Slapstick, or Lonesome No More!
is a science fiction
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...
A novel is a book of long narrative in literary prose. The genre has historical roots both in the fields of the medieval and early modern romance and in the tradition of the novella. The latter supplied the present generic term in the late 18th century....
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...
author Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. was a 20th century American writer. His works such as Cat's Cradle , Slaughterhouse-Five and Breakfast of Champions blend satire, gallows humor and science fiction. He was known for his humanist beliefs and was honorary president of the American Humanist Association.-Early...
. Written in 1976, it depicts Vonnegut's views of loneliness, both on an individual and social scale.
The book was adapted into the 1982 film Slapstick of Another Kind
Slapstick of Another Kind is an American comedy film. It was filmed in 1982, and released in March 1984 by both The S. Paul Company/Serendipity Entertainment Releasing Company and International Film Marketing...
The novel was published in 1976 and seems to be a bizarre meditation on the nature of the closeness Vonnegut had with his sister Alice, who died of cancer in 1958. Coincidentally, Alices's husband died in a train accident two days before her. Vonnegut adopted and raised her children. The novel was written shortly after the death of the author's uncle. In it, Vonnegut and his sister transform into Swain "Neanderthaloid" dizygotic twins. When minds of both twins were combined together they formed a genius, a beautiful Swan (Swain twins). Twins felt that they become the ugly duckling
"The Ugly Duckling" is a literary fairy tale by Danish poet and author Hans Christian Andersen . The story tells of a homely little bird born in a barnyard who suffers abuse from his neighbors until, much to his delight , he matures into a beautiful swan, the most beautiful bird of all...
as separated individuals. When self-assessing his own work, Vonnegut graded Slapstick as D. Written in an almost free associative style, the book lacks the structural intricacies of Vonnegut's earlier works.
Explanation of title
is dedicated to Arthur Stanley Jefferson
Arthur Stanley "Stan" Jefferson , better known as Stan Laurel, was an English comic actor, writer and film director, famous as the first half of the comedy team Laurel and Hardy. His film acting career stretched between 1917 and 1951 and included a starring role in the Academy Award winning film...
and Norvell Hardy
Oliver Hardy was an American comic actor famous as one half of Laurel and Hardy, the classic double act that began in the era of silent films and lasted nearly 30 years, from 1927 to 1955.-Early life:...
(better known as Laurel and Hardy
Laurel and Hardy were one of the most popular and critically acclaimed comedy double acts of the early Classical Hollywood era of American cinema...
), and the title of the novel is in reference to the physical and situational comedy style
Slapstick is a type of comedy involving exaggerated violence and activities which may exceed the boundaries of common sense.- Origins :The phrase comes from the batacchio or bataccio — called the 'slap stick' in English — a club-like object composed of two wooden slats used in Commedia dell'arte...
that duo employed. Vonnegut explains the title himself in the opening lines of the book's prologue:
"This is the closest I will ever come to writing an autobiography. I have called it "Slapstick" because it is grotesque, situational poetry -- like the slapstick film comedies, especially those of Laurel and Hardy, of long ago. It is about what life feels like to me."
The novel is in the form of an autobiography of Dr. Wilbur Daffodil-11 Swain. Dr. Swain tells us that he lives in the ruins of the Empire State Building
The Empire State Building is a 102-story landmark skyscraper and American cultural icon in New York City at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and West 34th Street. It has a roof height of 1,250 feet , and with its antenna spire included, it stands a total of 1,454 ft high. Its name is derived...
with his pregnant granddaughter, Melody Oriole-2 von Peterswald, and her lover, Isadore Raspberry-19 Cohen. Dr. Swain is a hideous man whose ugliness, along with that of his twin sister Eliza, led their parents to cut them off from modern society. The siblings came to realize that, when in close physical contact, they form a vastly powerful and creative intelligence. Through reading and philosophizing together, Wilbur and Eliza combated the feelings of loneliness and isolation that would otherwise have ruined their childhood.
Throughout the book, Wilbur claims that his sister Eliza is the more intelligent of the two, but that no one realizes it because she can't read or write. Wilbur and Eliza are like two halves of a brain, with Wilbur the left brain
Left Brain, born Vyron Dalyan Turner, is an American record producer, rapper, and photographer from Los Angeles. He serves as one of the main producers in OFWGKTA, having produced portions on nearly all Odd Future releases...
-- logical, rational, able to communicate -- and Eliza the right brain: creative, emotional, but unable to communicate effectively.
The siblings created, among other things, a plan to end loneliness in America through vast extended families. Under the plan, all citizens would be provided with new middle names, made of the name of a random natural object paired with a random number between 1 and 20. Everyone with the same name would be cousins, and everyone with the same name and number would be siblings.
