Vonnegut's Major Works

Vonnegut's Major Works

Vonnegut's Major Works

Vonnegut's Major Works

Synopsis

Kurt Vonnegut takes on many aspects of life and America, science and fantasy. He points a camera at society and individuals, obscures certain elements of narrative device, and then reveals a twisted, yet recognizable picture.

Excerpt

This volume is a study of the major works of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., eight novels and a play, all published between 1952 and 1973. Vonnegut is also the author of a television script, two collections of short stories, and numerous uncollected stories, articles, and interviews.

In each of his novels, Vonnegut’s vision of the universe has remained consistent. He depicts man as a puppet, a powerless victim of forces he does not understand. Man is driven to try to find order and purpose in his life, but be is doomed to failure, for there is neither order nor purpose in the universe. Any meaning which man sees is an illusion that he has created for himself. Sometimes these illusions are pleasing and harmless; sometimes they become disastrous.

Vonnegut’s first novel, Player Piano (1952), depicts a futuristic automated American society which has been divided into two classes: those who run the factories and those who do not. the protagonist of the novel is an engineer who becomes dissatisfied with social conditions, but finds himself powerless to change them. Instead, he becomes trapped between the opposing forces of revolution and reaction and is forced to make a choice between them. After vacillating between the two alternatives for some time, he chooses to side with the revolutionaries. But he realizes, finally, that he has been used: the revolution was not a serious attempt at improving society; it was merely a symbolic action in which he served as the primary symbol.

The Sirens of Titan (1959) is a science fiction fantasy novel which makes a serious point about man’s dissatisfaction with his situation and his powerlessness to change it. in this novel we first find Vonnegut’s depiction of the universe as a mechanistic chaos which has neither the order nor the purpose which man feels he must find in it. the protagonist, Malachi Constant, is cruelly used by Winston Niles Rumfoord, who has gained the ability to foresee the future. But Rumfoord is, in turn, being used by beings of a higher order of power from the planet Tralfamadore. and even the Tralfamadorians are not really in control of what happens in the novel. Constant is shuffled back and forth among the planets of the solar system in pursuit of an elusive destiny which Rumfoord has foreseen. At the end of the novel he finds that his life has been meaningless and pointless and that its only redeeming quality has been the love which he did not obtain until it was almost too late.

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