Kurt Vonnegut and the American Novel: A Postmodern by Robert T. Tally

By Robert T. Tally

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Extra resources for Kurt Vonnegut and the American Novel: A Postmodern Iconography

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In Slaughterhouse-Five this lurching is accomplished through quick breaks, jumping from place to place. But the novel also maintains a modernist sensibility, as the various pieces of the puzzle fit into place, making the picture whole by the end of the novel. Vonnegut’s sequel would be more schizophrenic still. Breakfast of Champions is, among other things, about schizophrenia. The tale’s protagonist, Dwayne Hoover, is in the midst of a schizophrenic episode, a mental breakdown that will, by the novel’s end, manifest itself in a horrifically violent rampage.

Even at his most utopian, in such works as God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater or Slapstick, Vonnegut ultimately views all political paths to be dead ends, which has led some to dismiss his effectiveness as a social critic. Vonnegut’s antipolitics is not really a quietism or an escapism, however. In some measure his political views could simply be written off as a form of pessimism, since Vonnegut appears to long for a political solution that he does not believe can actually happen. But it is both more profound and more dangerous than this: Vonnegut does not just doubt that the polity will do the right thing; rather, he believes that the wrong thing will inevitably happen, that it cannot be otherwise.

The best example of the genre is Cat’s Cradle, which may also be Vonnegut’s best novel. Here the iconography is elaborated with all of the 16 Kurt Vonnegut and the American Novel skill of a literary artist mixed with the methodological rigor of an anthropologist . . 26 It is the study of a new kind of community, one which has different social and spiritual rules. Cat’s Cradle’s connection to Moby-Dick has already been noted, but it is worth remembering that Melville’s Ishmael goes to sea, at least in part, to prevent his own suicide; at sea he finds a community made up of “isolatoes,” individuals without a home but with a common purpose that holds them together.

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