By Freedom Newspapers
He struggled with depression most of his life, his early work was probably his best, and his outlook on life could be unremittingly bleak.
But Kurt Vonnegut, who died Wednesday in Manhattan at 84, captured and epitomized a certain strand of American life in ways that made him iconic to what has been too simplistically called the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s.
He may not have been one of the great novelists when all is said and done, but he was important to a lot of Americans.
Many Americans, especially when they were young or college students, will tell you their lives were changed by reading one of Vonnegut’s darkly comic, dystopian, sometimes surreal, absurdly imaginative books like “Cat’s Cradle,” “Slaughterhouse Five,” “Sirens of Titan,” “Player Piano” or “Mother Night.”
He also wrote plays, short stories and essays on political and social topics.
He denied it, but it seems likely his literary life was affected deeply by his experience in World War II.
Captured after the Battle of the Bulge, he was imprisoned in Dresden, where he survived the Allied firebombing of the city that killed tens of thousands, by huddling with other POWs in a meat locker labeled “slaughterhouse-five.”
He became a fierce critic of every subsequent war, hoping to persuade people of war’s futility and absurdity.
He seemed to consider himself a man of the left, but his was an old-fashioned, quirky, individualistic brand of leftism that found little or no reason to trust leaders or institutions.
His short story “Harrison Bergeron” satirized a dystopian future of total equality in which the U.S. Handicapper General made sure that “nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else.”
Is it a sign of perversity or talent to make cruelty, absurdity and meaninglessness funny?
Whatever it is, Kurt Vonnegut had it.