Their parents and the staff of the mansion believe the children are retarded, and the children play this up when in the company of others, so as to not interfere with what they view as a perfect childhood. But after hearing their mother wish that they were normal, the children reveal their intelligence to their parents.
Eliza is still deemed retarded, and is sent to a mental institution. Wilbur however is sent to a prep school
A university-preparatory school or college-preparatory school is a secondary school, usually private, designed to prepare students for a college or university education...
and eventually goes to Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...
and earns a doctorate.
Armed with the plan created with Eliza and the slogan, "Lonesome No More!," Dr. Swain wins election to the Presidency, and devotes the waning energies of the Federal government to the implementation of the plan. In the meantime, Western civilization is nearing collapse as oil runs out, and the Chinese are making vast leaps forward by miniaturizing themselves and training groups of hundreds to think as one. Eventually, the miniaturization proceeds to the point that they become so small that they cause a plague among those who accidentally inhale them, ultimately destroying Western civilization beyond repair. However, even as life as we know it collapses, Swain's middle name policy continues to unite the survivors. The American population constantly risk their time and their lives to selflessly help their fellow cousins and siblings, ensuring that people may live their lives "lonesome no more."
The novel has a typical Vonnegut pattern of short snippets often ending with a punchline of sorts. These are separated by the words "hi ho", which Dr. Swain describes as a sort of verbal hiccup that has developed in his old age.
Religion and belief in an afterlife
Vonnegut does not believe that traditional religions can cure loneliness or provide significant comfort. His take on belief in the afterlife
The afterlife is the belief that a part of, or essence of, or soul of an individual, which carries with it and confers personal identity, survives the death of the body of this world and this lifetime, by natural or supernatural means, in contrast to the belief in eternal...
is satirical. In his novel he describes a Church of Jesus Christ the Kidnapped
which becomes a dominant American religion in the post-apocalyptic world of the novel . Vonnegut finds the church followers' behavior comical:
He was jerking his head around in what then seemed an eccentric manner, as though hoping to catch someone peering out at him from behind a potted palm tree or an easy chair, or even from directly overhead, from the crystal chandelier.
Anthropological social plan
Vonnegut is concerned about the transitoriness of the modern lifestyle, wherein people are forced to leave their familial and cultural roots and trade those for professional and financial security. He explains in an interview:
Well, I am used to the rootlessness that goes with my profession. But I would like people to be able to stay in one community for a lifetime, to travel away from it to see the world, but always to come home again,...Until recent times, you know, human beings usually had a permanent community of relatives. They had dozens of homes to go to. So when a married couple had a fight, one or the other could go to a house three doors down and stay with a close relative until he was feelng tender again. Or if a kid was so fed up with his parents that he couldn't stand it, he could march over his uncle's for a while. And this is no longer possible. Each family is locked into its little box. The neighbors aren't relatives. There aren't other houses where people can go and be cared for.
Vonnegut was influenced by the theories of Robert Redfield
Robert Redfield was an American anthropologist and ethnolinguist. Redfield graduated from the University of Chicago, eventually with a J.D. from its law school and then a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology, which he began to teach in 1927...
, from whom he took courses at the University of Chicago
The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois, USA. It was founded by the American Baptist Education Society with a donation from oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller and incorporated in 1890...
. Vonnegut recalls:
when I went to the University of Chicago, and I heard the head of the Department of Anthropology, Robert Redfield, lecture on the folk society, which was essentially a stable, isolated extended family, he did not have to tell me how nice that could be.
Vonnegut identifies the root of the problem in the modernisation of production techniques in the world of economics, but instead of suggesting going back to the way of life of the nineteenth century, he designs an anthropological plan wherein extended families are created by the government with the same ease of implementation as in the distribution of Social Security number
In the United States, a Social Security number is a nine-digit number issued to U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and temporary residents under section 205 of the Social Security Act, codified as . The number is issued to an individual by the Social Security Administration, an independent...
s. Peter J. Reed, author of the bibliography Vonnegut in America
Though all of the slapstick mocking the idea ... some reasonably serious defence of extended family survives.
The idea of artificially extended families aims to increase the welfare and social support of the individual. However, it is not a utopian dream. Wilbur, the novel's protagonist, explains during his election campaign for the presidency how any request for money from a street beggar in the new social order should be treated:
You ask him his middle name, and when he tells you "Oyster-19" or "Chickadee-1" or "Hollyhock-13" you say to him: Buster - I happen to be a Uranium-3. You have one hundred and ninety thousand cousins and ten thousand brothers and sisters. You're not exactly alone in this world. I have relatives of my own to look after. So why don't you take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut? Why don't you take a flying fuck at the moooooooooooon?