Kurt Vonnegut's Timequake: Problem Of Freedom, Answer Of Community

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Samuel K. Forstag 11 December 2014 Problem of Freedom, Answer of Community The problem of freedom, though it is not new by any means, has taken on greater significance in modern pluralist societies, where the universal truths which have traditionally given order to peoples’ lives have been largely toppled from their pedestals at the hands of the scientific world-view. This modern, scientific world-view seeks to free its adherents from the illusion that one’s actions are not traceable to some arbitrary, ill-defined basis within the individual of ‘free will,’, providing causal determinacy in its place, and supposing that with this man thus reaches a better understanding of the world as it really is. The idea that every action has some…show more content…
Vonnegut’s answer to this question, broadly speaking, are the tenets of humanism. Vonnegut explains how, in his view, a humanist imparts himself with purpose in the knowledge that that particular purpose knowing full well that the purpose he arrives at is not universal. “Humanists try to behave decently and honorably without any expectation of rewards or punishments in an afterlife. And, since the creator of the universe is to them unknowable so far, they serve as best they can serve the highest abstraction of which they have some understanding, which is their community.” Immersing oneself into the community and seeking to further its interests above one’s own is an example of freedom properly conceived. In Souls of Black Folks, W.E.B. Dubois follows a similar path to Vonnegut’s humanitarianism, and explains that the negative freedom that was granted to African Americans by the Emancipation Proclamation is by no means enough. Instead, Dubois lays out his hopes that black in American will someday come to enjoy freedom in the positive sense; “work, culture, liberty – all these we need, not singly but together.” For Dubois, the plight of the freedmen necessitates that negative freedom be given a purpose in which we are “all striving toward that swims before the…show more content…
Carver’s short story A Small Good Thing presents an example of such tragedy in the extreme, depicting a mother and father struggling to cope when their 8 year-old son is struck by a car and ultimately dies. The parents in the story find that this tragedy’s effects, the loss of their son, leaves them robbed of a major source of purpose in their lives, and the struggle that both parents go through is made all the more difficult by the fact that their deep desire to communicate their pain to somebody other than each other, to some third party, does not have an outlet in the community around them. Ann, the mother, finds only fleeting comfort in the condolensces offered by hospital employees, and without a wider community to ground the experience in, Ann runs into the problem of “wondering if she was doing the right thing” continuously during the story. Ann’s lack of a community in which she might find support a source of recognition, Ann’s grief develops instead into “an anger that made her feel larger than herself.” In a healthy situation, it is not anger that should allow the individual to enlarge themselves, but a larger community with which they have freely associated. Ann and her husband are ultimately able to achieve some

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