The Authorial Power/lessness in
Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-V
and Breakfast of Champion
  • Introduction: 3 Why I chose them  Wanna Read More?
  • Chapter 1  Chapter 2
    Sarah Chen-Chi Hu

    Why I chose them

    I chose SF and BC as the focus of my thesis in discussing authorial strategies because these two novels have several common features. Definitely, these two novels are different in their subject matter: one focuses on the experience of the Second World War, while the other mainly presents fragments of American culture. One provides the fantasy of the outer planet Tralfamadore, while the other tells the meeting of two Americans on earth. One presents Kilgore Trout as a failed science fiction writer without ''doodly-squat;''  the other announces him as a winner of Nobel Prize for medicine at the end. Obviously, SF has become the most renowned work of fiction in Vonnegut's writing career. It is often regarded as Vonnegut's climax, as Tony Tanner describes the novel as ''the masterly''  (3). Even Vonnegut himself grades the book with an A+. On the contrary, BC seems to receive a completely opposite review by some critics, such as Prescott, who uses ''hate''  (40) to describe his discontent on the book. Vonnegut gives the self-comments on both books in an interview: ''Slaughterhouse-Five and Breakfast of Champions used to be one book. But they just separated completely. It was like a pousse-cafe, like oil and water¡Xthey simply were not mixable. So I was able to decant Slaughterhouse-Five and what was left was Breakfast of Champions''  (qtd. in Allen 108). It seems that the production of BC suggests the fact that Vonnegut is ''crossing the spine of a roof¡Xhaving ascended one slope''  (4) since he has created what the critics called a masterpiece of his writing career.

    What I have found, however, is that the two works share some characteristics which serve as excellent examples for the discussions of the authorial control. The close publishing time of SF (1969) and BC (1973) is not the only reason I chose them for detailed discussions on the problems of the authorial power in this thesis. More importantly, as I focus my discussions on the power or powerlessness of the author, Kilgore Trout, who is usually seen as an alter-ego of Vonnegut by the critics, will be the most conspicuous character to start with in my discussion. It is without coincidence that Kilgore Trout does appear in both novels as a mindless and unprofessional science fictional writer and his stories have been summarized and become parts of the two novels. Moreover, in both novels, Vonnegut merges the position of the biographical Vonnegut persona with the omniscient narrator, which the realistic and modernistic narratives do not allow. For the most prominent strategic features, both novels adopt elements of metafictional writing and the inherent spirit of black humor as I have pointed out previously. My thesis, therefore, chooses these two novels to analyze how Vonnegut's writing strategies have changed the traditional authorial power and allowed new kinds of power to the author in the postmodern time.

    Wanna Read More?

    This thesis, therefore, will be a textual study in order to examine the authorial power and powerlessness of the two novels of Vonnegut. In chapter one, I will offer a definition of what I mean to be the power of the author in realist and modernist traditions as the ground for the discussion on the loss of the authorial power in the two chosen novels of Vonnegut. In the following two chapters, I will discuss respectively why Vonnegut chooses to abandon the authorial power and what power he has gained through the very renunciation in SF and BC. In these two chapters, I want to argue that though Vonnegut's fictional treatments of the authorial control appear to be negative and destructive, it is by this very means that the author can produce a fictional work which connects form with the subjects of nihilism and lack of free will and brings power again to the author.

    To conclude, this thesis wants to argue that the author has to abandon the traditional authorial power in order to acquire his power as a metafictional writer. The metafictional authorial power is quite paradoxical because the author has to be powerless first as he abandons certain traditional authorial control over text. However, the renunciation of the authorial control is for the successful presentation of the author's thematic concerns because the realistic and modernistic authorial mode is hardly adequate. Therefore, through the presentation of the author as a powerful/less one, Vonnegut is able to bring forth his message to readers in the face of chaotic and disastrous human experiences.