“All people are insane. They will do anything at any time, and God help anybody who looks for reasons.”
What more can be said about Kurt Vonnegut’s work beyond the usual cliches? His work is so digestible to read, you’ll pick one book of his for a quick peek, and the next minute you’ll be spending hours and hours pouring through said novel.
Simple life lessons, such as be good to each other, to never shirk away from our responsibilities as fellow human beings, along with the usual statement of cosmic human ineptitude; this, in a nutshell, compartmentalizes the story of Howard W. Campbell, Jr. in Mother Night. A former playwright now turned American spy/schizophrenic Nazi propagandist, Campbell must deal with the consequences from his actions. Indirectly, or directly, the moral of the story is shown through snippets and tangents of conversation that basically lead to one conclusion: spy or no spy, helping along a horrendous cause like Nazism, with the murder of millions of innocents, will take a toll on anyone’s conscience, let alone a sensitive playwright, at that.
“Since there is no one else to praise me, I will praise myself — will say that I have never tampered with a single tooth in my thought machine, such as it is. There are teeth missing, God knows — some I was born without, teeth that will never grow. And other teeth have been stripped by the clutchless shifts of history — But never have I willfully destroyed a tooth on a gear of my thinking machine. Never have I said to myself, ‘This fact I can do without.”
What works so well in this story is the great use of black humor and juxtaposition; characters come and go, and intertwine their stories, their failures, and their scheming to such a degree that it becomes hilarious seeing their obliviousness come into play. One great scene, in particular, is when Adolf Eichmann comes around to ask Campbell, in the very same Israelian prison, about help with becoming a successful author.
The same man who helped create the system by which to slaughter millions, is now solely focused on being a published author and about getting film rights in America.
It’s more than just a simple story of a spy losing the will to live; it’s a cautionary tale about forgetting to be human, and about forgetting to be who you truly are, getting lost in the dreams, desires, manipulations, and schemes of others.
“There are plenty of good reasons for fighting…but no good reason to ever hate without reservation, to imagine that God Almighty hates with you, too. Where’s evil? It’s that large part of every man that wants to hate without limit, that wants to hate with God on its side. It’s that part of every man that finds all kinds of ugliness so attractive….it’s that part of an imbecile that punishes and vilifies and makes war gladly.”