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.

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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...

(The entire section contains 1344 words.)

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Critical Essays