Date of Award

6-7-2006

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

Abstract

"The Inspiration to Activism: Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut as Hopeful Critics of Humanity," posits that although both authors have been considered pessimists and even fatalists, a study of No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger and Slaughterhouse-Five supports that they do maintain hope for improvement.

Based on a study of philosophical theories regarding human nature, free will, and moral responsibility, Chapter One, "The Literary Presentation of a Social Philosophy" discusses textual evidence which leads the reader to understand what both Twain and Vonnegut thought about the possibility of free will and moral responsibility. Consideration is given to the dynamics present when an individual interacts with both the small community and with society at large. The chapter concludes that both authors see potential for greater humanity within the context of the community but that they also understand that society in general suppresses free will.

Chapter two, "Historical and Fictional Narratives: Versions of Truth" employs the tenets of New Historicism to analyze the implications of employing fiction to challenge history. Both texts challenge institutional control of truth and declare that events should remain open to interpretation. To Twain and Vonnegut, truth-value must be gauged according to the expectation that any truthful interpretation of reality should encourage sympathy and humanity rather than injustice and cruelty.

"The Artist-Activist: Hope Despite Despair," the third chapter, considers the effectiveness of Twain and Vonnegut as activists by studying the characteristics that enable their accessibility -- humor, ethics, and literary style. This chapter also examines the role of the imagination to create a vision for change and to implement that vision, concluding that as artists, Vonnegut and Twain achieve the goals of the artist-activist with a balance of satire, didacticism, and accessibility.

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