Over the old ages, such world-renowned writers as Mark Twain and J. D. Salinger have shown readers how literature reflects the epoch in which it is written. Another writer who has besides made important parts to American literature is Kurt Vonnegut, writer of such well-known novels as Slaughterhouse 5 and Cat s Cradle.
Vonnegut was born on November 11, 1922 in Indianapolis, Indiana (”Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.”). Vonnegut attended Cornell University in 1940 where he wrote for the Cornell Daily Sun (”Chronology”). In 1943, Vonnegut joined the United States Infantry. He fought in World War II for the 106th Infantry Division until 1945 when he was captured by the Germans and shipped to a work cantonment in Dresden. It was here in the metropolis of Dresden where Vonnegut witnessed the American/British firebombing that killed an estimated 135,000 people.“[ Vonnegut ] tried for many old ages to set into words what he had experienced during that hideous event … It took him more than twenty old ages, nevertheless, to bring forth Slaughterhouse Five” (”Vonnegut in WWII”) .
Slaughterhouse Five is Vonnegut’s most celebrated work. In this book, Vonnegut fictionally recreates his experience in Dresden. However this book wasn’t published until 1969, and he had published several plants before this. His first book, Player Piano, was published in 1952; and his 3rd, Mother Night, was published in 1961 (”Chronology”). Even though Slaughterhouse Five was Vonnegut’s merely fresh to re-create his experience in Dresden, a strong anti-war subject can be found in his earlier literature as good. A all right illustration of one of his plants that fits this description is Mother Night. The fresh takes topographic point in an unfastened gaol in Old Jerusalem.
The protagonist introduces himself by stating, “My name is Howard W. Campbell, Jr. I am an American by birth, a Nazi by repute, and a nationless individual by disposition, The twelvemonth in which I write this book [ is ] 1961 ″ ( Vonnegut 17 ) . In first-person narrative Campbell accounts narratives from before, during and post World War II. The reader learns that Campbell lived in Germany before the war entertaining Nazis as a dramatist. He and his married woman Helga had no purpose of go forthing Germany one time war became a menace.
Campbell tells the reader that in 1938 he was recruited as an American particular agent who was to present as a Nazi propagandist during the war. The reader learns that this is the ground Campbell is presently behind bars in; he is to be tried by Israel for terrible war offenses of distributing propaganda. However, the book focuses more on Campbell’s life until the scene returns to the Old Jerusalem prison for the declaration. As antecedently mentioned, Slaughterhouse Five was Vonnegut’s first book to cover straight with the Dresden firebombing. But Vonnegut has ever had a strong disfavor for war, and his novels reflect this.
“He alludes to [ World War II ] repeatedly in his fiction, as if compelled to somehow come to footings with it if non wipe out it. Mother Night does non cover straight with the bombardment of Dresden- the foray has no portion in the plot- but that in a sense is what the book is about” ( CLC 3:496 ).
One of the most interesting things about Mother Night is the manner the book reflects both the World War II epoch and the writer’s personal contemplations and sentiments. Mother Night’s historical content includes the use of characters that really one time existed and events that really took topographic point during the war. Vonnegut’s personal contemplations are exhibited through his satiristic position of life and his usage of irony in the novel. A perfect illustration is when Campbell speaking with Dr. Paul Joseph Goebels ( historically the Head of the German Ministry of Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda ), and they are discoursing the Gettysburg Address. Goebels finds the reference enchanting and suggests that it should be sent to der Fuehrer ( historically Adolf Hitler who served as the caput of the Nazi party throughout World War II ) . A transcript of the address is sent to Hitler and he returns a note to Campbell sing the reference as a “all right piece of propaganda” ( Vonnegut 27-8 ). This illustration alludes to two historical people of World War II but describes a state of affairs which was non true. Hitler utilizing the Gettysburg Address as propaganda is symbolic of the control and use that he tried to derive over the English-speaking population. This illustration shows Vonnegut’s usage of historical content and sarcasm, therefore it verifies that Vonnegut’s work was brooding of both himself and of World War II epoch. Throughout the novel it is non hard to happen similar illustrations and observations.
World War II, holding a immense impact on Vonnegut’s life, has rather a big function in Mother Night. And Vonnegut alludes to many of the celebrated names of the war throughout this novel. The first of these names mentioned is Paul Joseph Goebels. Campbell really foremost mentioned his name to one of his guards in the prison (Vonnegut 19). Goebels, being the Head of the German Ministry of Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda is really Campbell’s old foreman, under whom he daily dispersed German propaganda to the English- speech production universe. The following celebrated name that appears in the reading is that of Adolf Hilter. The bulk of the universe most likely knows the name, for it is one of the most powerful in history. Following mentioned is “Rudolf Hoess, commanding officer of Auschwitz” (Vonnegut 26). Auschwitz, of class, was one of the largest and most feared German decease cantonments in the history of World War II. Campbell met Hoess at a New Year’s Eve Party in 1944.
So the first three historical characters met in Mother Night are all ill-famed names of World War II. Why did Vonnegut take to include such unsafe people who left such a negative impact on history? As observed by critic Jean E. Kennard, “Mother Night is concerned with … the ways work forces use and destroy each other in the name of intent” ( CLC 12:612 ) . Possibly this was one of Vonnegut’s intents for composing the novel.
The following individual who is of some kind of historical significance is the Reverend Dr. Lionel J.D. Jones. Jones is a fictional character, but in the novel, he is responsible for the publication of the “White Christian Minuteman” which was an “anti-semitic, anti-Negro, anti-Catholic hatred sheet” ( Vonnegut 55 ). Even though Jones was ne’er existent, he, combined with reference of the KKK ( Vonnegut 63 ) is representative of the hatred and racism exhibited both during the war and during the 50’s and 60’s.
