Kurt Vonnegut: Images and Representations

By Marc Leeds; Peter J. Reed | Go to book overview

Hurting 'Til It Laughs
The Painful-Comic Science Fiction Stories of Kurt Vonnegut

Peter J. Reed

As for the story itself, it was entitled "The Dancing Fool." Like so many Trout stories, it was about a tragic failure to communicate.

Here was the plot: A flying saucer creature named Zog arrived on Earth to explain how wars could be prevented and how cancer could be cured. He brought the information from Margo, a planet where the natives conversed by means of farts and tap dancing.

Zog landed at night in Connecticut. He had no sooner touched down than he saw a house on fire. He rushed into the house, farting and tap dancing, warning the people about the terrible danger they were in. The head of the house brained Zog with a golfclub.

( Breakfast of Champions, 58-59)

Kilgore Trout "The Dancing Fool" typifies Kurt Vonnegut's use of science fiction, above all in being funny. But beyond its being comical, it shows some other characteristics frequently seen in Vonnegut's short stories and in the science fiction episodes in his novels. Note, for example, that while this curt account provides a minimum of context, of "how" or "why," it includes the mundane detail that Zog's landing was in Connecticut. While comical, the story has a touch of pathos in Zog's ill-deserved fate. The humor relies on hyperbole, on comic exaggeration, for much of its effect, and is highly visual. One source of the humor is in disparity, particularly that between Zog's lofty purpose in visiting Earth and the manner of its communication, and between his noble intent to save lives and his ignominious braining. These are all characteristics frequently seen in Vonnegut's science fiction short stories. They may be even more obvious in the science fiction interludes, such as the Trout inventions, in the novels. Typically, "The Dancing Fool" is not essential to its novel's main plot: used in Black Garterbelt magazine as filler, it could be about anything. It is comic interjection. It does have thematic connections, however, in being about communication and failures of communication. That becomes a major theme in Breakfast of Champions, from the failures of Rabo

-19-

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