Celebrating Banned Book Week with Kurt Vonnegut: “Souvenir”

Kurt Vonnegut’s short story “Souvenir” includes the presence of World War II that shows up in so many of his stories.  In the case here, it comes in the form of a flashback that is told to a pawnbroker by a returning soldier.

Eddie takes a watch to Joe Bane to get an appraisal.  While Bane attempts to lowball Eddie in the price of the watch, Eddie tells him about the day he and his friend Buzzer find out that the Allies have won the war:

The young farmer, whose name was Eddie, and his best buddy Buzzer walked out into peace and freedom skinny, ragged, dirty, and hungry, but with no ill will toward anyone. They’d gone to war out of pride, not bitterness. Now the war was over, the job done, and they wanted only to go home. They were a year apart, but as alike as two poplars in a windbreak.

Unfortunately, the two soldiers are in Germany at the end of the war among those who don’t necessarily understand or care that it’s over.  Another wheeling and dealing ( as opposed to the one with the pawnbroker in the present time) among German soldiers ends tragically with Eddie maintaining possession of the watch – which by the time the story is finished – is understood to be of great value; however, Joe Bane has just made Eddie think it’s worth very little much to Bane’s detriment.

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I like the way Vonnegut swaps “price tags” in this story.  What is of real value isn’t known to anyone except the reader. The price tags placed on other things with lesser potential catches the eye of many of the characters in this story – and other Vonnegut stories, for that matter.

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