Vonnegut, Kurt: Jailbird
(researched by John Williston)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description
1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)
Published by Delacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence, 1 Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, New York, NY. First printing run, April 2, 1979, 97 copies.
Source: Kurt Vonnegut, A Comprehensive Bibliography by Asa B. Pieratt, Jr., Julie Huffman-Klinkowitz, and Jerome Klinkowitz.
2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?
Black cloth over boards.
Source: Kurt Vonnegut, A Comprehensive Bibliography by Asa B. Pieratt, Jr., Julie Huffman-Klinkowitz, and Jerome Klinkowitz.
3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available
4 Pagination
[i.] half title [ii.] blank [iii.] list of titles by author previous to Jailbird [iv.] title spread A NOVEL BY / Kurt / Vonnegut / DELACORTE PRESS/SEYMOUR LAWRENCE [v.] illustration of yellow bird sitting on cup with letters RAMJAC on it; the base of the cup sits on the letter i of title JAILBIRD [vi.] publishing and copyright page [vii.] dedication page [viii.] blank [ix.] prologue [xxxix] quotation from Nicola Sacco [xl.] blank [xli.] half title [xlii.] blank [xliii.] begin text 1- 220 [221] epilogue [242] blank [243] index through 246.
Source: Kurt Vonnegut, A Comprehensive Bibliography by Asa B. Pieratt, Jr., Julie Huffman-Klinkowitz, and Jerome Klinkowitz. Note:Personal viewing of book noticed errors in the Pieratt book. Inscription on cup was incorrect, but has been corrected here.
5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?
no
6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?
no; there is an illustration on p. [v.], but it is not credited to any artist.
7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available
8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)
The text is very readable. There are 31 lines per page, except for chapter pages, which have 11 lines and begin with a block capital letter 4 lines high.
Source: Personal examination.
9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available
10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)
The paper quality is good. The pages are all cleanly cut and there is no visible damage.
Source: Personal examination.
11 Description of binding(s)
20.8 x 13.9 cms. The binding is black cloth over boards. The top cover displays a reproduction of the author's signature between two horizontal lines, stamped in gold. The spine reads from top to bottom JAILBIRD / illus
tration of a bird in flight / KURT VONNEGUT / Delacorte Press ( line beneath publisher's name) (beneath line) Lawrence. The endpapers are blue. All edges are trimmed.
Source: Kurt Vonnegut, A Comprehensive Bibliography by Asa B. Pieratt, Jr., Julie Huffman-Klinkowitz, and Jerome Klinkowitz.
12 Transcription of title page
[iv.] title spread A NOVEL BY / Kurt / Vonnegut / DELACORTE PRESS/SEYMOUR LAWRENCE [v.] illustration of yellow bird sitting on cup with letters RAMJAC on it; the base of the cup sits on the letter i of title JAILBIRD
Source: Kurt Vonnegut, A Comprehensive Bibliography by Asa B. Pieratt, Jr., Julie Huffman-Klinkowitz, and Jerome Klinkowitz. Note:Personal viewing of book noticed errors in the Pieratt book. Inscription on cup was incorrect, but has been corrected here.
13 JPEG image of title page, if available
14 Manuscript Holdings
Harry Ransom Humanities Research. University of Texas. Special Collections. University of Iowa Libraries.
Source: National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections
15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)
The dust jacket, which is white, brown, light brown, and blue, was designed by Paul Bacon. The photograph of Vonnegut on back cover of dust jacket was taken by Jill Krementz. The first printing of the book in 1979 yiel
ded 90,700 copies.
Source: Kurt Vonnegut, A Comprehensive Bibliography by Asa B. Pieratt, Jr., Julie Huffman-Klinkowitz, and Jerome Klinkowitz.
Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History
1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A
Delacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence issued a Signed and Limited Edition in 1979. The Signed and Limited Edition was identical to the first edition except for a l
eaf added at the beginning with a recto, a statement holding that the printing was limited to 500 editions, issued at $35.00.
Source: Kurt Vonnegut, A Comprehensive Bibliography by Asa B. Pieratt, Jr., Julie Huffman-Klinkowitz, and Jerome Klinkowitz.
2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available
3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available
4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?