One of Campbell’s most important interactions with a historical character is when he meets Adolf Eichmann (designer of Auschwitz, introduced conveyer belts into crematory, and was the “greatest client in the universe” for Cyklon-B (the gas used in the Chamberss in German decease cantonments)). This interaction occurs in 1941 when both Campbell and Eichmann are on line to acquire their image taken for designation intents. They strike up a conversation and Campbell asks Eichmann a inquiry. He asks him if he feels he is responsible for killing six million Jews. Eichmann replies, “Absolutely not.” Campbell replies with, “You were merely a soldier were you- … taking orders from higher- ups, like soldiers around the universe?” Eichmann puzzled asks Campbell if he had seen his defence. After Campbell answers, “I haven’t seen it,” Eichmann says, “Then how make you cognize what my defence is traveling to be?” ( Vonnegut 123 ). Vonnegut makes a really of import statement through this conversation. The Nazis had no defence for the offenses they committed.
Vonnegut has ever used literature as a manner to show himself. It seems that even though many of his novels may be entertaining, he wrote them as a method of showing himself instead than to delight the reader. Vonnegut expresses himself chiefly through sarcasm. As pointed out by literary critic Clark Mayo about his authorship, “Vonnegut continues to satirise scientific discipline, faith, political relations, sex, adult male’s understanding, patriotism, and love” ( CLC 12:622 ) . Vonnegut has a batch to state about the universe; and this verifies true in Mother Night.
There is one chapter in Mother Night that about seems misplaced. This is the 21st chapter entitled “My Best Friend …” ( Vonnegut 89 ). The intent of the chapter is to explicate why Campbell had a bike in his ownership. He tells the reader how he had “borrowed” his best friends bike and ne’er returned it. The proprietor of this bike is the widowman Heinz Schildknecht, whom Campbell knew because they used to be Ping-Pong doubles spouses. Campbell recalls one dark when he and Heinz had been imbibing and Heinz revealed something to him. “‘ Howard-’he said, ‘ I love my bike more than I loved my married woman,’” ( Vonnegut 90 ) . Vonnegut is seemingly satirising love in this illustration. With this chapter Vonnegut is stating, ‘ Society is more concerned with stuff ownerships than it is with the true love and compassion of another human being. ’
Vonnegut uses repeated subjects in his work. As observed by Mayo, “[ At several degrees Mother Night ] is about feigning, semblance, and multiple functions …” ( CLC 12:618 ) . Once the reader reads about how Campbell took his best friends most prized ownership, he or she may recognize that this is an illustration of semblance or even betrayal. Of class the most obvious exhibition of “feigning, semblance and multiple functions” is the thought of Campbell as a secret agent. As noted by critic Tony Tanner:
“Campbell is a particular ‘ agent’; but in Vonnegut’s vision we are all agents, and the perceptual experience that we can ne’er be certain of the full content and consequence of what we communicate to the universe, by word or title, is at the moral Centre of [ Mother Night ] . It besides carries the inexplicit warning that our prevarications may be more influential than our truths …” ( CLC 12:606 ) .
Aside from the subject of semblance, Vonnegut’s novel satirizes some of the barbarous hatred groups in society. Other than the Nazi party, Vonnegut mentions the KKK, the S.S. , and the Iron Guard of the White Sons of the American Constitution- a fabricated hatred group composed of teen-age white supremacists. The reader knows that Vonnegut is non supportive of these groups because of the strong Anti-war subject in the book.
These illustrations reflect the writer’s life- possibly non in a physical sense, but through symbolism and sarcasm, the reader can feel Vonnegut’s emotional point of position. If nil else, Vonnegut wishes to emphasize one specific point in his novel. In the debut of Mother Night Vonnegut writes, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be” ( Vonnegut 5 ) . Vonnegut introduces this as the lesson of his book.
What is the intent of Mother Night? Well, literary critic Richard Giannone says, “Mother Night lays bare for [ the reader ] the mechanism of the self-deceiving head as it urgently tries to maintain up with the unmanageable hurts of life, which, for Vonnegut, are epitomized in the embracing menace of war with its senseless force” ( CLC 12:622 ) . This novel was most likely Vonnegut’s mercantile establishment to notice on war. This, nevertheless, is non a typical anti-war novel. Vonnegut’s alone manner allows the reader to larn historical information from World War II and see inside the head of the writer at the same clip.
Once once more, Vonnegut’s fresh historically reflects the World War II clip period by efficaciously depicting characters and events of that epoch. The fresh reflects the writer’s life by showing his current positions on life, political relations, and society, his personal sentiments, and his emotions of war and force. As mentioned earlier, a all right illustration of this is when Hitler considers utilizing the Gettysburg Address, one of the most well-noted addresss from American history, as a signifier of Nazi propaganda. Vonnegut was besides seeking to warn the reader of the atrocious effects of war. His manner is most effectual because he uses such a powerful state of affairs ( World War II ) and such a realistic supporter that it is about difficult to believe that the events in the novel are fiction. And if nil else, the moral of Mother Night was one which was both an observation and a warning about the environing society. “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be. ”
- Campbell, Colin. “Chronology” Sep. 1997
- Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 3. Motor cities: Gale Research Company, 1975.
- Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 12. Motor cities: Gale Research Company, 1980.
- “Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.” The 1996 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia. CD-ROM. Grolier Electronic Publishing, 1996.
- “Vonnegut in World War II ” ; Vonnegut, Kurt, Jr. Mother Night. New York: Dell Publishing Co. , 1961. 332