By Jack Sluis
Most high schoolers throughout some point in their language arts class read books by Kurt Vonnegut, whether it ranging from his vivid depiction of his experiences in WWII with Slaughterhouse 5, or to his modern and dystopian-esc. Breakfast of Champions. But where did he get his writing style? Vonnegut was born in Indianapolis, 1922, being the youngest of his three siblings to Kurt Vonnegut Sr. and his wife Edith. Vonnegut grew up at the beginning of the great depression. After being kicked out of Cornell for being too satirical in the college newspaper, he was drafted into WWII He returned to later live on his career as a writer in America.
Vonnegut’s intelligence in literature and unique, approachable writing style took a shell-shocked America after WWII by hold. His writings are still incredibly influential to this date, and easily hold the position as revolutionary pieces of literature for American society. When you read one of his books, it is fairly apparent why. Vonnegut draws from his personal experiences to create the commonly appreciated satirical black humor we have all come to love. as emphasized with Slaughterhouse 5 alluding to his time in WWII, to create a vivid and colorful depiction of key events, generally leading to a sense of discovery for the reader in which the various metaphors and analogies are recognized with events.
From this, Kurt is able to break the line between the reader and author, with various breakings of 4th walls, etc., to inexplicably make it feel as if you are in the room with him. This kind of interpersonal connection is typically strived for by all authors, and Vonnegut’s captivity in his perfected blend of intellectual writing and personal ramblings only further accentuate his ability to connect with his reader. However, when you spend enough time with an author in a metaphorical room, you get to know them, and after reading Vonnegut’s books, I can’t help but realize a few fundamental flaws with Vonnegut himself.
Vonnegut appeals to the side of humanity which feeds itself into the everyday struggles and stresses faced by the comings of life, ultimately succumbing to fatigue and sadness. Coming from Vonnegut’s perspective, this aforementioned defeat was probably one of the few things he knew all too well, given such harsh factors such as his mother’s ultimately depressive/schizophrenic tendencies leading to her suicide in 1944, leading to a warranted bleak outlook on life. From this, Vonnegut creates a very detached and fatalistic message. Vonnegut promotes through his books, especially in “Slaughterhouse 5”, what I like to call a point of view of “absolute relativism”, whereas everything has no value, given that no one absolute truth exists between two different people and their perspectives/interpretations. I imagine this partially takes from the idea that reality is wholly mental, and nothing can be proven except the experiences you have, and the thoughts you experience, however it’s intended effect seems to be lost in the lack of hindsight required to adopt it.
This perspective, while they derive from a course of intellectual thought, do nothing more but create the inability to act, if you will. If everything is absolutely relative and I can’t prove that what I experience is real, then what is the point of doing anything in a false reality? Perhaps Kurt’s literature was his only method of talking about the one thing consistent throughout his life, his failures and his deposition to reality. Perhaps my criticism of Vonnegut’s books takes away any already diminished appreciation to the ideas he initially held for his books. Perhaps my criticism of his books also takes away the possibility of his messages to resonate with me beyond my initial appreciation for it being detrimental to a positive outlook on life. The unrivaled connection and emphasis on Vonnegut’s actual message resonate create an interpersonal and indescribably fantastic story for each of Kurt’s books, and I highly recommend any and all to read at least one of his books. Keep in mind that I have only personally read three of Kurt Vonnegut’s books, so I imagine this criticisms should be taken with a fairly large grain of salt.