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Mother Night , by Kurt Vonnegut. Background information and essential questions. Who is Kurt Vonnegut?. His work

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Mother night by kurt vonnegut

Mother Night, by Kurt Vonnegut

Background information and essential questions

Who is kurt vonnegut
Who is Kurt Vonnegut?

  • 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.

Important quote
Important Quote

  • 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)?

Essential questions
Essential Questions

  • 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:

    • Howard Campbell, Jr.

    • Dr. Abraham Epstein

    • Bernard B. O’Hare

    • Heinz Schildkneck

    • Iona Potapov, aka George Kraft

    • Lionel Jones

Ripped from the headlines
Ripped from the headlines…

  • 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.

Adolph eichmann trial
Adolph Eichmann Trial

  • 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

  • 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

      • 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

  • As you read, find and note evidence of this technique.


  • Existentialism

    • A philosophy that states the individual is a self-determining 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
Gallows Humor

  • 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.

Works cited
Works Cited

“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. 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.