Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Degree Program

Humanities, PhD

Committee Chair

Gibson, John

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Jaffee, Aaron

Committee Member

Bertacco, Simona

Committee Member

Klinkowitz, Jerome

Author's Keywords

Kurt Vonnegut; philosophy; the good life; modernity


What are people for? This is a question Kurt Vonnegut raises in his first novel, 1952’s Player Piano. Over five decades later, when he concludes a career with 2005’s A Man Without a Country, he is still asking, “What is life all about?” (66). These are the central questions for Vonnegut, and his novels, short stories, essays, interviews, correspondence, and commencement addresses offer a singular, life-long attempt at an answer. In this dissertation I offer a reading of Vonnegut not just as a writer concerned with philosophical questions, but rather, on a deeper, more personal level, as a philosopher of the self. Vonnegut offers a unified, coherent, and systematic philosophical worldview, one in which purpose, foma, aesthetic experience, and community are non-negotiable elements for “the good life.” By bringing Vonnegut’s thought and work into conversation with Camus, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, and diasporic theory, a goal of this dissertation is to explore Vonnegut’s work in philosophical, anthropological, cultural, and individualistic terms. The good life for Vonnegut is ultimately one in which the individual is able to say “yes” to existence in the midst of modernity. Purposelessness, embarrassment, hopelessness, shame, and loneliness are serious philosophical problems for Vonnegut, and his work represents a systematic attempt to come to terms with and ultimately (hopefully) work through them, not just for his readers, but as this dissertation will illustrate, for himself as well.