Published by Delacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence, 1 Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, New York, NY. First printing run, April 2, 1979, 97 copies. Delacorte also issued a Signed and Limited Edition in 1979, 500 copies.
Source: Kurt Vonnegut, A Comprehensive Bibliography by Asa B. Pieratt, Jr., Julie Huffman-Klinkowitz, and Jerome Klinkowitz.
5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A
Literary Guild Book Club Edition, 1979.
G.K. Hall Edition, 1979.
G.K. Hall Reedition, 1979.
Cape Edition, 1979. Formosan Piracy Edition, 1979.
Panther Overseas Edition, 1980.
Panther Edition, 1981.
Dell (Current Publisher) 1980, 1982, 1983, 1992, 1999.
See Also Translations Below.
Sources: Kurt Vonnegut, A Comprehensive Bibliography by Asa B. Pieratt, Jr., Julie Huffman-Klinkowitz, and Jerome Klinkowitz.
Dell Publishing website (http://www.bdd.com)
6 Last date in print?
The book is currently in print in paperback by Dell Publishing Company. February 1999, ISBN: 0-385-33390-0
Source: Dell Publishing website (http://www.bdd.com)
7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)
N/A
8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)
N/A
9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)
Publisher's Weekly, September 17,1979, p.22.
Advertisement by Delacorte/Seymour Lawrence Publishing Company. The book is not mentioned in the advertisement, but a picture of the first edition is present.
Source: Publisher's Weekly, September 17,1979.
10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available
11 Other promotion
No other promotions found.
12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A
No performances found.
Source: International Movie Database (www.us.imdb.com)
13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A
French Translation: Editions du Seuil, 1978 Le cri de l'engoulevent Translated by Philippe Mikriammos ISBN 2-02-004896-5
Dutch Translation: Meulenhoff Edition, 1980 Bajesvogel Translated by Omslag Richard Lindner ISBN 90-290-1433-4
Swedish Translation: P.A. Norstedts Edition, 1980 Burfagel Translated by Olav Jonason ISBN 91-1-801222-1
German Translation: R. Piper Edition, 1980 Galgenvogel Translated by Klaus Hoffer ISBN 3-492-02611-7
Finnish Translation: Tammi Edition, 1980 Piruparka Translated by Jukka Kemppinen ISBN 951-30-5170-6
Vindrose Edition, 1980 [Language N/A]: Tugthuskandidat Translated by Arne Herlov Petersen ISBN N/A
Japanese Translation: Hayakawa Edition, 1980 [Translated from Japanese] Jailbird Translated by Hisashi Asakura ISBN 0097-903690-6942
Italian Translation: Rizzoli Edition, 1981 Un Pezzo da galera Translated by pier Francesco Paolini ISBN N/A
Znanje Zagreb Edition, 1981 [Language N/A]: Zatvorska pticica Translated by Omer Lakomica ISBN N/A
Norwegian Translation: Lanterne Edition, 1982 Fengselsfugl Translated by Halvor Elvik ISBN 82-05-13279-8
Hungarian Translation: Europa Konyvkiado Edition, 1983 Bortontoltelek Translated by Borbas Maria ISBN 963-07-3041-3
Source: Kurt Vonnegut, A Comprehensive Bibliography by Asa B. Pieratt, Jr., Julie Huffman-Klinkowitz, and Jerome Klinkowitz.
14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A
No.
15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A
No.
Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author
1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. was born on November 11, 1922 in Indianapolis, Indiana as the second child of three to parents Kurt, Sr. and Edith Lieber Vonnegut. His affinity for writing began at Shortridge High School in
Indianapolis, as he contributed to the Shortridge Daily Echo, a student daily newspaper as a reporter and editor. In 1940, he began his two-year stay at Cornell University where he studied biochemistry and wrote for the newspaper, the Cornell Sun. Vonne
gut experienced little success in the classroom; he recollects, "I was very close to being thrown out and would have been thrown out for academic reasons because I had no gift for science really...I myself wanted to be a journalist." In 1943 he enlisted
in the United States Army, which would eventually send him to World War II. A year later, two momentous events took place which would have tremendous effects on both Vonnegut and his writing. In May, his mother Edith would commit suicide and later that
year he would be captured as a prisoner of war during the Battle of the Bulge. As a POW, Vonnegut experienced and survived the bombing of Dresden, Germany by finding shelter in an underground slaughterhouse, an event which would become the focal point fo
r his novel, Slaughterhouse Five. Vonnegut returned to the U.S. shortly after the bombing of Dresden, and married his high school sweetheart Jane Marie Cox, with whom he had three children. He studied anthropology at the University of Chicago for two ye
ars and eventually took a job in Schenectady, N.Y. at his brother Bernard's company, General Electric, as a public relations writer.
