Vonnegutian Themes Essay, Research Paper
Kurt Vonnegut has written more then twenty books in the years he has been writing. Many of his books share characters, settings, or situations. Using the same characters and such creates a unity throughout his books. Likewise, Vonnegut seems to repeat themes throughout many of his books. A number of Vonnegut s books deal with themes that include structure and order in society. Kurt Vonnegut discusses mankind s need for structure and order by the creation of meaningless associations in his novels and schizophrenic traits in his characters.
Cat s Cradle, written in 1963, revolves around created relationships and groups. Set in the small island of San Lorenzo, it is the story of a chemical that can end the world. It is quickly learned upon arrival at San Lorenzo that nearly all inhabitants practice Bokonism, a religion based solely on lies, Bokonism is a blatant opiate to blind people to the misery around them (Giannone 69.) In the books of Bokonon, it is plainly stated to the readers that the religion is centered on lies, one of the verses proclaims, I wanted all things to be happy/to seem to make some sense/so we could all be happy, yes/instead of tense/and I made up lies/so that they all fit nice/and I made this sad world/into a paradise (Vonnegut, Cat s Cradle 127.) The followers of Bokonism are ignorant to the lies they are following and see the religion as a positive aspect as it unites San Lorenzans. Different circumstances soon make it obvious that Bokonism is illegal. The Christian nation of San Lorenzo outlawed the practice of the religion many years ago, before exiling the creator, Bokonon. Bokonon, a highly intelligent and manipulative man was the mastermind behind outlawing his own religion. His exile was simply a disappearance into the wilderness, to give the religion more zest and appeal to the followers and to create a common struggle of religious freedom throughout San Lorenzo (Giannone 60.) The citizens of San Lorenzo feel closer to one another and part of a bigger whole with Bokonism. Being able to practice their forbidden religion with each other makes them feel more in control of their lives. Control is something many San Lorenzans need in their life due to the controlling government.
Vonnegut uses the need for control and other schizophrenic traits in the characters of Cat s Cradle. Frank, the only child of the mastermind behind ice-nine whose appearances seem normal displays signs of schizophrenia through out his life. Beginning in high school, when Frank Hoeniker disregards his family and focuses his entire life to the hobby shop, warning signs can be noticed. Young Frank believes his family will not be hurt by his rejection of their love, he does not venture to think the husband of the woman he is sleeping with will be hurt by his actions. Those afflicted by schizophrenia typically believe their actions matter no further than themselves, though selfish, it is an honest belief of those afflicted (Tufano 156.) Another case of schizophrenia is observed in Papa, the head of San Lorenzo. Papa s case is the extreme of Frank Hoeniker s. As Papa prepares to ingest the lethal chemical, ice-nine, he declares to his assistant that the world will end with his impending death. According to many doctors, certain types of schizophrenics believe that their life is vital to the world, that their death will bring death and destruction to all. (Mental Health Network.) To schizophrenics, the idea that their vitality is critical to everyone else gives an enormous amount of control.
One of Vonnegut s most acclaimed novels, Breakfast of Champions, written in 1973, ten years after Cat s Cradle, also employs many of the same themes. Throughout Breakfast of Champions, many of the characters try to feign relationships to belong to a group or any association for a feeling of acceptance. One of the main storylines in Breakfast of Champions is that of Kilgore Trout s cross-country adventure to Midland City. Kilgore makes this whole journey at great expense to meet his one fan, Elliot Rosewater. Kilgore feels lost in his life being alone, even his mediocre relationship with his parrot provides for a slight instant happiness. At the same time Kilgore Trout tries to establish friendships, Dwayne Hoover desperately pushes away his real friends and tries to create new relationships on a superficial level. Dwayne begins feeling helpless in his relationships with the people who care about him as they try harder and harder to help him and react to the problems they notice. In response, Dwayne pushes them away and seeks refuge with his dog (Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions 52.) instead of his life long friends. Both Dwayne and Kilgore seem to believe that relationships that they control will give them more control in their lives and thus more meaning.
Dwayne Hoover s friends and family try to stand by him and reach out for him as his mysterious symptoms progress almost exponentially, Dwayne s disposition can be accredited to schizophrenia. Dwayne exhibits nearly all schizophrenic symptoms. He begins slipping away from reality more and more often. His reality is replaced by hallucinations of rubbery asphalt and paranoia of any and everyone around him. Hallucinations, paranoia and escapes from reality are all symptoms of severe schizophrenia (Mental Health Network). Along with those symptoms, Dwayne suddenly demands perfection in every aspect of his life. Like other schizophrenics, Dwayne expects everyone around him to behave in congruency to his mind, and he expects everyone to know how to act. (Tufano 94.) Dwayne s schizophrenia eventually becomes the end of him.
After the success of Breakfast of Champions, in 1976, Vonnegut wrote a nearly autobiographical novel, Slapstick. Subtitled, Lonesome No More , Slapstick incorporates forced and fake relationships to portray impersonality. Wilbur Swain, as President of The United States of America enacts a plan to provide each citizen with an extensive extended family throughout the United States. Each citizen would receive a government issued name, consisting of a noun and a number. Those who had the same noun are brothers and sisters and the similar numbers are cousins . This extended family was something Wilbur had dreamed of his entire life (Vonnegut, Slapstick 54.) Vonnegut equates the familial system with professional unions of writers, artists, scientists etc that are prevalent in today s society. Wilbur did not dream the idea up on his own, but with his twin sister Eliza. The two twins, although monstrously ugly, love each other. They are companions to each other and grow to see the other and their half because that is all they know of the world. As the two grow older, their relationship distances creating confusion and a sense of lacking for the two, the government issued family gives the sense of belonging and the control back.
The distance between Eliza and Wilbur is a shock to the two as they get older, as children, they operated as two halves of a whole. The characteristics of their relationship can be equated with characteristics of schizophrenia. When the two twins join together, their intelligence allows them to realize anything. Thus, they believe that without the conjuncture of the two, the fate of the world is hopeless. Similar to Papa s inflated idea on his affect of the world in Cat s Cradle, the two think that the world s well-being varies directly with their relationship. As well, the two hold the idea that they are the only two in the world who matter. Schizophrenics commonly see themselves as separate from everyone else, as the only ones that matter or are capable of surviving alone. (Tufano 34.) Both Eliza and Wilbur are more complete and feel more meaningful in life when joined. Separate, they view themselves and insignificant but together, they are one.
Throughout Vonnegut s novels, his characters continually need the structure and order of relationships, surroundings, and such to feel complete and in control of themselves. The schizophrenic characteristics of Frank Hoeniker, Papa, Dwayne Hoover, Eliza and Wilbur Swain only help to emphasize this.
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Mental health Net: Schizophrenic Symptoms: mentalhelp.net/disorders/sx31.htm
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