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One thing is apparent from the start in reading Vonnegut: he is an enthusiast of sentimental detachment, a Pinball Wizard of cosmic cool who, through the charm of his style and the subtle challenge of his ideas, encourages us to adopt his interplanetary midwestern viewpoint and to believe once again in such radically updated values as love, compassion, humility, and conscience. He is a dervish of paradox as he suggests in his extended fables that we must learn to maintain happy illusions over villainous ones, that the best truth is a comforting lie, and that if there is any purpose to human history, it is best understood as a joke- at our expense.
James Lundquist, Kurt Vonnegut, 1977
Billy Pilgrim... is the product of Vonnegut's unquestioning attitude toward extremely complicated historical elements, which, for the sake of a "morality play," he simplifies.... Its intentions pure, its morality innocent, its attitudes beyond ethical reproach, Slaughterhouse-Five nevertheless turns human behavior and history into molasses.
Frederick Karl, American Fictions: 1940-1980, 1983
Vonnegut consciously chooses a stance of naivete and wonder- the "child-like"- as well as sentiment and self-pity- the "childish." In many ways, he is sensitive and profound; in others, he remains a blurb-writer, still doing public relations work, but now for himself.
Clark Mayo, Kurt Vonnegut: The Gospel from Outer Space, 1977
It is the tone of the novel rather than the overt statements of the author which leads one to believe that Vonnegut has finally washed the horror and guilt of Dresden from his mind and has come to accept the previously unacceptable- man's capacity for evil, the tongue-in-cheek way this evil seems to be directed, or abetted, by some exterior force, and the helplessness of the individual to do much about either. Billy is battered but alive, and will continue to live. These facts, and the comfort they evidently give Billy's creator (his literary creator) produce the exact opposite of a fatalistic mood in the novel; if anything the book is sentimental.
David H. Goldsmith, Kurt Vonnegut: Fantasist of Fire and Ice, 1972
Can one afford to ignore the ugly moments in life by concentrating on the happy ones? On the other hand, can one afford not to? Perhaps the fact of the matter is that conscience simply cannot cope with events like the concentration camps and the Dresden air-raid, and the more general demonstration by the war of the utter valuelessness of human life. Even to try to begin to care adequately would lead to an instant and irrevocable collapse of consciousness. Billy Pilgrim, Everyman, needs his fantasies to offset such facts.
Tony Tanner, City of Words, 1971
FANTASY, SCIENCE FICTION, AND TIME
Vonnegut uses science fiction in The Sirens of Titan and Slaughterhouse-Five to open up the question of a purpose in the universe, the problem of man's morality in an amoral universe, and the adjunctive question of free will. The extraterrestrial domain in his novels shows what present scientific and social Earth trends may become, offers a detached perspective on Earth's condition as we look at it from the viewpoint of extraterrestrial beings, and suggests alternate modes of perception that might be opposed to our normal human view of ourselves. Vonnegut makes it very clear that space and technological invention are not escapes from Earth's problems. They magnify those problems rather than reducing them.
Robert A. Hipkiss, The American Absurd, 1984
Through the constant movement back and forth in time that constitutes Vonnegut's narrative, we see Billy becoming his history, existing all at once, as if he is an electron. And this gives the novel a structure that is, to directly state the analogy, atomic. Billy whirls around the central fact of Dresden, the planes of his orbits constantly intersecting, and where he has been, he will be.
James Lundquist, Kurt Vonnegut, 1977
We wish to thank the following educators who helped us focus our Book Notes series to meet student needs and critiqued our manuscripts to provide quality materials.
Sandra Dunn, English Teacher
Lawrence J. Epstein, Associate Professor of English
Leonard Gardner, Lecturer, English Department
Beverly A. Haley, Member, Advisory Committee
Elaine C. Johnson, English Teacher
Marvin J. LaHood, Professor of English
Robert Lecker, Associate Professor of English
David E. Manly, Professor of Educational Studies
Bruce Miller, Associate Professor of Education
Frank O'Hare, Professor of English and Director of Writing
Faith Z. Schullstrom, Member of Executive Committee
Mattie C. Williams, Director, Bureau of Language Arts