In 1950, Vonnegut's first short story, "Report on the Barnhouse Effect" was published by Collier's; he quit G.E. a year later to begin writing fulltime. His first of now fourteen novels, Piano Player, was published by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1952.
In 1965, he accepted an appointment to the University of Iowa's Writer's Workshop and two years later, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in order to conduct research in Dresden for his novel, Slaughterhouse Five, which would be received with outs
tanding acclaim after its publishing in 1969. In 1970, Vonnegut received the Literature Award from the National Institute of Arts and Letters and began a his position at Harvard University teaching creative writing. Vonnegut then began a brief stay at C
ity College of New York in 1973 by succeeding Anthony Burgess as the Distinguished Professor of English Prose.
To date, Kurt Vonnegut has authored fourteen novels with his most recent novel, Timequake, having been published in 1997. He has also authored two collections of short fiction, three works of nonfiction, two plays, and Sun/Star/Moon, a book for children
published in 1980. More recently he has been the recipient of the Eugene V. Debs Award for public service and an Emmy Award for Outstanding Children's Program. Although his public appearances are limited, he participated as a speaker at the hearing fo
r the National Coalition against Censorship briefing for the Attorney General's Commision on Pornography.
Novels Player Piano. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1952. The Sirens of Titan. New York: Dell, 1959. Mother Night. Greenwich, CT: Fawcett, 1962. New York: Harper & Row, 1966 (second edition, first hardcover publication, with a new introduction by the author). Cat's Cradle. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1963. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1965. Slaughterhouse-Five. New York: Delcacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence, 1969. Breakfast of Champions. New York: Delcacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence, 1973. Slapstick. New York: Delcacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence, 1976. Jailbird. New York: Delcacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence, 1979. Deadeye Dick. New York: Delcacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence, 1982. Galapagos. New York: Delcacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence, 1985. Bluebeard. New York: Delcacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence, 1987. Hocus Pocus. New York: Putnam, 1990. Timequake. New York: Putnam, 1997.
Collected Short Fiction
Canary in a Cat House. Greenwich, CT: Fawcett, 1961. Press/Seymour Lawrence, 1968. Welcome to the Monkey House. New York: Delcacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence, 1968
Dramatic Works
Happy Birthday, Wanda June. New York: Delcacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence, 1971. Between Time and Timbuktu. New York: Delcacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence, 1972.
Work for Children
Sun/Star/Moon. New York: Harper & Row, 1980 (with illustrations by Ivan Chermayeff).
Collected Nonfiction
Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons. New York: Delcacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence, 1974. Palm Sunday. New York: Delcacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence, 1981. Fates Worse than Death. New York: Putnam, 1991.
Source: http://www.duke.edu/~crh4/vonnegut/
Assignment 4: Reception History
1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
"It is wonderfully Dickensian, intricate and risky, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Jailbird is Vonnegut's best book since Slaugherhouse-Five. It is vintage Vonnegut. 'What a book this is for tears!'
Indeed. its last word-with a proper chill, and a proper sadness-is 'Goodbye.'" John Irving's review, which appeared in the New REpublic in September of 1979, is just one of the many warm receptions Kurt Vonnegut's Jailbird received. Characterized
as an "inventive political satire," Jailbird was considered one of Vonnegut's best novels when released in the fall of 1979 (Publisher's Weekly, Sept. 19, 1980). In contrast to many of his previous works, Vonnegut was praised for Jailbird's strong pr
ose and wonderful simplicity. John Leonard wrote, in his September 7, 1979 review in the New York Times, "Not once in Jailbird does Mr. Vonnegut nod off, go vague. It is the fashion these days for young academics...to dismiss Mr. Vonnegut as simplistic.
