Mother Night, by Kurt Vonnegut

Report
Background information and essential
questions

His work
He often used science fiction to capture the wonder,
irrationality, randomness, and coincidence that he
experienced in life. Science fiction was used to
perceive the every day, not to escape it. Humor is a
key element in Vonnegut’s work.
•
Extraordinary life events (hello, influence)
He was a POW during WWII and survived the Dresden
Allied fire bombings. When he was home on leave, his
mother committed suicide on Mother’s Day 1944. His
sister, Alice, died from cancer within hours of her
husband’s death in a train crash. Surely his vision of the
fantastic in daily life was shaped by these occurrences.
Take a look at this brief interview. In it, he details his
experience in Dresden.
 Read
the following quote and create a
written response to Vonnegut’s warning:

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be
careful about what we pretend to be.”
Consider the following questions as you build your
response:
What does the notion of pretense imply about
people? When might people pretend to be
something or someone that they are not? Is this a
positive or negative trait? Should people pretend
(why or why not)?
 Where
is evil?
 How do people cope with evil?

Do Now:


Provide examples of where evil exists and in what
ways it manifests. Include ways people deal with evil
as it presents itself.
As you read

note the ways various characters create, contribute
to, or are evil. Note, too, ways different characters
try to deal with the evil they encounter.
 If
you haven’t already guessed, Vonnegut
wants his readers to explore ways people
cope with overwhelming evil, including ways
people attempt to escape it. After you read,
be prepared to answer:

What opinion does Vonnegut hold in regards to
evil? Provide evidence from the novel.
 His
work also has a clear view on patriotism.
As you read, determine Vonnegut’s views on
patriotism. Be prepared to support your
conclusions with evidence from the novel.
 This
is a list of major and minor characters. As you
read, determine what each character represents
and how they correlate with the theme:


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

Howard Campbell, Jr.
Dr. Abraham Epstein
Bernard B. O’Hare
Heinz Schildkneck
Iona Potapov, aka George Kraft
Lionel Jones
 The
trial of Howard Campbell, Jr. in Mother
Night parallels Adolph Eichmann’s trial.
 Vonnegut wrote the novel in 1960, but dated
it ahead to 1961 to align with Eichmann’s
trial.
 Eichmann was arrested in 1960. His trial
began in 1961, and he was executed in 1962;
Mother Night was written in 1960 and
published in 1962.
 It was typical of Vonnegut to build a novel
around a current news story.

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
Eichmann was charged with 15 counts of crimes against the
Jewish people and against humanity
“Eichmann coordinated deportations of Jews from
Germany and elsewhere in western, southern, and
northern Europe to killing centers. Eichmann made
deportation plans down to the last detail. Working with
other German agencies, he determined how the property
of deported Jews would be seized and made certain that
his office would benefit from the confiscated assets. He
also arranged for the deportation of tens of thousands of
Roma (Gypsies),” (US Holocaust Museum n.pag.).
Eichmann was hanged July 1, 1962 and his death sentence
remains the only one that Israel enacted
Brought the Nazi atrocities to the forefront of world news
and generated interest in Jewish resistance
Helped survivors feel compelled to share their stories
 Meta-fiction
 Existentialism
 Gallows
Humor
 Meta-fiction



Blurs the line between fiction and reality.
Draws attention to itself as an artifact in order to
pose a question about the relationship between
fiction and reality
Traits




 As
Intrusion of the narrative to comment on the writing
Involvement of the author with the fictional characters
Directly addressing the reader
Openly questioning how narrative assumptions and
conventions transform and filter reality
you read, find and note evidence of this
technique.
 Existentialism



A philosophy that states the individual is a selfdetermining agent responsible for the
dependability of his or her own choices
Stresses the importance of personal experience
and responsibility and the demands that they
make on the individual, who is seen as a free
agent in a seemingly meaningless universe.
You know the saying, “everything happens for a
reason,”? Well, existentialists beg to differ.
 As
you read, find and note evidence of this
philosophy.
 Gallows



Humor-
Humorous treatment of a grave situation
Made by the person/character affected by the
dramatic situation
in this case, gallows humor is used to show the
insanity of the WWII holocaust.
 As
you read, find and note examples of this
technique.
“Meta-fiction.” The Postmodern Novel. Dr. Agatha
Taormina. 16 Apr. 2008. Web. 8 Aug. 2012.
“Mother Night." Masterplots II: American Fiction
Series, Revised Edition. Ed. Steven G. Kellman.
Salem Press, Inc., 2000. eNotes.com. 8 Aug. 2012
Reed, Peter. “Kurt Vonnegut’s Fantastic Faces.”
Kurt Vonnegut. Kurt Vonnegut & Origami Express
LLC. 2012. Web. 8 Aug. 2012.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
“Eichmann Trial.” Holocaust Encyclopedia. 11
May 2012. Web. 8 Aug. 2012.

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