Modernity and Postmodernity - Nabokov vs. Vonnegut

Essay, 2006

5 Pages, Grade: 9 (A-)


Modernity and Postmodernity :

Nabokov vs. Vonnegut

After the war a group of American writers referred to as the Beat Generation communicated their profound disaffection with contemporary society through their unconventional writings and lifestyle. In the 1950s began the experimentation in style and form that continues even to the present day.

As a result of World War II, Nabokov and Vonnegut created texts in which narrators or protagonists are displaced, are “outsiders” in a sense. The notion of “home” is altered, especially in Vonnegut’s case, as he never feels really “at home” in post-war America.

Both Kurt Vonnegut and Vladimir Nabokov are the products of lost paradises, which reverberate in their work with a nostalgia unmarred by self-pity. Nabokov’s idyllic, cushy Russian youth has the advantage of sounding like paradise; Vonnegut’s was prewar Indianapolis, which doesn't. His parents didn't have a happy adulthood: his mother finally killed herself not long before Kurt was captured in the Battle of the Bulge. Even so, he's one of the few American writers to have had a happy childhood, which was also a privileged one, until his prosperous family went bust in the Depression.

Vladimir Nabokov, although Russian-born, became one of the greatest masters of English prose - Lolita (1955) and Pale Fire (1962), novels with American settings, are remarkable examples of tragicomedy that make readers question the standard categories for prose. Lolita, a brilliantly detailed, unconventional story, recounts the intense and obsessive involvement of a middle-aged European man with a sexually precocious young American girl, whom Nabokov termed a nymphet. The controversial book caused a sensation in Europe, and when it was published in the United States in 1958, it received a similar reception.[1] Lolita came as a wake-up call to repressed America and her rigid sexual mores, but Nabokov abhorred the idea that the themes of his work garnered more attention than the form. For him, the literary act was one “of language and not of ideas” - an approach that aligned him with many of his Modernist contemporaries. Nabokov’s linguistic tricks and commitment to sensory experience recall James Joyce, and have inspired the evolution of Postmodern fiction, including the work of Thomas Pynchon[2]. Nabokov displayed an arrant mastery of language, lyrical sentences combined with his sometimes shameless indulgence of formal devices.


[1] "Vladimir Nabokov," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2006 © 1997-2006 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.


Excerpt out of 5 pages


Modernity and Postmodernity - Nabokov vs. Vonnegut
University of Bucharest  (Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures)
English Literature
9 (A-)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
552 KB
Modernity, Postmodernity, Nabokov, Vonnegut, English, Literature
Quote paper
Andra Stefanescu (Author), 2006, Modernity and Postmodernity - Nabokov vs. Vonnegut, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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