Vonneguts Changing Women

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Vonnegut's Changing Women
What follows is an argument to the effect that, in the novels written before 1973, Vonnegut's female characters generally are presented negatively, either as pro-authority anti-individualists or as helpless or male-manipulated victims who never "grow" in either a personal or literary sense. In addition I maintain that, in at least two of Vonnegut's later novels, certain female characters exercise individuality in their own existences and effect positively the awareness and attitudes of male characters.
From the beginning of Player Piano (1952) through Slaughterhouse Five (1969), Kurt Vonnegut describes the characters of his various worlds in terms of their victimization at the hands of a dehumanizing, or perhaps a better term might be "deindividualizing," technologically fixated, industrial/militaristic society. Time and time again in these novels the role of the individual is subsumed in the miasma that passes for "social responsibility." Like the real world in which every human being exists, Vonnegut's literary worlds feature nameless and faceless authorities (when such authorities are offered at all) who seem to be the masters in local, regional, global, and sometimes interstellar chess games. Often, as is the case in Vonnegut's 1951 "All the King's Men," these "manipulators" move their all-too-sentient pieces in what at times, for the victims, must seem to be diabolical--and what certainly are tragic--maneuvers.

In The Sirens of Titan (1959) and Slaughterhouse Five the "accidental" nature or intergalactic point of view of the authority that seems to be "in charge of things" serves to distance humans from personal responsibility for the results of such maneuvering--as such results are described in the novels. In Sirens, for example, the inappropriate and often asinine behaviors of Malachi Constant are shown to be products of the direct influence of the Tralfamadorians who for millennia have manipulated human societies simply to communicate with a mechanized messenger shipwrecked on Saturn's largest moon. The same excuse can be made for the ultimate human manipulator in the novel, Winston Niles Rumfoord, as it can for the actions and attitudes of Bee, Rumfoord's wife and the mother of Constant's son, Chrono. That the communications sent to Salo on Titan consist of such inane and, given the non-human nature of the receiver, unimportant content as, "Be patient. We haven't forgotten about you," and, "You will be on your way before you know it" (271), only makes more pathetic the fact that Tralfamadore has influenced directly the rise and fall of countless human civilizations in order to deliver such messages.
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