Quest for Purpose in the Novels of Kurt Vonnegut Essay

Quest for Purpose in the Novels of Kurt Vonnegut Essay

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Quest for Purpose in the Novels of Kurt Vonnegut

     Kurt Vonnegut's personal experiences force him to question the meaningless cruelties and conflicting paradigms in life.  As a second generation German-American and a witness of Dresden's bombing during World War II,  he observes firsthand the pointless destruction of which humans are capable (Dictionary 494).  He devotes his works to understanding the chaotic, cruel world he encounters.  According to  Peter Reed, Vonnegut's works feature a "...protagonist in quest of meaning in an absurd world" (500).  While struggling to understand the disordered universe around them, Vonnegut's protagonists attempt to become satisfied individuals by understanding the purpose of human life.


As he probes the chaotic nature of the universe, Vonnegut, according to Ernest Ranly, "...seems preoccupied with genuine human questions, about war, peace, technology, human happiness" (454).  Vonnegut's works show an obsessive desire to answer these questions, and he explores them by narrating quests for order and purpose in human life.  According to Stanley Schatt, Vonnegut "...believes passionately in both the importance of the individual and the need for human love and compassion" (348).  Vonnegut's beliefs become apparent as the searchers invariably realize Vonnegut's truth: the universe is too chaotic to understand, so the secret to order in their lives is simply kindness.

In Vonnegut's novel, Galapagos, the narrator, Leon Trout, attempts to understand humanity's cruelty after witnessing the Vietnam War's brutality and lack of purpose.  As a marine in "...a nearly endless, thankless, horrifying, and, finally, pointless war..." (Galapagos 254), Trout struggles to come to terms w...

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...nd: A Study of the American Novel in the Nineteen-Sixties.  Yale, 1973.  Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism,  Vol. 3.  Detroit: Gale,1975.

Ranly, Ernest W.  "What Are People For?" Commonweal.  7 May 1971, 207-211.  Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism,  Vol. 2.  Detroit: Gale,1974.

Reed, Peter J.  "Kurt Vonnegut, Jr."  Dictionary of Literary Biography.  Vol.2: American Novelists Since World War II.  Detroit: Gale, 1978.

_____.  "Kurt Vonnegut."  American Writers.  1981.  Scribner's Writers Series.

Schatt, Stanley.  "The World of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr." in Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction. Vol. XII, No. 3, 1971.  Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism,  Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale,1973.

Vonnegut, Kurt.  Galapagos.  New York: Dell, 1985.

_____.  Mother Night.  New York: Dell, 1961.

_____.  The Sirens of Titan.  New York: Dell, 1959.

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