Today, Kurt Vonnegut is known as an extremely skilled and creative writer. His work spans genres, but he is best known for his satire approaches to themes of war, free will, technology, and the purpose of life. On this list, readers can find a few of Vonnegut’s best quotes scattered through four of Vonnegut’s most famous novels.
If I hadn’t spent so much time studying Earthlings,” said the Tralfamadorian, “I wouldn’t have any idea what was meant by ‘free will.’ I’ve visited thirty-one inhabited planets in the universe, and I have studied reports on one hundred more. Only on Earth is there any talk of free will.
These lines are spoken by one of the Tralfamadorians in Chapter 4 of Vonnegut’s most famous novel, Slaughterhouse-Five. Billy has been captured by aliens and placed in a zoo. He’s listening to his new captors talk about time and what it means to be alive and “unstuck” in time. They live in four dimensions and believe that every moment is out of control for the person living it.
There is no such thing as free will in their world. To emphasize how strange it is, the speaker says that Earth is the only place where anyone ever talks about free will. They are a bizarre group of people who have a wacky concept of life and time. Billy also learns about the non-linear time during his captivity in the zoo.
If what Billy Pilgrim learned from the Tralfamadorians is true, that we will all live forever, no matter how dead we may sometimes seem to be, I am not overjoyed. Still–if I am going to spend eternity visiting this moment and that, I’m grateful that so many of those moments are nice.
These lines feature in Chapter 10 of Slaughterhouse-Five. Despite the experience Billy has had on Tralfamadore, the narrator (Vonnegut) is not impressed. The life philosophies of non-linear time and free will aren’t really that interesting. The quote acknowledges that there are different ways to understand life and that if the Tralfamadorians are right, the speaker is glad that there are a few nice moments in his life that he might revisit from time to time. But, their philosophies were not a revelation to him.
Billy and the rest wandered out onto the shady street. The trees were leafing out. There was nothing going on out there, no traffic of any kind. There was only one vehicle, an abandoned wagon drawn by two horses. The wagon was green and coffin-shaped. Birds were talking.
One bird said to Billy Pilgrim, “Poo-tee-weet?
These are the last lines of the Slaughterhouse-Five. The phrase “Poo-tee-weet” appears yet again, marking Billy’s hard-won freedom. Still, nothing has been resolved regarding war and what happens next in humanity’s seeming quest to destroy one another. They are animalistic in a way that true animals, like the bird, are not.
I thought it would be a good idea to let him have a good look at me, and so attempted to flick on the dome light. I turned on the windshield wipers instead. I turned them off again. My view of the lights of the County Hospital was garbled by beads of water. I pulled at another switch, and it came away in my hand. It was a cigarette lighter. So I had no choice but to continue to speak from darkness.
These thoughtful lines come from Breakfast of Champions. The narrator is trying to turn on the light in his car so that his companion, Kilgore Trout, a science fiction writer, can see him. He struggles to get the light on, a symbol for the broader struggles that he and every other human being faces in the machine-filled world. This is yet another instance of Vonnegut discussing the ever-important theme of free will.
Meaning of Life
I understood that each person had delivered himself to this melancholy place and then poisoned himself with ice-nine.
There were men, women, and children, too, many in the attitudes of boko-maru.
These lines can be found in Cat’s Cradle, a strange and unforgettable novel about the dangers of the arms race. It follows the family of one of the creators of the atomic bomb. His newest creation, ice-nine, ends the world in the last chapters of the novel. In this quote, love and death are unified through boko-maru. There are numerous questions raised regarding what good love really did and if it lessened the pain of such a terrifying end.
Everyone now knows how to find the meaning of life within himself. But mankind wasn’t always so lucky. Less than a century ago men and women did not have easy access to the puzzle boxes within them. They could not name even one of the fifty-three portals to the soul.
These lines can be found in Vonnegut’s novel The Sirens of Titan. They appear at the beginning of the book and demonstrate Vonnegut’s particular form of satire. He alludes to the quest for meaning, something that’s usually perused through religion. Now, he says, people know themselves perfectly (a clear example of satire), and there is no need for any defining structures, like religion. It was just another way of getting where people wanted to go and is no longer needed.
All persons, places, and events in this book are real. Certain speeches and thoughts are necessarily constructions by the author. No names have been changed to protect the innocent, since God Almighty protects the innocent as a matter of Heavenly routine.
These lines are also found at the beginning of Cat’s Cradle, specifically in the author’s dedication. Vonnegut strikes a satirical tone that would’ve been surprising to those who had picked his novel up. This was his second-ever published book, and therefore, little was known about what kind of writer he was going to be. Here, he makes it very clear that he means to make the reader laugh and question their assumptions of what science fiction is.