Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Literary Timeline Six Novel Ideas My Favorite Novel Elements of the Novel Top Novel Lists About the Program
Navigate through 200 years of the American Novel using scrollable tools and pulldown menus.
Use these pulldown menus to read more about novels, authors & movements.
Kurt Vonnegut Return to the Timeline
Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut portrays a universe that is essentially without purpose in many of his novels.

Kurt Vonnegut, (1922-...), is an American author. Vonnegut uses many devices of science-fiction writing in his works, including space travel and fantastic inventions. Although the tone of his fiction is often playful, he is admittedly a moralizing writer with a gloomy view of humanity.

Vonnegut portrays a universe that is essentially without purpose in such novels as PLAYER PIANO (1952), CAT'S CRADLE (1963), and BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS (1973). In these works, all absolute systems for organizing human activity -- whether political, religious, or scientific -- are inevitably destructive. Vonnegut's moralizing consists of advice to be kind, to have pity, to seek companionship, and to enjoy the simple human pleasures.

Vonnegut's experiences in World War II (1939-1945) particularly affected his attitudes. While serving in the United States Army, he was captured by the Germans and imprisoned in Dresden, Germany. He saw that city's destruction by British and American bombing in 1945. His response to that event is reflected throughout his fiction, but dealt with directly only in SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE (1969), generally considered his most significant work. In that novel, he confronts and accepts what he sees as humanity's tendency to inflict catastrophe on itself. He suggests that our only hope for survival lies in a despairingly comic awareness of human folly.

Vonnegut's other novels include THE SIRENS OF TITAN (1959), MOTHER NIGHT (1962), GOD BLESS YOU, MR. ROSEWATER (1965), SLAPSTICK (1976), JAILBIRD (1979), DEADEYE DICK (1982), GALAPAGOS (1985), BLUEBEARD (1987), and HOCUS POCUS (1990). Vonnegut blended fiction and nonfiction in TIMEQUAKE (1997).

Several of Vonnegut's short stories were collected in WELCOME TO THE MONKEY HOUSE (1968) and BAGOMBO SNUFF BOX (1999). Many of his nonfiction pieces were collected in WAMPETERS, FOMA AND GRANFALLOONS (1974), PALM SUNDAY (1981), FATES WORSE THAN DEATH (1991), and A MAN WITHOUT A COUNTRY (2005). Vonnegut was born on Nov. 11, 1922, in Indianapolis.

Arthur M. Saltzman, Ph.D., Professor of English, Missouri Southern State College.

From THE WORLD BOOK ENCYCLOPEDIA © 2007 World Book, Inc. By permission of the publisher. Visit World Book Encyclopedia for more information on Kurt Vonnegut and related subjects.

Previous | Next

The American Novel