Vonnegut and Hemingway: Writers at War

Vonnegut and Hemingway: Writers at War

Vonnegut and Hemingway: Writers at War

Vonnegut and Hemingway: Writers at War


In this original comparative study of Kurt Vonnegut and Ernest Hemingway, Lawrence R. Broer maps the striking intersections of biography and artistry in works by both writers, and he compares the ways in which they blend life and art.
Broer views Hemingway as the "secret sharer" of Vonnegut's literary imagination and argues that the two writers--while traditionally considered as adversaries because of Vonnegut's rejection of Hemingway's emblematic hypermasculinism--inevitably address similar deterministic wounds in their fiction: childhood traumas, family insanity, deforming wartime experiences, and depression. Rooting his discussion in these psychological commonalities between Vonnegut and Hemingway, Broer traces their personal and artistic paths by pairing sets of works and protagonists in ways that show the two writers not only addressing similar concerns, but developing a response that in the end establishes an underlying kinship when it comes to the fate of the American hero of the twentieth century.
Broer sees Vonnegut and Hemingway as fundamentally at war--with themselves, with one another's artistic visions, and with the idea of war itself. Against this onslaught, he asserts, they wrote as a mode of therapy and achieved literary greatness through combative opposition to the shadows that loomed so large around them.


The world breaks everyone and afterward many are
stronger at the broken places.

Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

We are healthy only in so far as our ideas are humane.

Kurt Vonnegut, Bluebeard

When Kurt Vonnegut described “the soul’s condition in a man at war” as hideously deformed, he indicated the plight of his and Ernest Hemingway’s protagonists alike. The horrors of war and the idiocies of battle permeate the works of both writers. However, while Frank McConnell accurately views Vonnegut as the most recognizably Hemingwayesque of the new generation of writers to emerge after World War II, my subtitle, Writers at War, refers also to Kurt Vonnegut’s near-unceasing hostility toward Hemingway, his tormenting alter ego and his career-long nemesis. As this book explores each writer’s embattled psyche, my subtitle assumes a third meaning as well: that of writers at war with themselves in the ceaseless combat of anima and animus for control of the writer’s creative imagination. When I first wrote of Vonnegut’s antagonisms toward Hemingway in an article titled “Vonnegut’s Goodbye: Kurt Senior, Hemingway, and Kilgore Trout,” I said that it would take a book to explain properly why the writer whose life and work so strikingly resembles Hemingway’s should speak so disdainfully of Hemingway’s humanity. This is that book.

Hemingway was as important and certainly as unsettling a force in Vonnegut’s fiction as Dresden, or as the science fiction writer Kilgore Trout, or as the gunloving nut of a father, who in Timequake is described as looking like Trout himself. Certainly Vonnegut recognized Hemingway as an artist of the highest order, a “first-rate musician,” and a superb craftsman with an “admirable soul” the size of Kilimanjaro. In Fates Worse than Death he praised Hemingway’s “brushwork,”

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