УДК 82


Седова Алёна Дмитриевна
Томский Государственный Педагогический Университет

Статья посвящена выявлению особенностей постмодернизма, отражённых в произведении Курта Воннегута "Who am I this time?".


Sedova Alyona Dmitrievna
Tomsk State Pedagogical University

This article concerns the features of postmodernism reflected in the work "Who am I this time?" by K. Vonnegut.

Keywords: postmodernism, Vonnegut


Библиографическая ссылка на статью:
Седова А.Д. Characteristic features of postmodernism in "Who am I this time?" by K.Vonnegut // Современные научные исследования и инновации. 2013. № 10 [Электронный ресурс]. URL: https://web.snauka.ru/issues/2013/10/26424 (дата обращения: 25.11.2021).

“Who am I this time?” is a short story that belongs to the anthology “Welcome to the Monkey House” written by K. Vonnegut. This work is a representative of the postmodernism period and it certainly reflects its particular features.

First of all, the characteristic peculiar to postmodernism that seemed to me to be the most noticeable and prominent in this work is sense of disjunction and desolation.  If we appeal to the very beginning of the story, we will see at once in the first description  of the main character –Harry Nash – the following words: “He never came to meetings, he was too shy”, “he wasn’t married”, “he didn’t go out with women, didn’t have any close men friends either”. [3] This is how Harry Nash’s loneliness is expressed here, he suffers from desolation.

The same theme of detachment appears when we meet Helene Shaw. She is a personage who doesn’t want to belong to a particular society because she has to move from place to place all the time. Certainly, it is important to be accepted by the society, otherwise one feels secluded and abandoned. That is why, when Helene joined the new theatre community, she was happy with it (“It was the first time anybody ever asked me to participate in any community thing”). It gave her a feeling of acceptance and support. She opened up for others from a new side, though she had been a self-contained person before.

The second feature that, in my opinion, combines these two characters and makes them similar is indeterminacy and, as Nealon and Giroux call it, “cool apathy”. [2] It can also be observed throughout the whole story. For instance, Harry Nash is not concerned about anything, even about the theatre life that he likes (“Harry wasn’t at the meeting to say whether he takes part or not”). [3] Moreover, he doesn’t show any enthusiasm in it (“When I told him that I wanted him in my play, he said what he always said – “Who am I this time?”).[3] The personage is a brilliant actor at the amateur theatre but, at the same time, he is a dull clerk in the office who has nothing interesting to do in everyday life and doesn’t take part in the life of society. We can say the same about Helene Shaw who is presented as an absolutely indifferent person (“I wondered if she was interested in anything. She seemed kind of numb, almost a machine herself”; “She was the same girl with the same smile for everybody”, “I don’t think volcano would stir her up enough to say “Oo”).[3]

As it is known, postmodernism is marked by intertextuality.  It implies explicit allusions and references to other sources, works. Intertextuality serves as an aspect of the  awareness about history and works of art.[1] First of all, we can find in the text mentioning of various titles of works, such as A Streetcar named Desire, The Caine Mutiny Court Martial, Abe Lincoln in Illinois, Anne of Thousand Days ,etc. Further, at the end of the text we read an abstract from “Romeo and Juliet” which is announced by the main characters. And here, along with intertextuality, reflexivity takes place. This reflexivity induces irony of the words that were “said before”. The personage expresses his thoughts, but his words are unoriginal. As a result, we get the feeling that he isn’t able to make up anything new but uses the already existent.[1] We get the mix of particular elements that give us new combinations and an opportunity to create a new content that corresponds more to the given situation of the modern life.

What is also inherent in works of postmodernism is playfulness. It deals with meanings, words, signs, quotations etc. The author plays with the text and involves the reader in this “game”. Purpose of it is to give the reader an opportunity to take part in understanding of the text, to guess what is going on and to assume the developing events. Thus, we have, for instance, several samples that illustrate the wordplay in the text (“He said what he always said and it was sad”). [3] Besides, reading “Who am I this time?” we cannot leave out of account certain fragments that contain irony. For instance, it can be noticed at the beginning when the narrator says “I got stuck with the directing job, even though the only thing I’d ever directed before was the installation of combination aluminum storm windows and screens I’d sold”. [3] It appears also by describing Harry’s character – “All the Marlon Brando was gone. He was tongue-tied, he was scared, he was shy – he was everything Harry was famous for being between plays”. [3] One more example of it is “What was about to happen was wilder than the chariot race in Ben Hur”. [3]

What is more, according to the words of Nealon and Giroux, postmodernism works “coolly and ironically expose the constructedness”.[2] And K. Vonnegut’s story proves it. Constructedness implies the distinct organization of structures. Postmodernism works refuse it and rather support fragmentation, inconsistency and spontaneity. The author puts here constructedness on the foreground. It finds its realization in the following phrases describing Harry Nash: “He never could think of anything to say or do without a script”. Excessive organization and preciseness are also shown in the way of the character’s life: “He always does that after the performance. The minute it’s over, he clears out as fast as he can”.[3] Later the author mentions again the life of the two characters that “sticks to the script”: “They are strange from time to time, depending on which play they are reading to each other at the time”.[3]

In conclusion, it is worth mentioning that unlike modernist works, this postmodernist story is not orderly ended, it is rather vague, and its denouement is quick, almost instant, and unexpected. “Who am I this time?” combines many characteristics of postmodern literature that appear on the level of content, composition, form, usage of artistic devices and relationship between the author and the reader. It allows us observe the distinctive features that show the border between postmodernism and earlier movements.

  1. Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. Second Edition. London: Sage, 2005.
  2. Nealon, Jeffrey, and Susan Searls Giroux. The Theory Toolbox: Critical Concepts for the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2012.
  3. Vonnegut, Kurt. Who Am I This Time/ Welcome to the Monkey House. London: UK: Panther Books Limited, 1972.

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