preview

Kurt Vonnegut

Powerful Essays
Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. is a contemporary American author whose works have been described by Richard Giannone as "comic masks covering the tragic farce that is our contemporary life" (Draper, 3784). Vonnegut's life has had a number of significant influences on his works. Influences from his personal philosophy, his life and experiences, and his family are evident elements in his works. Among his "comic masks" are three novels: Cat's Cradle, The Sirens of Titan, and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. Throughout these novels, elements such as attitude, detail, narrative technique, setting, and theme can be viewed with more understanding when related to certain aspects of his life. These correlations are best examined in terms of each influence.

One of the most significant influences from Vonnegut's life on his personal philosophy has been his participation in World War II. During the war, Vonnegut served in the American army in Europe and was captured by German soldiers. As a prisoner of war, he witnessed the Allied bombing of the city of Dresden, in which more than 135,000 people died due to the resulting fires (Draper, 3785). This experience had a profound impact on Vonnegut. From it, he developed his existential personal philosophy and his ideas about the evils of technology. He states, "I am the enemy of all technological progress that threatens mankind" (Nuwer, 39). The influence of Dresden shows up in each of the novels.

In Cat's Cradle, one element of his experience at Dresden that Vonnegut portrays is his fear of technology. Initially, the intention of the story is for the narrator to write about what the scientists who invented the atomic bomb were doing the day it was dropped on Hiroshima. To this effect, one of the scientists in the story said, "Science has now known sin," to which another replied, "What is sin?" (Vonnegut, Cradle, 21). The focus on technology quickly changes to a material called ice-nine, which has the ability to freeze water at room temperature. This technological breakthrough, by a scientist who worked on developing the atomic bomb, has the ability to destroy the world by freezing all its water. Even though the people with ice-nine are very careful all through the plot, they lose control of it in the end and the world becomes frozen. With ice-nine, Vonnegut thematically demonstrates how relatively simple technolog...

... middle of paper ...

...84).

Bibliography:

Draper, James P., editor. "Kurt Vonnegut, Jr." World Literature Criticism: 1500 to the Present. 1992 ed.

"Existentialism." Microsoft Bookshelf '94. (CDROM) N.p.: Microsoft Corporation, 1994.

"Kurt Vonnegut, Jr." Concise Dictionary of American Literary Biography: Broadening Views, 1968-1988. 1989 ed.

Mantell, Harold, producer. Kurt Vonnegut: A Self Portrait. Films for the Humanities, Inc. 1975.

Nuwer, Hank. "Kurt Vonnegut Close Up." The Saturday Evening Post. May/June 1986. pp. 3839.

Reed, Peter J. Writers for the 70's: Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. U.S.A. Warner Books, Inc. 1972.

Streitfeld, David. "Vonnegut, Existentially Speaking." Washington Post (DC) 29 August 1991. Newsbank, People, 1991, fiche 36, grid C13.

Vonnegut, Kurt, Jr. Cat's Cradle. New York. Dell Publishing Co., Inc. 1963.

"Vonnegut, Kurt, Jr." Discovering Authors. (CDROM) N.p.: Gale Research, Inc., 1993.

Vonnegut, Kurt, Jr. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. New York. Dell Publishing Co., Inc. 1965.

Vonnegut, Kurt, Jr. The Sirens of Titan. New York. Dell Publishing Co., Inc. 1959.

Wakeman, John, editor. "Vonnegut, Kurt (Jr.)." World Authors 1950-1970. 1975 ed.
Get Access