He is insufficiently obscure; he is not loud enough about ambiguities. Well, as he would say, listen. The simple-courtesy and decency-is hardest" (New York Times, Sept. 7, 1979). Jailbird was not without its negative critiques. Michael Wood, in the New York Times Book Review, writes, "Vonnegut...has not changed greatly. The softer focus of his later work simply picks up with modest, disenchanted kindness that was always hiding b
ehind its flippancy" (Sept. 9, 1979). The linguistic style of the novel also came under attack. "It is here that Vonnegut's commitment to the small change of language...begins to look like a disability. Vonnegut's work is so likable that its shallown
ess may seem to be part of its appeal." Overall, however, Jailbird was received warmly by those who reviewed it. Like many of his previous works, Jailbird contains the black humor and satirical overtones which provide for the love-hate relationship so m
any hold with his writing.
America, Dec. 8, 1979, 373-374 America, May 0, 1980, 402 Antioch Review 38 (Winter 1980), 122 Atlantic, Oct. 1979, 105 Best Sellers 39 (Nov. 1979), 285 Booklist, Oct. 1, 1979, 220 Book World, Dec. 9, 1979, 8 Books and Bookmen 25 (Dec. 1979), 19 Books of the Times 2 (Sept. 1979), 435 Business Week, Oct. 15, 1979, 18 Choice, November 1973, p. 1391 Christian Century, Feb. 27, 1980, 234-235 Christian Science Monitor, Sept. 10, 1979, B4 Christian Science Monitor, Jan. 12, 1981, B2 Critique 25 (Winter 1984), 78 Guardian Weekly, Aug. 19, 1979, 23 Horn Book 55 (Dec. 1979), 697 Illustrated London News 268 (May 1980), 87 Indexer 12 (Oct. 1980), 109 Kirkus, July 1, 1979, 761 Library Journal, Oct. 15, 1979, 2240 Listener 102 (Nov. 8, 1979), 642 Maclean's 92 (Oct. 22, 1979), 54-55+ National Review, Aug. 17, 1979, 1045 National Review, Nov. 23, 1979, 1503 New Republic, Sept. 22, 1979, 46 New Statesman, Dec. 7, 1979, 902 Newsweek, Oct. 1, 1979, 76 New York Review of Books, Nov. 22, 1979, 11-12 New York Times Book Review, Sept. 9, 1979, 1+ New York Times Book Review, Nov. 25, 1979, 54 New York Times Book Review, Nov. 2, 1980, 43 New York Times Book Review, Sept. 11, 1983, 55 North American REview, Winter 1979, 74-76 Observer, Nov. 4, 1979, 39 Politics Today 6 (Nov. 1979), 64-65 Progressive 43 (Dec. 1979), 56 Publisher's Weekly, July 16, 1979, 58 Publisher's Weekly, Sept. 19, 1980, 159 Saturday Review, Sept. 15, 1979, 40 School Library Journal, Dec. 1979, 104 Spectator, oct. 27, 1979, 22 Thought 56 (March 1981), 72 Time, Sept. 10, 1979, 82+ Times Literary Supplement, Dec. 7, 1979, 86 Virginia Quarterly Review 56 (Spring 1980), 67 Voice of Youth Advocates 2 (Feb. 1980), 34 Voice of Youth Advocates 4 (June 1981), 51 World Literature Today 55 (Winter 1981), 104
Sources: Kurt Vonnegut, A Comprehensive Bibliography by Asa B. Pieratt, Jr., Julie Huffman-Klinkowitz, and Jerome Klinkowitz. Book Review Index: A Master Cumulation 1965-1992. Contemporary Authors 49. http://www.duke.edu/~crh4/vonnegut/
2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
"It is wonderfully Dickensian, intricate and risky, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Jailbird is Vonnegut's best book since Slaugherhouse-Five. It is vintage Vonnegut. 'What a book this is for tears!'
