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Kurt Vonnegut: An American Philosopher
By: Steven Daniel

"Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae." –Kurt Vonnegut.






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Biography:
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was born in 1922 in Indianapolis, Indiana. His father was an architect, but because of the depression, the family had very little income and his mother had overdosed on sleeping pills and died. When it came time, Vonnegut joined the ranks at Cornell University, where he became a chemistry major whilst working as the managing editor of the school newspaper. He enlisted in the United States Army in the year 1943 and was captured by the Germans in World War II during the Battle of the Bulge and was detained in Dresden. In Dresden, he would survive one of the most horrific bombings ever experienced. After the war had ended, Vonnegut became a P.R. man for General Electrics and a reporter in New York. It was in 1951 that he quit his job to become a full-time writer of mostly Science Fiction novels and had published many short stories and full-length novels.




Published works:



1. Player piano (New York, 1952)
2. The sirens of titan: an original novel (New York, 1959)
3. Mother night (New York, 1961)
4. Cat's cradle (New York, 1963)
5. God bless you, Mr. Rosewater; or, Pearls before swine (New York, 1965)
6. Welcome to the monkey house;a collection of short works ([New York], 1968)
7. Slaughterhouse-five; or, The children's crusade, a duty-dance with death (New York, 1969)
8. Happy birthday, Wanda June: a play in three acts (New York, 1970)
9. Between time and Timbuktu;or Prometheus-5, a space fantasy, based on materials by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (New York, 1973)
10. Breakfast of champions: or, Goodbye blue Monday! (London, 1973)
11. The Vonnegut statement; ed. Jerome Klinkowitz & John Somer (New York, 1973)
12. Wampeters, foma & granfalloons (opinions) ([New York], 1974)
13. Canary in a cat house (Cutchogue, N.Y., 1976)
14. Slapstick: or Lonesome no more! (London, 1976)
15. The unabridged Mark Twain; opening remarks by Kurt Vonnegut; ed. Laurence Teacher (Philadelphia, 1976)
16. Jailbird: a novel (Franklin Center, Pa., 1979)
17. Sun, moon, star (New York, 1980)
18. Palm Sunday: an autobiographical collage (New York, 1981)
19. Deadeye Dick (New York, 1982)
20. Nothing is lost save honor: two essays (Jackson, Miss., 1982)
21. Galapagos (London, 1985)
22. Bluebeard: a novel (New York, 1987)
23. Conversations with Kurt Vonnegut, ed. by William R. Allen (Jackson, 1988)
24. Hocus pocus (New York, 1990)
25. Fates worse than death: an autobiographical collage of the 1980s (New York, 1991)
26. [Contributor to] Richard Yates, an American writer: tributes in memoriam (New York, 1993)
27. The Vonnegut encyclopedia: an authorized compendium, by Marc Leeds; foreword by Kurt Vonnegut (Westport, Conn., 1995)
28. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's court, by Mark Twain [...] introduction by Kurt Vonnegut (New York, 1996)
29. The Vonnegut chronicles: interview and essays; ed. Peter J. Reed and Marc Leeds (Westport, Conn., 1996)
30. The winter of the slow bicycle race: the satirical writings of Paul Krassner; foreword by Kurt Vonnegut (New York, 1996)
31. The winter of the slow bicycle race: the satirical writings of Paul Krassner; foreword by Kurt Vonnegut (New York, 1996)
32. Timequake (New York, 1997)
33. Bagombo snuff box: uncollected short fiction (New York, 1999)
34. God bless you, Dr. Kevorkian (New York, 1999)
35. Like shaking hands with God: a conversation about writing [between] Kurt Vonnegut & Lee Stringer; moderated by Ross Klavan; foreword by Daniel Simon (New York, 1999)

http://lionreference.chadwyck.com.ezproxy.com.edu/searchFulltext.do?id=BIBLIOG003218&divLevel=0&trailId=12F1289D357&area=ref&forward=critref_ft&name=Kurt Vonnegut



Discussion:

