The American novelist and satirist, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was born and raised in Indianapolis in November 1922.
He wrote a column for Cornell University’s student newspaper before training to be a chemist.
His writing began when he became a journalist before serving in the U.S. army during World War II.
As an American writer, Vonnegut was well-known for his dry wit, pithy statements, and the dark humor that pervaded through his satirical novels came through during his time at war.
Vonnegut formed the basis of his most famous book, Slaughterhouse-Five, from his experiences in the Battle of the Bulge as an advance scout.
His experience as a first-hand witness of the Dresden bombing as a prisoner of war was also used in the novel that would transform his life.
When many think of a ‘Vonnegutian’ piece of work, Slaughterhouse-Five is the book that immediately springs to mind.
Slaughterhouse-Five was a finalist in the Nebula Award and in the Hugo Award for Best Novel, both in 1970.
The novel was also a finalist in the 1973 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation.
These were not Vonnegut’s first nominations and he had won awards before that.
In total, Vonnegut published 14 novels, five plays, three short-story collections, and five works of non-fiction.
Even more collections were published following his death in April 2007.
If you are a fan of Kurt Vonnegut’s writing and adore his satirical fiction novels, you should look to the works of Douglas Adams, John Steinbeck, Joseph Heller, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and William Golding to your list of favorite authors.
Authors Like Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut found humor in the extreme, typically from difficult, tragic circumstances.
If you want to read similar writing then look towards Douglas Adams and Joseph Heller.
Other writers to highlight the realism of life include John Steinbeck and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
William Golding was also able to show the human capacity for transformation, typically towards amoralism and the absence of morality.
Adams was a versatile author with over 120 books to his name yet his novel, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, marked him out as an author of his time.
The dark humor following the destruction of Planet Earth likened the novel to a ‘Vonnegutian’ piece of work. While Vonnegut could write about war, Adams looked to intergalactic matters.
Originally developed as a BBC radio comedy, Adams developed five books around his seminal novel which has been developed into a video game, comics, stage plays, a TV series, and a feature film.
- Versatility – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy remains a highly versatile piece of work that has been developed into several formats. Adams even wrote for Monty Python’s Flying Circus as a sketch writer and was a friend of Terry Jones.
- Technophile – Adams liked to use science and technology in his books and was reportedly one of the first people in the UK to own a Macintosh computer
- The Number 42 Theory – According to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the number 42 was the answer to the question of life and no definitive answer has been made.
Themes: Science-fiction, humorous fiction
While Vonnegut was known for his satire, Steinbeck described tough situations with more realism.
One of his most well-known novels, The Grapes of Wrath, was set amidst the Great Depression.
The Joad family was the main focus and the story is based on them being driven away by economic hardship, drought, and bank foreclosures.
Similarly, in Of Mice and Men, a classic story ends in tragedy, but a familiar trait in his books is sympathy for the characters he depicted.
- Realism – Steinbeck was keen to show America at its most real in his writing. He often explored themes of injustice and focused on the downtrodden to tell their stories.
- Affecting Writing – Steinbeck uses the external landscape to demonstrate man’s relationship with the land, even though it can prove difficult to read.
- Dark Subjects – A lot of Steinbeck’s writing follows the unfortunate fate of its subjects as some tragic circumstances unfold.
Themes: Poverty, realism, social perception, injustice
As the author of Catch-22, Heller was known for his satirical writing. While you may not have read the book, the title has become a synonym in its own right.
The book goes a long way to explain the bureaucracy during war and was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1972.
It took a while for Heller to follow up his masterpiece yet he still looked towards satire, especially involving the middle class.
- Big Gap Between Books – Once Heller hit fame with Catch-22, there was over a decade before his second fictional book was published.
- Fascinating Characters – Heller’s writing helped establish characters with a strong sense of self and individuality while they got into highly hilarious situations.
- Lack of Consistency – While Catch-22 is a stunning, macabre novel, the rest of his output differs markedly. Something Happened is much more muted while Good as Gold is closer to a memoir.
Themes: Satire, war, bureaucracy
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Through his writing, F. Scott Fitzgerald was said to have ushered in the Jazz Age, a term he seems to have coined.
While he was not wholly appreciated in his own time, Fitzgerald was eventually seen as one of the greatest writers from the twentieth century.
He would be remembered for The Great Gatsby though he did write four novels and left a fifth one unfinished.
With the dozens of short stories that went with his novels, Fitzgerald set about themes of despair, youth, and aging with sizable vigor.
- Prolific Writer – Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby during just a summer and a fall and the speed of the writing comes through in the pace of the book.
- Controlled Narrative – His books were keen to establish a narrative point of view with several elements of control.
- Not Fully Appreciated In His Time – Despite the later appreciation of novels like The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald derived most of his income from magazine stories. The money was also spent a lot more quickly than it was coming in.
Themes: Despair, aspiration, youth
It was not until Lord of the Flies became successful that William Golding found the freedom for full-time writing.
Many English literature teachers have taught the book in school and it finds favor with students for its depiction of the alienation of modern youth.
Lord of the Flies set the template for his tales of adventure which depicted how humans can transform, whether for good or bad.
Golding won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1983 and was knighted in 1988 for his contributions to literature.
- Realism – While his books showed how far humanity could fall, it did prove to be realistic in its depiction of the human condition and its capacity for transformation.
- Award-winning – Not only did Golding win the 1983 Nobel Prize in Literature, he won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1979 and the Booker Prize the following year.
- Depiction Of Amoralism – Through Golding’s writing, you get a realistic sense of how amoral humans can become when left without hope.
Themes: Adventure, human capacity for transformation, moral identification
Over time, Slaughterhouse-Five has been seen as a superb antiwar novel and an American classic.
The firebombing of Dresden is featured and used to show how humans examine fear.
While still humorous, the novel can be an exceptionally tough read which was a hallmark of Vonnegut’s writing.
Through his writing, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was able to write about considerably difficult circumstances and throw in some satire and black comedy.
Though he was not the first, by finding humor in war, Vonnegut wrote in an acerbic manner and his values of humanity and socialism came through.
That sense of looking out for the good guys and finding the dark humor in difficult situations can be seen in the works of Douglas Adams and Joseph Heller.
The likes of William Golding, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and John Steinbeck were also able to write about realism in a way that instructed readers about the extremes of human experience.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Kurt Vonnegut’s Writing Style Described As?
Vonnegut typically wrote with a dry and minimalist style with short sentences for quick reading and to get his point across.
This was welcome as the themes included violence, the need for decency, social equality, and pacifism.
What Values Did Kurt Vonnegut Have That Can Be Seen In His Writing?
Through his books, certain values of Vonnegut come across which include his pacifism, socialism, and humanity.
Vonnegut could also be seen to be against racism, capitalism, and imperialism while looking out for characters with realism.