The Death of Heroism: Revenge and Fate in the Novels of Kurt Vonnegut and Jonathan Safran Foer
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The concept of heroism is a pervasive idea in literature. Figures such as Odysseus, Oedipus and Hamlet have shaped our perception of what it means to be a hero in the midst of hardship and tragedy; namely, these characters seek revenge in reaction to the overwhelming power of divine fate in the lives of humanity. However, in the postmodern age, brought on by the unprecedented widescale destruction of 20th century warfare, many writers have expressed the idea that traditional heroism is incompatible with the problems faced by a postmodern society. In this thesis, I explore the ways in which the theme of heroism is portrayed in three postmodern novels; Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, as well as Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, which are all connected by their exploration of the most influential and destructive events of the 20th and 21st centuries-the Holocaust, the bombing of Dresden, and the terrorist attacks of September 11. I seek to illustrate that with these novels, the authors utilize traditional characteristics of heroism in order to demonstrate the ways in which they fail to provide meaning and validation for these intense acts of violence and devastation.