The great authors of the world have one goal: To make you feel something they want you to feel. They use an array of tools to convey an idea or feeling towards the reader. Kurt Vonnegut is considered to be one of the best American authors of his time, but to some people he is more than just an author. Taking a look at the definition, a philosopher is “a person who offers views or theories on profound questions in ethics, metaphysics, logic, and other related fields.” With that in mind, when reflecting on his writing, he is more a philosopher than an author. He has many themes featured throughout his published work that mainly have to do with ethics and logic, and three of those major themes he seems to reuse in a good deal of his work which will be discussed. Those themes are: the atrocities of man, the illusion of free will, and the death of the American dream.
Kurt Vonnegut has good reason to write about the things he does becuase he survived one of the most horrific bombings ever experienced in Dresden, Germany, "an innocent "open city" supposedly by rules of warfare exempt from Allied air raids. Yet fire-bombed it certainly is; in one single evening the city is completely destroyed, producing the greatest number of casualties generated at one place or time during the entire war: 135,000 civilian deaths." (Bergenholtz) "Clearly, humankind's ruthless disregard for life - especially human life - is the central subject of Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five." (Bergenholtz) . In the first chapter of this book, he explains how it has taken him many years to attempt to write a book about the bombing of Dresden. Alberto Cacicedo states that “The subject of that first chapter is precisely the real, biographical difficulty that Vonnegut encounters in attempting to remember the bombing of Dresden, the central traumatic event of his novel. The chapter is really pure autobiography.”(Cacicedo) In the book, Vonnegut describes Dresden after the bombing resembling the surface of the moon being crater-filled and barren. It would be easy to understand that after experiencing something this horrifying, it would come naturally to bring attention what tragedies man is capable of. Even in Breakfast of Champions, one of the main characters ironically has "We are healthy only to the extent that our ideas are humane"(16) on his tombstone.
Tied with the idea of the atrocities of man is the theme of the illusion of free will. Vonnegut writes as if war is inevitable because no one can do anything to change it. The characters in his novels seem to have very little control over their life and even less control over others and Billy Pilgrim from Slaughterhouse Five is a perfect example. Susanne Vees-Gulani states that “Throughout the novel Billy's range of affect is severely restricted, shown most prominently in the much repeated phrase ‘So it goes’.”(Vees-Gulani) Billy has even seen his death by assassination and still does nothing to stop it. One can say that Vonnegut is stating that free will doesn’t exist, because we are powerless to stop the horrible actions we do. This major theme is repeated by the locket on one of the characters neck that says “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and wisdom always to tell the difference.”(267)
Another example of the absence of free will in the characters in Vonnegut’s writing is in Breakfast of Champions, where the main character, Dwayne Hoover is mentally unbalanced. He eventually goes on a rampage when he reads from one of Kilgore Trout’s books that he is the only human with free will and everyone else is a robot. Even though Dwayne was sick, the evidence given to him proving this theory was so compelling, that he started destroying everything and everyone he could. Vonnegut uses the idea of a robot in this novel frequently, describing slaves as machinery and wars being fought by robots. He uses the word robot because it has all the functionality of a human, without the free will." Our awareness is all that is alive and maybe sacred in any of us. Everything else is dead machinery." (221)
Back in the 1950's the American Dream was to own a house and car and to have a family. As time went by, the dream evolved more and more until it became more about material possessions than happiness. During the Great Depression, Vonnegut lived by meager means with his family, and eventually his mother overdosed on sleeping pills and died. Some might say this is the basis for his theme of the death of the American Dream in much of his work. In Breakfast of Champions, Vonnegut writes about a decaying America with people who are also decaying mentally. The character Kilgore Trout notes about how the truck was causing a lot of pollution and also noticed the symbol of the truncated pyramid on the back of the truck that is on our money. This was a perfect symbol of how the American Dream is dying. Also in Slaughterhouse Five, Vonnegut describes one of the characters by writing "Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops." (25)
There are many themes that run throughout Kurt Vonnegut's books, but because of certain circumstances in his life, he seems to favor the three mentioned above. Because of his choice of writing, he seems to be more of a philosopher than a writer. Vonnegut writes mainly about ethics, morality and humanity in general to show his readers the injustices they face and commit. Josh Simpson speaks about Kurt Vonnegut saying "The answers to the mysteries of the human condition, he would argue, can be found not in space or in theory, but rather, in humanity itself." (Simpson)

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Works Cited
Bergenholtz, Rita, and John R. Clark. "Food for Thought in Slaughterhouse-Five." Thalia 18.1/2 (1998): 84-93. Literature Online Reference Edition. Web. 28 Apr.2011

Cacicedo, Alberto. "'You Must Remember This': Trauma and Memory in Catch-22 and Slaughterhouse-Five." Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 46.4(2005): 357-68. Literature Online Reference Edition. Web. 28 Apr. 2011.

Kennedy, X. J., and Dana Gioia. "Harrison Bergeron." Literature: an Introduction to Fiction,Poetry, Drama, and Writing. 11th ed. New York: Longman, 2010. 215-19. Print.

Simpson, Josh. "'This Promising of Great Secrets': Literature, Ideas, and the (re)invention of Reality in Kurt Vonnegut's God Bless You, Mr Rosewater, Slaughterhouse-Five, and Breakfast of Champions; Or, 'Fantasies of an Impossibly Hospitable World': Science Fiction and Madness in Vonnegut's Troutean Trilogy." Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 45.3 (2004): 261-71. Literature Online Reference Edition. Web. 28 Apr. 2011.

Vees-Gulani, Susanne. "Diagnosing Billy Pilgrim: a Psychiatric Approach to Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five." Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 44.2 (2003): 175-84. Literature Online Reference Edition. Web. 28 Apr. 2011.

Vonnegut, Kurt. Breakfast of Champions. New York City: Buccaneer, 2007. Print.

Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse Five. NY: Dell Pub., 1991. Print.


Images and media used:

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http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http:homepage.mac.com/languageismycopilot/backwardscitydotnet/review/01issue/vonnegut.jpg&imgrefurl=http://homepage.mac.com/languageismycopilot/backwardscitydotnet/review/01issue/vonnegut.html&usg=_BoVh6zehZLZuBxr92QgAv-pmCo=&h=614&w=468&sz=219&hl=en&start=0&zoom=1&tbnid=r8l_Dzxf3ZEwCM:&tbnh=167&tbnw=127&ei=eti9TcOHOqGX0QHLzeGsBg&prev=/search%3Fq%3Dkurt%2Bvonnegut%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DN%26biw%3D1680%26bih%3D855%26tbm%3Disch0%2C57&um=1&itbs=1&iact=rc&dur=304&page=1&ndsp=38&ved=1t:429,r:20,s:0&tx=72&ty=92&biw=1680&bih=855

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fw6e4wqtjCE


Kelly Denton review of Stephen Daniel's Wiki page:
Content: I think that the best sections are the you tube with Alec Baldwin and the notes written by Vonnegut.
Organization: I would like to see the section Discussion broke up a little so it doesn't look so long and will be easy for the reader.
I would probably break the discussion about the books apart to create some witre space.
Design: I liked the design with the picture of Vonnegut and his notes that were signed. I don't know how to insert a you tube like you did but it is very effective
and I enjoyed listening to Baldwin recite his words.
Research and Documentation: I can see that you did your research. Your citatitions are thorough.
Goodluck and I enjoyed your paper.