Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1946/2983
In this essay I will examine the novel Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut in terms of questions about responsibility, identity and moral schizophrenia, and of awareness and illusion. I will argue that the attempts of the novel’s main character, Howard W. Campbell Jr., to keep his sanity, given the situation he had put himself into (as a US spy in the Nazi hierarchy in Germany during World War II), may indeed be a sort of madness. Furthermore, I will explore
the fine line in Vonnegut’s novel between seeming opposites such as between sanity and
madness, and his presentation of the human trait of evasion in the sense of blocking or
putting a barrier between two seemingly contradictory stances, between, say, feelings on the one hand and reason or conscience on the other, which, while in some instances are beneficial, also have the potential of having dire consequences, depending on how or if one acts upon them. I will argue that Campbell is a perfect example of this theme and that
Vonnegut is pointing out the ambivalence of pushing your awareness or conscience to the
corner of the room, not necessarily destroying it, but at least pushing it far enough away to allow yourself to do things that are in violation of it. I will argue that Vonnegut is thus pointing out a very human potential within us all, showcasing the fine line there can be between seeming opposites, reminding us not to take our perception of things for granted.
This factor is especially poignant given Vonnegut’s own experiences as a US prisoner of war in Dresden experiencing the fire-bombing of this city by his own USAF bombers.
Ultimately it is this trait, and its inner and outer effects, that counts, rather than the question of the trait being bad or good in itself, for I believe that we all have the potential to act as Campbell and other characters in this book do, without that necessarily cleansing him or us of the responsibility for our actions or inactions (for both, ultimately, I feel, effect our