Vonnegut’s dark, sarcastic wisdom

I’ve been on a Kurt Vonnegut reading binge – thirstily absorbing everything this brilliant man has ever written – and, in my readings, I came across this seemingly whimsical yet very profound passage of one of his later novels, Hocus Pocus.  I will probably do a full review of this book later but for now I feel compelled to share this excerpt with you:

During our plebe year, I remember, Jack all of a sudden decided that he was going to be a cartoonist, although he had never thought of being that before.  He was compulsive.  I could imagine him back in high school in Wyoming, all of sudden deciding to build an electric chair for rats.

The first cartoon he ever drew, and the last one, was of 2 rhinoceroses getting married.  A regular human preacher in a church was saying to the congregation that anybody who knew any reason these 2 should not be joined together in holy matrimony should speak now or forever hold his peace.


We were roommates, and would be for all 4 years.  So he showed me the cartoon and said he bet he could sell it to Playboy.

I asked him what was funny about it.  He couldn’t draw for sour apples.  He had to tell me the bride and groom were rhinoceroses.  I thought they were a couple of sofas maybe, or maybe a couple of smashed-up sedans.  That would have been fairly funny, come to think of it: 2 smashed up sedans taking wedding vows.  They were going to settle down.

“What’s funny about it?” said Jack incredulously. “Where’s your sense of humor?  If somebody doesn’t stop the wedding, those two will mate and have a baby rhinoceros.”

“Of course,” I said.

“For Pete’s sake,” he said, “what could be uglier and dumber than a rhinoceros?  Just because something can reproduce, that doesn’t mean it should reproduce.”

I pointed out that to a rhinoceros another rhinoceros was beautiful.

“That’s the point,” he said. “Every kind of animal thinks its own kind of animal is wonderful.  So people getting married think they’re wonderful, and that they’re going to have a baby that’s wonderful, when actually they’re as ugly as rhinoceroses.  Just because we think we’re so wonderful doesn’t mean we really are.  We could be really terrible animals and just never admit it because it would hurt so much.”

What a fantasticly irreverent way to point out the arrogance of human beings, assuming they are somehow better, more noble, than other creatures, just because we can read, write, and do a little math (another  of Vonnegut’s phrases).  I will leave it at that for now.  Food for thought, at the very least.


One thought on “Vonnegut’s dark, sarcastic wisdom

  1. Egocentric view of the universe is a byproduct of a conscience mind. I think it would be a whole lot harder to deal with reality without taking that approach. When considering any given event, you always ask yourself “How will this impact me?” And that is what generally influences your actions.

    I don’t think it’s possible to have a completely neutral perspective on any given situation without any consideration for self or the impact it might have on you.

    We humans do consider ourselves vastly superior to every known being on Earth. However, whether it’s a flaw or not is definitely arguable.

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