Discussion Topics

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In Player Piano, is technological advancement part of the problem, part of the solution, or both? Explain what the novel indicates about Kurt Vonnegut’s likely attitude toward modern technology.

In Mother Night , what does Vonnegut show about how and why human beings are prone to self-deception? Does he...

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In Player Piano, is technological advancement part of the problem, part of the solution, or both? Explain what the novel indicates about Kurt Vonnegut’s likely attitude toward modern technology.

In Mother Night, what does Vonnegut show about how and why human beings are prone to self-deception? Does he offer any ideas about how self-deception can be minimized, if not avoided?

How does Billy Pilgrim’s being “unstuck in time” affect how the novel Slaughterhouse-Five is structured or constructed? In which of Vonnegut’s other novels is this “unstuck in time” technique utilized? Is there a valid psychological basis for this technique? If so, what is it?

What view of religion is reflected in Cat’s Cradle?

How is the structural technique or characterization device of descent into a psychological underground and then emergence with a new, and better, understanding of the world involved in three of Vonnegut’s novels? In each instance, what has the main character learned by the experience?

Based upon Bluebeard, what makes a great painting and, by implication, a great novel? How does Bluebeard itself embody or fail to embody the qualities of great literature?

Based upon Hocus Pocus, what are Vonnegut’s beliefs about the Vietnam War, and about war in general?

Did the main character in Hocus Pocus deserve to be fired as a teacher? Justify your opinion with specifics from the novel, and with explanation of what personal qualities and intellectual abilities a good teacher possesses.

Other Literary Forms

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Kurt Vonnegut published numerous volumes, including essays, short stories, the plays Happy Birthday, Wanda June and Between Time and Timbuktu: Or, Prometheus-5, a Space Fantasy (1972), and the novels on which his reputation is principally based. His best-known novels include The Sirens of Titan (1959), Cat’s Cradle (1963), Slaughterhouse-Five: Or, The Children’s Crusade, a Duty-Dance with Death (1969), and Breakfast of Champions (1973), and he published Timequake in 1997.

Achievements

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For many years, the popular success of the writing of Kurt Vonnegut exceeded critical recognition of his work. With his earlier work labeled as science fiction and published in paperback editions and popular magazines such as Ladies’ Home Journal and The Saturday Evening Post, critical attention was delayed. In 1986, Vonnegut received the Bronze Medallion from Guild Hall.

Other literary forms

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Although known primarily for his novels, Kurt Vonnegut (VON-uh-guht) also wrote for Broadway and television and published a children’s book and several books of essays.

Achievements

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Critical acclaim eluded Kurt Vonnegut until Slaughterhouse-Five was published in 1969. An immediate best seller, it earned for the author respect from critics who had previously dismissed him as a mediocre science-fiction writer. Over the course of his career, Vonnegut was honored as the Briggs-Copeland Lecturer at Harvard University, as a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and as the Distinguished Professor of English Prose at the City University of New York. Through his insightful and sympathetic treatment of the psychologically and morally crippled victims of the modern world, Vonnegut earned a reputation as one of the greatest humanist writers of his time.

Bibliography

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Allen, William Rodney. Understanding Kurt Vonnegut. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1991. Allen’s study, part of the Understanding Contemporary American Literature series, places Vonnegut, and especially Slaughterhouse-Five, in the literary canon. Contains an annotated bibliography and an index.

Boon, Kevin A., ed. At Millennium’s End: New Essays on the Work of Kurt Vonnegut. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001. A collection of eleven essays examining the novelist’s moral vision.

Broer, Lawrence R. Sanity Plea: Schizophrenia in the Novels of Kurt Vonnegut. Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research Press, 1988. This volume focuses on the theme of social neurosis, with emphasis on schizophrenic behavior in the main characters of the novels through Bluebeard. The thesis has relevance to a number of the short stories and gives insight into the evolution of Vonnegut’s fiction.

Giannone, Richard. Vonnegut: A Preface to His Novels. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat, 1977. Treats the novels up to Slapstick and the play Happy Birthday, Wanda June, in the context of Vonnegut’s life and times. Emphasizes developing themes and techniques connecting the novels, with chapters devoted to individual novels.

