Subject Material

Harrison Bergeron

Published: 20.04.2010, Updated: 03.03.2017
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Kurt Vonnegut.photo.Kurt Vonnegut 

Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007)

Kurt Vonnegut was born into a middle-class German-American family in the Midwestern city of Indianapolis, Indiana in the USA. His most famous works: Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), Cat’s Cradle (1963) and Breakfast of Champions (1973). Already as a student at Cornell University, he worked as assistant editor and associate for the student newspaper, The Cornell Daily Sun. After attending Cornell University, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in World War II from 1939-1945. Stationed in Germany, he was captured by the German Wermacht in 1944 and transported in boxcars to a prison camp in Dresden. As prisoners of war (POWs) he and his battalion were forced to work in a factory. During the traumatic bombing of Dresden, the  battalion survived the attack in a meat locker of a slaughterhouse which was being used as a detention center. The event strongly influenced his later work. i.e., the semi-autobiographical Slaughterhouse Five was the name given to the novel named after the building where he and other POWs were imprisoned during the bombing, Schlachthof Fünf. He was liberated by the Russian Red Army and returned to the USA in 1945 and honored with a Purple Heart.

After the war, he continued his studies at the University of Chicago, but decided to focus on becoming a writer – with various degrees of success. His first short stories were published in popular magazines, but later during the 50’s and 60’s he wrote novels: Player Piano (1952), The Sirens of Titan (1959) and Cat’s Cradle (1963). Slaughterhouse-Five became famous as an antiwar novel during the height of protest to the Vietnam War in 1969. Vonnegut has been described as a humanist with strong social beliefs. Many of his novels, articles and essays written in the 70’s and up to the late 90’s are social critiques of American society. In his novels he blends satire, black comedy and science fiction. His novels and short stories are placed in science fiction “dystopian” settings which represent modern society. Here the helpless main character must find his way through a maze of futuristic technology, and fantastic as well as grotesque living conditions. In the following story, the protagonist, Harrison Bergeron, is a gifted and handsome young teenager whose strength and intelligence is handicapped by government dictates. He is an anti-authoritarian rebel who fights against the restraints, and lack of freedom enforced by a totalitarian government.

Copyright: Donald C. Farber

 
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