Posted in Short Stories

Kurt Vonnegut’s “Ambitious Sophomore”

Kurt Vonnegut’s story “Ambitious Sophomore” from his collection Bagombo Snuff Box tells the story of George M. Helmholtz, a high school band leader who goes out of his way and outside of his school’s budget to boost the self-esteem of his male piccolo player.

Perhaps a male piccolo player that needs a self-esteem boost could be considered social commentary and satire – the kind that readers tend to expect from Vonnegut – but I would tend to call this story simply fun, funny, and pleasant.  Written in the 1950’s, this story seems more innocent than other of Vonnegut’s works.

The title of the story makes me wonder, though.  The sophomore in question doesn’t seem that ambitious unless one would count hitting on girls as ambitious.  I would think the ambitious one in the story would be Helmholtz, himself.  His desire to have the best competing high school band is truly the basis for the humor and plot of the story.  The opening sentence might be a favorite of mine:

George M. Helmholtz, head of the music department and director of the band of Lincoln High School, was a good, fat man who saw no evil, heard no evil, and spoke no evil, for wherever he went, the roar and boom and blast of a marching band, real or imagined, filled his soul.

10 thoughts on “Kurt Vonnegut’s “Ambitious Sophomore”

    1. Slaughterhouse – Five is probably his most well-known and it’s about World War II. You would probably find it interesting. I’ve also read Slapstick and Cat’s Cradle (Cat’s Cradle was the better of the two). Armageddon in Retrospect is a collection of short stories – mostly about WWII.

    1. One of the KVML book club members – a retired literature teacher – recommends starting with his short stories. I think this is sound advice. Start with “Welcome to the Monkey House” and never look back. 🙂

  1. Hi Dale,
    Herman Helmholtz is a recurring character in several of KV’s short stories. ” The Kid Nobody Could Handle” might be the best…

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