Butler Journal of Undergraduate Research

Faculty Sponsor

Paul Allison


This essay argues that Kurt Vonnegut blends a unique humanist stance into his absurdist plots and characters, ultimately urging readers to confront the absurd with a kindness and human decency his protagonists often find rare. As a result of this absurd and humanist synthesis, I defend and promote Vonnegut’s place in the secondary English curriculum, despite his rank on many banned books lists, since his characters’ journeys correlate thematically with the growth and process of postmodern adolescents and encourage moral responsibility without sentimental manipulation.

Focusing on Cat’s Cradle, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, and Slaughterhouse-Five as primary sources, specifically for Vonnegut’s view of their success and their more frequent use in the secondary setting, I explore Vonnegut’s unique postmodern style. Using personal and recorded interviews as well as literary scholarship, I attempt to forge a new outlook on the connection between Vonnegut and adolescent learners. His protagonists struggle with the same philosophical questions that adolescents are beginning to ponder as they develop their ability to think abstractly. I argue that Vonnegut’s moral response to these questions will provide students with a framework from which they may begin to formulate their own answers in a universe they cannot control. Vonnegut’s novels strive to better humanity, and in teaching our youngest generations how he sought to do so may better the society in which we exist together.