The Impossibility of Escaping or Rationalizing the Past: Kurt Vonnegutnulls Schizophrenic Historical Fiction
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Vonnegut closely examines the social problem of war in Slaughterhouse-Five and Mother Night, attempting to understand the current state of human understanding regarding war, elucidate its faults, and provide reasonable ways to remediate them. But he is not overtly didactic; these novels have complex themes, and the answers Vonnegut seeks are not always clear, even to him. Slaughterhouse-Five and Mother Night aim predominantly to consider the problem of dealing with and narrating a traumatic past; the characters struggle with the knowledge of wartime events they have seen or participated in, attempting to find ways to describe, rationalize, or forget the troubling thoughts that plague them. The coping strategies each character chooses differ, but they work variously toward relieving mental anguish, providing explanations for seemingly random events, and figuring out the scope of moral responsibility and free will. Vonnegut’s intrigue stems from the reader’s ability to untangle the motivation of the characters, to understand their needs, their actions, and the consequences they face as a result of their narrative choices.
Franklin and Marshall College Archives, Undergraduate Honors Thesis 2005
- F&M Theses Collection