Master of Arts
Christopher T. White, Ph.D.
Rosemary Johnsen, Ph.D.
Terri Pantuso, Ed.D.
This thesis investigates three novels by Kurt Vonnegut: The Sirens of Titan, Cat’s Cradle, and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, and the philosophical stance which informs these works. The Sirens of Titan represents Vonnegut’s cosmology as well as his first attempts to propose one purpose for human life not based on any absolute knowledge. Cat’s Cradle proposes a provisional, ever-changing belief system in the religion of Bokonon, a religion which also speaks to Vonnegut’s humanism. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater satirizes the discourses of the free enterprise system through protagonist Eliot as he struggles to use his wealth in a utopian project. The novels all represent Vonnegut’s early preoccupation with a potential meaning for life in what he sees as an essentially nihilistic universe. We can, Vonnegut argues, have no ultimate knowledge of God or any innate purpose, and we are left to create meaning for ourselves. For his insistence on the subjectivity of reality and his incredulity toward metanarratives, Vonnegut is placed as postmodern. Though his cosmology does suggest an absurd nihilism, Vonnegut nevertheless proposes a moral norm consisting of an ethic of love and a provisional belief in the sacredness of human life; such an outlook has led scholars like Todd Davis to place Vonnegut as postmodern humanist. The essay investigates this claim as it pertains to the early novels. Vonnegut’s incredulity toward metanarratives and toward any characters which represent the pretense of having absolute knowledge are ridiculed through Vonnegut’s humor and satire, thus, I place Vonnegut as postmodern satirist.
Praxmarer, Matthew, "Kurt Vonnegut's Early Novels: Searching for Meaning in a Meaningless World" (2011). All Student Theses. 17.