer in the American cause, nicknamed Preacher by the troops he exhorted. Gradually, however, he has become disillusioned, not only with the self-righteous political agenda of the United States but with the entire human race and with all the stories (the hocus-pocus, in short) by means of which people beguile themselves rather than face the absurd realities of human existence.

Such sustaining stories take many forms, and Vonnegut is careful to show that he is a nondiscriminatory debunker. Nevertheless, perhaps because the United States is still described in some circles as a “Christian nation,” Christianity is the foremost target of his mockery...

(The entire section is 406 words.)