History of Literature

American literature


Kurt Vonnegut


Kurt Vonnegut, in full Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (b. Nov. 11, 1922, Indianapolis, Ind., U.S.—d. April 11, 2007, New York, N.Y.), American novelist noted for his pessimistic and satirical novels that use fantasy and science fiction to highlight the horrors and ironies of 20th-century civilization.

Vonnegut studied at Cornell University before serving in the U.S. Air Force in World War II. Captured by the Germans, he was one of the survivors of the fire bombing of Dresden, Ger., in February 1945. After the war he studied anthropology at the University of Chicago. In the late 1940s he worked as a reporter and as a public relations writer.

Vonnegut’s first novel, Player Piano (1952), visualizes a completely mechanized and automated society whose dehumanizing effects are unsuccessfully resisted by the scientists and workers in a New York factory town. The Sirens of Titan (1959) is a quasi-science-fiction novel in which the entire history of the human race is considered an accident attendant on an alien planet’s search for a spare part for a spaceship. In Cat’s Cradle (1963), some Caribbean islanders adopt a new religion consisting of harmless trivialities in response to an unforeseen scientific discovery that eventually destroys all life on Earth. In Slaughterhouse-Five; or, The Children’s Crusade (1969), Vonnegut drew on his Dresden experience; the book uses that bombing raid as a symbol of the cruelty and destructiveness of war down through the centuries.

Vonnegut also wrote several plays, including Happy Birthday, Wanda June (1970); several works of nonfiction, such as Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons (1974); and several collections of short stories, chief among which was Welcome to the Monkey House (1968). His other novels include Mother Night (1961), God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965), Breakfast of Champions (1973), Slapstick (1976), Jailbird (1979), Deadeye Dick (1983), Galápagos (1985), Bluebeard (1987), Hocus Pocus (1990), and Timequake (1997). In 2005 he published A Man Without a Country, a collection of essays and speeches. Vonnegut’s Armageddon in Retrospect (2008), a collection of fiction and nonfiction that focuses on war and peace, and Look at the Birdie (2009), previously unpublished short stories, appeared posthumously.




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