English Language and Literature ETDs

Publication Date

Summer 7-2-1973


This dissertation deals with the role of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. as a popular literary hero. over the last ten years he has become increasingly significant, especially to the younger, college-age reader. From an unknown writer of short stories for "slick" magazines, he has developed into one of America's most prominent, controversial writers. He has branched out into other fields t notably television, the movies and the theater. This study will consider Vonnegut's total image as revealed in his novels and also in his non­ fiction works.

The introduction discusses the increasing attention which Vonnegut has received from both the popular press and academic circles. It briefly traces the amb1Yalence of his critics since 1966. The ground work is also layed for the development of the chapters which follow.

The remainder of the first part deals with Vonnegut's authorial image as demonstrated in his six novels. Each of the works is examined thematically, tonally and stylistic­ ally to discover the reasons for the novelist's success. Vonnegut's concerns are traced as they develop in the novels. The changing style of each work is touched upon as the author tries to find a literary mode most suitable to his message. Likewise the variation in tone is discussed to demonstrate his protean attitudes and stances toward the reader. Vonnegut's many masks and voices are also analyzed as an integral part of the total picture of himself which is projected.

The second part of this study takes up the image of Vonnegut as a public man. His non-fiction articles on the role of the artist are treated to reveal his perception of his own role. Vonnegut's many essays also demonstrate that his concerns as an individual are the same as those of the implied author of the novels. He views skeptically many facets of contemporary life.

This dissertation concludes with a close analysis of Vonnegut's commencement speech at Bennington College. This serves to draw up a final composite view of the author and the man that illustrates the basis of his popularity. Kurt Vonnegut 1s a sensitive, concerned person who utilizes his art to comment on immorality and stupidity on all levels. Moreover, his real anxiety over man's purpose in the modern world places him with other youth heroes who are unafraid of delving into the existential dilemma of the twentieth cen­tury.

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First Committee Member (Chair)

David A. Remley

Second Committee Member

Patricia Clark Smith

Third Committee Member

Joel M. Jones

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