Indeed. its last word-with a proper chill, and a proper sadness-is 'Goodbye.'" John Irving's review, which appeared in the New REpublic in September of 1979, is just one of the many warm receptions Kurt Vonnegut's Jailbird received. Characterized
as an "inventive political satire," Jailbird was considered one of Vonnegut's best novels when released in the fall of 1979 (Publisher's Weekly, Sept. 19, 1980). In contrast to many of his previous works, Vonnegut was praised for Jailbird's strong pr
ose and wonderful simplicity. John Leonard wrote, in his September 7, 1979 review in the New York Times, "Not once in Jailbird does Mr. Vonnegut nod off, go vague. It is the fashion these days for young academics...to dismiss Mr. Vonnegut as simplistic.
He is insufficiently obscure; he is not loud enough about ambiguities. Well, as he would say, listen. The simple-courtesy and decency-is hardest" (New York Times, Sept. 7, 1979). Jailbird was not without its negative critiques. Michael Wood, in the New York Times Book Review, writes, "Vonnegut...has not changed greatly. The softer focus of his later work simply picks up with modest, disenchanted kindness that was always hiding b
ehind its flippancy" (Sept. 9, 1979). The linguistic style of the novel also came under attack. "It is here that Vonnegut's commitment to the small change of language...begins to look like a disability. Vonnegut's work is so likable that its shallown
ess may seem to be part of its appeal." Overall, however, Jailbird was received warmly by those who reviewed it. Like many of his previous works, Jailbird contains the black humor and satirical overtones which provide for the love-hate relationship so m
any hold with his writing.
America, Dec. 8, 1979, 373-374 America, May 0, 1980, 402 Antioch Review 38 (Winter 1980), 122 Atlantic, Oct. 1979, 105 Best Sellers 39 (Nov. 1979), 285 Booklist, Oct. 1, 1979, 220 Book World, Dec. 9, 1979, 8 Books and Bookmen 25 (Dec. 1979), 19 Books of the Times 2 (Sept. 1979), 435 Business Week, Oct. 15, 1979, 18 Choice, November 1973, p. 1391 Christian Century, Feb. 27, 1980, 234-235 Christian Science Monitor, Sept. 10, 1979, B4 Christian Science Monitor, Jan. 12, 1981, B2 Critique 25 (Winter 1984), 78 Guardian Weekly, Aug. 19, 1979, 23 Horn Book 55 (Dec. 1979), 697 Illustrated London News 268 (May 1980), 87 Indexer 12 (Oct. 1980), 109 Kirkus, July 1, 1979, 761 Library Journal, Oct. 15, 1979, 2240 Listener 102 (Nov. 8, 1979), 642 Maclean's 92 (Oct. 22, 1979), 54-55+ National Review, Aug. 17, 1979, 1045 National Review, Nov. 23, 1979, 1503 New Republic, Sept. 22, 1979, 46 New Statesman, Dec. 7, 1979, 902 Newsweek, Oct. 1, 1979, 76 New York Review of Books, Nov. 22, 1979, 11-12 New York Times Book Review, Sept. 9, 1979, 1+ New York Times Book Review, Nov. 25, 1979, 54 New York Times Book Review, Nov. 2, 1980, 43 New York Times Book Review, Sept. 11, 1983, 55 North American REview, Winter 1979, 74-76 Observer, Nov. 4, 1979, 39 Politics Today 6 (Nov. 1979), 64-65 Progressive 43 (Dec. 1979), 56 Publisher's Weekly, July 16, 1979, 58 Publisher's Weekly, Sept. 19, 1980, 159 Saturday Review, Sept. 15, 1979, 40 School Library Journal, Dec. 1979, 104 Spectator, oct. 27, 1979, 22 Thought 56 (March 1981), 72 Time, Sept. 10, 1979, 82+ Times Literary Supplement, Dec. 7, 1979, 86 Virginia Quarterly Review 56 (Spring 1980), 67 Voice of Youth Advocates 2 (Feb. 1980), 34 Voice of Youth Advocates 4 (June 1981), 51 World Literature Today 55 (Winter 1981), 104
Sources: Kurt Vonnegut, A Comprehensive Bibliography by Asa B. Pieratt, Jr., Julie Huffman-Klinkowitz, and Jerome Klinkowitz. Book Review Index: A Master Cumulation 1965-1992. Contemporary Authors 49. http://www.duke.edu/~crh4/vonnegut/
Assignment 5: Critical Analysis
1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)
Released in September of 1979, Jailbird was an instant success for Kurt Vonnegut. For Vonnegut, the timing of the novel was impeccable and the style with which Vonnegut wrote was enjoying immense success from aca
demics and novice readers alike. The novel follows the rise and fall, and fall again, of Walter F. Starbuck, the son of the chauffeur for the Cleveland millionaire, Alexander Hamilton McCone. He befriends the lonely, defeated capitalist by playing chess
with him, and is rewarded by being sent to Harvard in order that he may become "a Harvard man." He works his way through the ranks of the Federal government, only to become a lowly underling in the Nixon administration who is eventually sent to jail for
his inconsequential involvement in the Watergate scandal. After a short prison sentence, he returns to New York only to find an old love and ironically the bag lady behind a huge conglomerate, the RAMJAC Corporation.
