Postmodernism Literature Crying of Lot 49 and Slaughter House Five Essay

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Postmodernism Literature

Both Thomas Pynchon's "The Crying of Lot 49" and Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughter-House Five" are representative works of the Postmodern movement in literature, because of several common characteristics. First of all, the two writers belong to the post war generations of the 50s and 60s and, as such, are challenged by similar modern anguishes, such as the lack of clear static moral values and the loneliness and alienation that derive from that. The Second World War represented, in many ways, a break with the past and this is the first generation dealing with this break and with the necessity to identify a new path of development.

Second, the two works share common themes, such as temporal distortion and the absence of a clear narrative line in the story (or rather the existence of a thin and relative line), as well as irony and black humor as occasional instruments used as means of expression. All of these are also clear marks of the Postmodernist current in literature, to which both writers belong.

At the same time, however, the two works are significantly different in many other aspects. There is always a playful and ironic tone in "The Crying of Lot 49," down to the names of the characters, which seem to be directing the reader towards a parody approach to the novel. With "Slaughter-House Five," K. Vonnegut blends his main character's existence with his own reminiscences of the war, the result being a nostalgic approach to life and the individual's direction through life.

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The aim of this paper is to compare and contrast the major elements of the two books, including style, form, and characters, from a larger perspective to include the position of these books in the Postmodern literary movement and of the two writers in the postwar society of the 1950s and 1960s.

Essay on Postmodernism Literature Crying of Lot 49 and Slaughter House Five Assignment

The common theme of both novels and, indeed, of most postmodern novels, is the theme of loneliness, usually combined with the alienation of the main character (or main characters) from a world without visible values that he or she cannot understand. In "The Crying of Lot 49," the theme is not so dramatically present throughout the novel, but makes itself felt towards the end, as the main character, Oedipa, recognizes that the absence of true values around which she can guide her life leaves her empty once the entire combination of actions and new characters disappears.

This is perhaps one of the reasons why the character's loneliness is not felt in the other parts of the book: Oedipa is caught in a complicated quest aimed at discovering subsequent plots that appear out of the intrigue, Pierce Inverarity's testament. Most notably, these are associated with the existence of the secret organization, Trystero.

Oedipa's loneliness is also partially filled up with the momentary existence of a large volume of characters that she runs across in her quest (the paper will later refer to how the author uses some of these characters and their names to allude to different issues, an important instrument in postmodern expression). Here, however, these characters will have a short effect on Oedipa's loneliness, the eventual drama of the postmodern individual once all intermediary instruments disappear.

The loneliness theme is very present in "Slaughter-House Five," although perhaps the author uses a more nostalgic and melancholic tone, as compared to Pynchon's parody and satirical approach. At the same time, Vonnegut's approach is also a philosophical one, as he contemplates on the human condition. According to the Tralfamadorians, there is no free will, just as Billy Pilgrim, the main character, has already anticipated.

The absence of free will implies something even more profound than the fact that the individual human being cannot choose his own decisions: humanity develops as the consequence of the collusion of a series of external factor rather than as an internal process, marked by the capacity to make one's own decisions. In many ways, from this perspective, humanity is much less developed on the evolutionary scale than one would have presumed. At the same time, the fact that the decisions result as a consequence of external factors means that the events such as war or the destruction of the Universe, are inevitable. Going further than this, if humanity does possess free will, then how is it possible to have events such as the bombing on Dresden, an initial pretext on which the entire plot is built. Even in the context of free will, such an event may show that the humanity of the individual does not, in fact exist, leading to his sense of alienation and loneliness.

It is difficult to decide whether, in a true postmodern approach, Vonnegut uses irony to make fun of the fatalist perception or, as some critics see it, he truly believes in the absence of free will or, rather, in the fact that free will is more of an illusion of humanity, a self-defense mechanism that human beings use in order to protect themselves from an otherwise implacable perception of life associated to faith. As Robert Merrill and Peter a. Scholl discussed, quoting Charles Harris and several other critics, "the main idea emerging from Slaughterhouse-Five seems to be that the proper response to life is one of resigned acceptance" (Merrill, Scholl 1978).

On the other hand, the two authors have a similar approach in terms of the temporal distortion, an instrument they both use to dissimulate the importance of time and break the story down into smaller stories, without following a distinctive timeline. This fact is most obvious in Kurt Vonnegut's book. The hero becomes "unstuck in time," which means that the events that occur in his lifetime do not follow the usual temporal coordination and sequence. The different parts of the story thus appear to be randomly placed in the book, in an attempt to take away the focus from the actual connection between them and attempt to treat them as such, separately from one another.

Another interpretation here could be a phenomenological one: life is formed of a series of experiences, and the meanings of these are solitary rather than summed up to constitute the whole. As the author explains the Tralfamadorian type of books, identical to his own, "there isn't any particular relationship between all the messages, except that the author has chosen them carefully, so that, when seen all at once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep" (Vonnegut, 1969).

This is similar in "The Crying of Lot 49," although less obvious and expressed in a different manner. The events in the book do seem to be tied into a temporal framework, which is explicable through the quest and mystery characteristics of the novel: the main character is in the process of attempting to elucidate the mystery presented at the beginning through the testament and which evolves as more elements are added to this. One cannot speak of temporal distortion here, however, one can emphasize that the author seems to interconnect different temporal levels in what often looks as a surrealistic approach. An example in this sense is the way the 17th century revenge play is inserted as a play within the play, moving the action to a different timeframe, although without the same impact or importance in Vonnegut's novel.

This is also probably where the loneliness and alienation comes from in both novels: the intrinsic presence of the absurd in individuals' lives, along with their tacit acceptance of the fact that the absurd does indeed exist. The use of the absurd in literary works and the conscious analysis of the reaction of individual character to the absurd (and by absurd, it is generically implied that this term includes absurd events and developments of the events) is not new to literature and it is not the Postmodernists who introduce it. It is a. Camus, especially in novels such as the "The Plague" and "The Stranger."

Its use in Pynchon's novel is somewhat similar, although the play on the presence of the absurd that the author uses is different. The absurd usually occurs at the beginning of the novel, triggering the rest of the action of the book. In Camus's "The Plague," for example, the main character notices a dead rat, a sign that the plague will hit the town. In Pynchon's book, it is Pierce Inverarity's absurd testament that starts the whole action of the novel. In Vonnegut's book, since the action does not follow a temporal sequence, it is a series of apparently absurd events that trigger the story.

The manner or rather the means of expression in which the two novels are written is similar in the two literary works that belong to the same artistic period, although the detailed manner of expression is sometimes different. On one hand, both approaches are original and innovative compared to the classic literary means of expression. Pynchon excels in the multitude of instruments he is likely to use in order to allude to the different aspects of… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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