Throughout his career, Kurt Vonnegut has used writing as a tool to convey penetrating messages and ominous warnings about our society. He skillfully combines vivid imagery with a distinctly satirical and anecdotal style to explore complex issues such as religion and war. Two of his most well known, and most gripping, novels that embody this subtle talent are Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five. Both books represent Vonnegut’s genius for manipulating fiction to reveal glaring, disturbing and occasionally redemptive truths about human nature. On the surface, Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five are dramatically different novels, each with its own characters, symbols, and plot. However, a close examination reveals that both contain common themes and ideas. Examining and comparing the two novels and their presentation of different themes provides a unique insight into both the novels and the author – allowing the reader to gain a fuller understanding of Vonnegut’s true meaning.
One of the most prevalent themes in Vonnegut’s works is religion. In the early pages of Cat’s Cradle, Vonnegut submits his contention that “a useful religion can be founded on lies (Vonnegut, Cats Cradle 16),” meaning that, fundamentally, religion is about people, not about faith or God. Reminiscent of Karl Marx’s description of religion as the “opiate of the masses,” he describes all religions as mere collections of “harmless untruths” that help people cope with their lives. The Book of Bokonon in Cat’s Cradle represents this portrait of religion at both its dreariest and its most uplifting, Bokononism is contradictory, paradoxical, and founded on lies; its followers are aware of this…
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…refree tone highlights them by providing irony and contrast. This unparalleled ability to seamlessly combine a light tone with serious theme is what distinguishes Kurt Vonnegut from other writers, Although Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five share common themes, the presentation of each of the themes is different in each book. The two novels complement each othe, and comparing both can provide a higher level of understanding for each. Vonnegut never forces his opinions – he makes statements by asking questions, and presents his themes through subtle, but powerful stories, His goal is to get readers to re-examine, not necessarily to change, their lives, morals, and values. Themes such as death, war, and religion are as old as literature itself, yet Vonnegut adds a unique twist to them, inviting the reader to look at these issues from an entirely new perspective.
Realism in Oedipus the King
Realism in Oedipus Rex
This essay will examine a feature of Sophocles’ tragedy which causes the reader to doubt the realism underlying the literary work. Specifically, the essay will consider the feasability of the belief at that time – that the Delphi oracle possessed credibility with the people.
At the outset of the drama the priest of Zeus and the crowd of citizens of Thebes are gathered before the royal palace of Thebes talking to King Oedipus about the plague which is ravaging the city. The king is sorely troubled and laments the sad situation. Then he says:
I have sent Menoeceus’ son,
Creon, my consort’s brother, to inquire
Of Pythian Phoebus at his Delphic shrine,
How I might save the State by act or word.
And now I reckon up the tale of days
Since he set forth, and marvel how he fares.
‘Tis strange, this endless tarrying, passing strange.
But when he comes, then I were base indeed,
If I perform not all the god declares.
From this passage it would appear that the king has full faith in the awaited advice from the oracle at Delphi. Is this notion historicaly accurate? Did Sophocles’ contmeporaries actually put such trust in their pagan gods and goddesses? As Brian Wilkie and James Hurt state in “Sophocles”: “Humanity in his plays is an integral part of a world-order that can be only partially understood at best. The cosmic system includes, besides human beings and nature, those darkly inscrutable forces identified – inadequately – as the gods and fate” (718). When Creon returns, he gives his report publicly:
CREON Let me report then all the god declared.
King Phoebus bids us straitly extirpate
A fell pollution that …
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…74). Cypselus consulted the oracle, and on the basis of its answer, set to work to make himself master of Corinth (376)which he ruled for many years.
Thus we have seen that Sophocles is not being imaginative when he bases the action of the tragedy Oedipus Rex upon the words of the oracle at Delphi. It is wholly consistent with historical data available from that time period of the fifth century BC.
Herodotus. The Histories. Translated by Aubrey de Selincourt. England: Penguin Books, 1972.
“Sophocles” In Literature of the Western World, edited by Brian Wilkie and James Hurt. NewYork: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1984.
Sophocles. Oedipus Rex. Transl. by F. Storr.