Jailbird had the fortune of following in line with Slaughterhouse Five in 1969 and two of Vonnegut's other 1970s bestsellers, Breakfast of Champions in 1973 and Slapstick in 1976. By the time Jailbird was released, Vonnegut had reached the pinnacle of h
is popularity as a writer. The two novels preceding Jailbird had enjoyed success, however, without the overwhelmingly warm reception and praise, which Jailbird garnered. Breakfast of Champions was considered a very simple book, complete with line drawin
gs by the author. Slapstick received criticism for being sloppily organized and repetitive of earlier works. Jailbird, although not without its criticisms is widely regarded as having eclipsed the aforementioned works and its publication no doubt solidi
fied Vonnegut as one of the most adored fiction writers of the 1970s.
Jailbird is much like most of Vonnegut's work, for it is easy to read and relies upon an uncomplicated plot line which concentrates much more on the character development of its main character, Walter F. Starbuck, than any twisting, contorting story. Th
rough this character development, Vonnegut is able to explore much of the issues surrounding isolationism and utter defeat felt by the main character as he looks back on his life. What he finds is a life of little fulfillment and an utter dedication for
pursuing those things in life, which will ultimately bring him little enjoyment in his family, career, and beyond. As he himself proclaims, "Not even in prison as I say, is there anything special about Harvard men." Jailbird is a book about the evil of
politics and power in America. From a dishonest Presidential administration to the the seemingly unlimited powers of a multimillion dollar conglomerate, Vonnegut explores those ever strengthening pillars in America in the 1970s. Masterfully done, this ex
ploration is hidden by the simplistic writing style of Vonnegut and the honestly funny satire which has become as staple of Vonnegut's work.
Besides the good fortune of following two best-selling works, Jailbird was a success because it is a genuinely funny book about contemporary subjects, which at the time were not typically viewed in such a light as Vonnegut's. The Watergate scandal was c
ertainly beginning to fade out of the headlines by the late 1970s. The mistrust in the government and general apathy for the establishment was still ever present in the consciousness of America. This general feeling also spilt over against nearly all po
sitions of power. Vonnegut's black humor is an enlightening approach to the subject of evil within the government and in big business. Walter F. Starbuck, a Harvard man, becomes a cog in the large wheel of democratic bureaucracy as a member of Nixon's
administration. He is not a major player, but instead the President's special advisor on youth affairs. He basically has no job, but to familiarize himself with the psyche of the American youth. He is never asked for one report. He later becomes the
oldest and "least celebrated" of the Watergate conspirators, for he merely harbors a suspicious briefcase in his windowless, basement office. Starbuck's only personal contact with Nixon, in fact, is as the butt of a joke by Nixon. Starbuck recalls, "t
he joke he made was the only genuinely witty comment I ever heard attributed to him. Perhaps that is my proper place in history-as the butt of the one good joke by Nixon."
