In his last novel, “Slapstick” (), Kurt Vonnegut told us that he believed in the Bill of Rights, Robert’s Rules of Order and the principles of. [Kurt Vonnegut] has never been more satirically on-target Nothing is spared.” —People Jailbird takes us into a fractured and. Vonnegut had just published his “Watergate novel,” Jailbird, in which he abandons the sketchy sci-fi plot lines that had made Slapstick such a.

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This study guide contains the following sections: This thematically and narratively complex book tells the life story of Walter Starbuck, ex-socialist, ex-capitalist, and ex-con. Moving fluidly back and forth between past and present, incident and insight, irony and irony, the novel explores themes relating to the tension between capitalism and communism, layers of meaning inherent in layers of identity, fact, and fiction, and the interconnectedness of all things. The novel begins with a lengthy prologue written in the character of the author and ostensibly a summary of the novel’s historical origins.

JAILBIRD by Kurt Vonnegut | Kirkus Reviews

While some elements of what is described here are obviously real, others are just as obviously fictionalized, giving the early and clear sense that the lines between what is fiction and what is fact are, in this vvonnegut at least, quite blurred.

The narrative proper begins with the protagonist, the elderly Walter Starbuck, in prison. As he waits for the guard to conduct him out the gates, he reflects upon several important aspects of his past: He also reflects on the meaning and ramifications of a key incident in his life: Upon his release from prison, Starbuck has a series of encounters with individuals who treat him with evident, sometimes surprising kindness. These encounters are described with references to The RAMJAC Corporation, an omnipresent and highly profitable business conglomerate; in other words, an embodiment of capitalism.



Eventually Starbuck arrives in New York City, where he lived as a capitalistically inclined young man and where he had his first actual encounters with both women and socialism. One of those women, Mary Kathleen O’Looney, became both his lover and his socialist inspiration.

She returns to his life as an old woman, still devoted to the cause of socialism but several decades older, several degrees more deranged, and several billion dollars richer. A narrow escape from the law allows Vinnegut and Mary Kathleen rekindle their long dormant relationship.

Jailbird Summary & Study Guide

At the same time, Starbuck also re-encounters the ex-friend he betrayed decades earlier, and is surprised to discover that jallbird Starbuck has been forgiven by both the friend and by Mary Kathleen who, Starbuck says in narration, he dumped because she wasn’t high class enough.

Soon after their reunion, however, the mad Mary Kathleen is hit by a taxi and dies. In her last moments, however, she is sane enough to do three things: After her death, Starbuck conceals the will and accepts a full time job at RAMJAC which, as he himself says, would have fallen apart if the will had been found and Mary Kathleen’s wishes adhered to. A series of coincidences, however, brings the will and Starbuck’s involvement in its concealment to light.


This results in Starbuck losing his job, jailbrd RAMJAC being dissolved, in Starbuck being convicted of a crime concealing a will and in his being sent back to prison. Thus the novel ends where it began – with its central character jailed for a crime he says he didn’t know he was committing.

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View the Lesson Jailbirf. Order our Jailbird Study Guide. Chapters 1, 2, 3 and 4. Chapters 5, 6, 7 and 8. Chapters 9 and Chapters 11, 12, 13 and Chapters 15, 16, 17 18 and Chapters 20, 21, 22 and This section contains words approx.

Jailbird – Wikipedia

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