Kurt Vonnegut

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Vonnegut, Kurt, Jr. (Vol. 1)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Vonnegut, Kurt, Jr. 1922–2007

American novelist, author of Cat's Cradle, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, and Slaughterhouse-Five. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)

Slaughterhouse-Five is written with nerve-racking control: a funny book at which you are not permitted to laugh, a sad book without tears, a book of carefully strangled emotions. A tale told in a slaughterhouse.

Wilfrid Sheed, "Kurt Vonnegut: Slaughterhouse-Five" (1969), in his The Morning After (reprinted with the permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.; © 1963, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971 by Wilfrid Sheed; © 1968 by Postrib Corp.; foreword © 1971 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.), Farrar, Straus, 1971, pp. 276-79.

Kurt Vonnegut's new novel [Slaughterhouse-Five] may not be as satisfying to his young audience as the other novel he has written for them so often. It is, to begin with, a much better book. He wants to tell his history as a prisoner of war, during which he witnessed the firebombing of Dresden, one doomsday in our apocalyptic time. Slaughterhouse-Five has a slight autobiographical frame for the story of Billy Pilgrim, prisoner of war, witness to the firebombing of Dresden, but there the identification ends. Billy is a Vonnegut hero—a vaguely dissatisfied dupe in a flabby society. Though he is a blank and stupid man, his humanity has survived not only the holocaust but American life.

Maureen Howard, in Partisan Review, No. 1, 1970, pp. 132-33.

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater ostensibly updates the argument for the Christian ethic that one should love his fellow man. It posits the overwhelming need for such love in a technological age, which increasingly relegates humans to an obsolescent category, substituting efficient machines for defective individuals. It suggests that Christ's consort with publicans and prostitutes has taken on fresh meaning with the growing number of humans rendered useless by our computerized civilization. And it indicts an obsession with wealth, which has undermined the American experiment, vitiating the American pioneering independence of action and judgment, until wealth has become identified with sloth (Stewart Buntline), lesbianism (Amanita Buntline), homosexuality (Bunny Weeks), drunkenness (Carolyn Rosewater), pornography (Lila Buntline), and death (Fred Rosewater who sells insurance with the philosophy that the value of life lies in the worth of death). In short, the novel acridly maintains, the American dream of a new Eden with a new Adam, possible in the virgin wilderness of a new land, has materialized into a junk yard by way of the glories of technology. In support of its Samaritan thesis, it holds up Eliot Rosewater as the ideal of the millionaire turned Do-Gooder (a sort of post-World-War II Andrew Carnegie), a modern reenactment of Christ-like commitment of more than of money—of self—to the poor in body and spirit….

A key question raised by Vonnegut concerns the constitution of reality. If traditional cultural systems have lost their perspicuity, what does man do for a sense of purpose in life? If he is a Vonnegut, a Pynchon, a Nabokov, a Barth, a Borges, he does like Eliot Rosewater and Billy Pilgrim, he re-invents himself and his universe. With Tralfamadorian logic he dispenses with why in favor of what….

Cat's Cradle is a novel about the varieties of truth available to man: scientific, religious, political, social, economic, humanistic. Ultimately, in its presentation of the open-ended, unconfirmable dilemma of human knowledge and wisdom, the novel sardonically blurs veracity and falsehood, treating them as interchangeable for all practical human purposes. It refuses to confirm what is reality.

Max F. Schulz, "The Unconfirmed Thesis: Kurt Vonnegut, Black Humor, and Contemporary Art," in Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction, Vol. XII, No. 3, 1971, pp. 5-28.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., through [his] novels and … stories, has crafted for his readers an exceedingly mad world. Grouped perhaps rashly with the...

(The entire section is 1,203 words.)