While reading the novel, one can not help but seesaw back and forth between feeling sorry for the main character and general distaste. The listlessness with which he saunters through the misfortunes and near successes creates the same feeling of apathy t
oward the character as toward modern American government and bureaucracy. New York Times Book Review contributor Michael Wood criticizes Vonnegut for his inability to "see evil at all. He sees only weakness, and in these long, flattened perspectives, everything-Watergate, Auschwitz, Goering and yesterday's news comes to belong simply to a blurred, generalized representation of damage and error. There is a
real subject here, and it is one of Vonnegut's subjects: 'What are we to do when we cannot perceive the reality of evil, or distinguish it from other forms of human failure?'" Although this examination of Vonnegut's nearsighted approach to evil migh
t merit some agreement, it may be more accurate to view Vonnegut's approach as the loveless nature of the main character and the world of self-pity and self-defeat in which he lives and internally struggles. In the novel, Starbuck is told, "You can't he
lp it but you were born without a heart. At least you tried to believe what the people with hearts believed--so you were a good man just he same."
The most simplistic and nearly indisputable cause for the great success of Jailbird is the writing of Vonnegut. Although he is often criticized for his writing's simplicity and use of repetitive themes, it is these characteristics which are expected and
loved by the large following of Vonnegut fans. Roger Sale writes, "Once Vonnegut finds what he takes to be a successful character, motif or phrase, he can't bear to give it up, and so he carries it around from novel to novel." Although this is often V
onnegut's chief criticism, it could be argued that it is his fans' most loved attribute. His style and excessively short sentence structure are comparable to that of Hemingway. Vonnegut targets those complex themes in which Americans so easily become
engrossed. Such simple concentrations as the Indianapolis automobile industry in Slapstick spawn creative journeys into the subconscious of the American mind. In Jailbird, Vonnegut follows the story of a poor Cleveland boy who gives up his childhood to
befriend a reclusive millionaire. His dreams, if they can be called that, are eventually soured. Vonnegut novels, however, make this aforementioned journey with little trouble. Vonnegut's strength is the fact that his novels can be read by the averag
e American reader, but his intentions of meaning and theme will not be lost.
Another reason for the books popularity is Vonnegut's use of humor and satire. Jailbird is certainly a political satire in its own right. Regardless of one's view on Vonnegut's style or substance, most readers find his writing remarkably funny. Jail
bird does not disappoint. In a subtly humorous way, Vonnegut is able to cut right to the heart of the American dream gone awry. Starbuck narrates, "While I was a student, I sometimes caught the whiff of a promise that, after I graduated, I would be bett
er than average at explaining important matter to people who were slow at catching on. Things did not work out that way." Vonnegut's satire, unlike that of many writers, is very human. Throughout the novel, the author slowly chips away at the idea of
the imprisoned politician, clothed in the prison stripes of shame. Rather than tearing into the soul of these discarded patriots serving time in a "country club" minimum-security prison, Vonnegut breathes life into the characters through simplistic, unde
rstated humor. John Leonard writes, "Walter F. Starbuck is asked by Richard M. Nixon at a Congressional hearing in 1949 why, 'as the son of immigrants who have been treated so well by Americans, as a man who had been treated like a son and been sent to
Harvard by an American capitalist,' he had been so ungrateful to the American economic system as to join the Communist Party. Starbuck replies: 'Why? The Sermon on the Mount, sir.' It is through such brief interjections by his main character that Vonn
egut blends such humor and the thematic statements of his novel.
Vonnegut is viewed by his readers as an optimist. This might seem to be a oversimplified description, but while it may not be his best description, it certainly has the most implication on the success of his work. Vonnegut's works do not tackle tough i
ssues, in the traditional sense. His works often center on difficult situations and less than desirable scenes, but this is done without drawing attention to the negative. It is often rare for serious novels in the postmodern age to leave a reader with
a sense of hopefulness and confidence. Perhaps the sense, which is placed upon the reader can be derived from the "very human" satire, as mentioned above. His characters are very human and thus his novels revolve around a heightened sense of humanity.

In sum, Jailbird enjoyed its success through its timeliness and its timelessness. Vonnegut fans and critics alike were given the book during the height of his popularity. Although a bestseller, Breakfast of Champions had been lacking. Vonnegut improved
in Slapstick and it was regarded as his best novel since Slaughterhouse Five. With the release of Jailbird in 1979, Vonnegut fans eagerly awaiting his next work were rewarded with an even better written book, a wonderful satire of the politics in post-N
ixon America. Jailbird promised and was regarded as vintage Vonnegut. What might be criticized as repetitiveness in his work was championed and desired by his fans as a timeless commitment to simplistic understatement, black humor, and social satire.



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