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A Pursuit of a New Humanistic Ideal, Decoding Vonnegut’s Fictional World

Author WangZuoZuo
Tutor WangYaHua
School Beijing Language and Culture University
Course English Language and Literature
Keywords New Humanism Vonnegut Postmodernism
Type Master's thesis
Year 2008
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Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007) was an influential contemporary novelist in America. Though he lived in the decentered postmodern society where everything appears to be absurd and meaningless, he still believed in humanism. The present thesis maintains that Vonnegut was forever pursuing an ideal of new humanism in his fictional world and his use of various literary techniques like black humor and sci-fi was to express his humanistic ideal and his deep desire for reconstructing a better world, not just for experiment and language game as some critics argue.The thesis is divided into four chapters in addition to an introduction and a conclusion. The introduction presents a survey of the domestic and foreign studies on Vonnegut and shows the new point of view and the methodology (ethical and biographical) applied by the thesis. Chapter I discusses postmodern cultural theories of Jameson, Hassan and Lyotard to explain the characteristics of postmodern society, and then combined with an overview of his life experiences, it analyzes how he developed new humanistic ideas in the postmodern context. Chapter II analyzes Vonnegut’s humanistic view toward science and religion through a discussion of Cat’s Cradle written in the sci-fi stage and states that religion seems to be better than science in its humanistic concern though it’s based on lies. Chapter HI examines Vonnegut’s deconstruction of grand narratives that poison people’s minds in the American society through the analysis of Breakfast of Champions written in the experimentalist stage. Chapter IV observes Vonnegut’s aesthetic notion based upon his new humanist idea which advocates the therapeutic and communicative function of art against the art for art’s sake argument through the analysis of Bluebeard written in the realistic stage. Finally comes the tentative conclusion that what Vonnegut was most concerned with is our response to the postmodern condition and that Vonnegut promotes a new kind of humanism which he called "comforting lies", the faith in kindness and love to give human life more dignity.

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