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Kurt Vonnegut




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


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

[Slaugterhouse-Five Contents]


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
Hempstead High School, Hempstead, New York

Lawrence J. Epstein, Associate Professor of English
Suffolk County Community College, Selden, New York

Leonard Gardner, Lecturer, English Department
State University of New York at Stony Brook

Beverly A. Haley, Member, Advisory Committee
National Council of Teachers of English Student Guide Series
Fort Morgan, Colorado

Elaine C. Johnson, English Teacher
Tamalpais Union High School District
Mill Valley, California

Marvin J. LaHood, Professor of English
State University of New York College at Buffalo

Robert Lecker, Associate Professor of English
McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

David E. Manly, Professor of Educational Studies
State University of New York College at Geneseo

Bruce Miller, Associate Professor of Education
State University of New York at Buffalo

Frank O'Hare, Professor of English and Director of Writing
Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio

Faith Z. Schullstrom, Member of Executive Committee
National Council of Teachers of English
Director of Curriculum and Instruction
Guilderland Central School District, New York

Mattie C. Williams, Director, Bureau of Language Arts
Chicago Public Schools, Chicago, Illinois

[Slaugterhouse-Five Contents]



Aldridge, John W. The American Novel and the Way We Live Now. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983. Lumps Vonnegut with Thomas Pynchon and John Barth and finds fault with all of them.

Goldsmith, David H. Kurt Vonnegut: Fantasist of Fire and Ice. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1972. A good overview of Vonnegut's vision and technique.

Hipkiss, Robert A. The American Absurd: Pynchon, Vonnegut and Barth. Port Washington, N.Y.: National University Publications Associated Faculty Press, 1984. Places Vonnegut in the larger literary tradition of the absurd, exemplified by such earlier European writers as Albert Camus and Samuel Beckett.

Karl, Frederick. American Fictions: 1940-1980. New York: Harper & Row, 1983. A distillation of the negative criticism leveled against Vonnegut over the years (pp. 344-347).

Klinkowitz, Jerome. Kurt Vonnegut. New York: Methuen, 1982. Good details on Vonnegut's life and some lively analysis of the novels.

Klinkowitz, Jerome, and John Somer, editors. The Vonnegut Statement. New York: Delacorte, 1973. A collection of essays on Vonnegut the public figure, the literary figure, and the artist.

Lundquist, James. Kurt Vonnegut. New York: Ungar, 1977. Concentrates brilliantly on Slaughterhouse-Five.

Mayo, Clark. Kurt Vonnegut: The Gospel from Outer Space. San Bernardino, Cal.: R. Reginald/The Borgo Press, 1977. Good general commentary on all the novels.

Scholes, Robert. The Fabulators. New York: Oxford University Press, 1967. A good description of black humor and Vonnegut's place among his contemporaries.

Tanner, Tony. City of Words: American Fiction, 1950-1970. New York: Harper & Row, 1971. Clear and complete commentary on the novels, up to and including Slaughterhouse-Five.


    Player Piano. (Novel) 1952.
    The Sirens of Titan. (Novel) 1959.
    Mother Night. (Novel) 1961.
    Canary in a Cathouse. (Stories) 1961.
    Cat's Cradle. (Novel) 1963.
    God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. (Novel) 1965.
    Welcome to the Monkey House. (Stories. All but one of the stories in Canary in a Cathouse, plus fourteen others) 1968.
    Happy Birthday, Wanda June. (Play) 1971.
    Between Time and Timbuktu. (Teleplay) 1972.
    Breakfast of Champions, (Novel) 1973.
    Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons. (Essays) 1974.
    Slapstick (Novel) 1976.
    Jailbird. (Novel) 1979.
    Sun Moon Star. (Children's book) 1980.
    Palm Sunday. (Essays) 1981.
    Deadeye Dick. (Novel) 1982.
    Galapagos. (Novel) 1985
    Bluebeard. (Novel) 1987
    Hocus Pocus. (Novel) 1990
    Fates Worse than Death. (Essays) 1991.


ECC [Slaugterhouse-Five Contents] []

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