Klinkowitz, Jerome, Julie Huffman-Klinkowitz, and Asa B. Pieratt, Jr. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.: A Comprehensive Bibliography. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1987. An authoritative bibliography of works by and about Vonnegut. Lists Vonnegut’s works in all their editions, including the short stories in their original places of publication, dramatic and cinematic adaptations, interviews, reviews, secondary sources, and dissertations.

Klinkowitz, Jerome, Julie Huffman-Klinkowitz, and Asa B. Pieratt, Jr. “Slaughterhouse-Five”: Reforming the Novel and the World. Boston: Twayne, 1990. This book contains the most thorough and most modern treatment available of Slaughterhouse-Five. With care and insight, Klinkowitz debunks earlier, fatalistic interpretations of the novel. Features a comprehensive chronology, a thorough bibliography, and an index.

Klinkowitz, Jerome, Julie Huffman-Klinkowitz, and Asa B. Pieratt, Jr. Vonnegut in Fact: The Public Spokesmanship of Personal Fiction. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1998. Klinkowitz makes a case for Vonnegut as a sort of redeemer of the novelistic form, after writers such as Philip Roth declared it dead. He traces Vonnegut’s successful integration of autobiography and fiction in his body of work. Provides an extensive bibliography and an index.

Klinkowitz, Jerome, Julie Huffman-Klinkowitz, and Asa B. Pieratt, Jr, and David L. Lawler, eds. Vonnegut in America: An Introduction to the Life and Work of Kurt Vonnegut. New York: Delacorte Press, 1977. A collection of essays ranging from biography and an “album” of family photographs to Vonnegut as satirist, science-fiction writer, and short-story writer. Discusses his reputation in the Soviet Union and Europe. Contains an authoritative bibliography.

Klinkowitz, Jerome, Julie Huffman-Klinkowitz, and Asa B. Pieratt, Jr, and John Somer, eds. The Vonnegut Statement. New York: Delacorte Press, 1973. A collection of essays by various authors, which establishes the nature and sources of Vonnegut’s reputation at this important juncture. Analyzes his career from his college writing to the short fiction, and through the novels to Slaughterhouse-Five. Includes an interview and a bibliography. The most important accounting of his career through its first two decades.

Leeds, Marc. The Vonnegut Encyclopedia: An Authorized Compendium. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995. A concordance and encyclopedia identifying Vonnegut’s most frequently recurring images and all his characters; indispensable for serious students of Vonnegut.

Merrill, Robert, ed. Critical Essays on Kurt Vonnegut. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1990. A comprehensive collection of essays on Vonnegut’s works and career, which includes reviews, previously published essays, and articles commissioned for this work. The extensive introduction traces in detail Vonnegut’s career and critical reception from the beginnings to 1990.

Morse, Donald E. The Novels of Kurt Vonnegut: Imagining Being an American. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2003. This analysis examines Vonnegut’s novels against the framework of American history and literature of the twentieth century.

Mustazza, Leonard, ed. The Critical Response to Kurt Vonnegut. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994. Presents a brief history of the critical response to Vonnegut and critical reviews.

Nuwer, Hank. “Kurt Vonnegut Close Up.” The Saturday Evening Post 258 (May/June, 1986): 38-39. A biographical sketch which discusses Vonnegut’s writing career, noting that his work often deals with the subject of man’s inability to cope with technology.

Reed, Peter J. The Short Fiction of Kurt Vonnegut. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997. A critical study of the author’s short fiction. Includes a bibliography and an index.

Reed, Peter J. and Marc Leeds, eds. The Vonnegut Chronicles: Interviews and Essays. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996. Vonnegut discusses, among other topics, postmodernism and experimental fiction. Includes a bibliography and an index.

Schatt, Stanley. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Boston: Twayne, 1976. Discusses the first eight novels, with separate chapters on the short stories and on the plays. Includes a chronology, a biography, and a bibliography up to 1975.

Stone, Brad. “Vonnegut’s Last Stand.” Newsweek 130 (September 29, 1997): 78. A biographical sketch that focuses on Timequake, which Vonnegut has called his last book.

Vonnegut, Kurt, Jr. Interview by Wendy Smith. Publishers Weekly 228 (October 25, 1985): 68-69. Vonnegut discusses his writing career, censorship, and his work; notes that Vonnegut is an ardent foe of book censorship and has strong words for those who seek to limit the free speech of others.

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