Kurt Vonnegut’s Mother Night, originally published as a paperback original in 1961, continues to resonate with its times. Professor Susan Farrell, in an essay presented at the American Literature Association Conference in 2016, explored the relationship between the assorted fascists connected to Howard W. Campbell Jr. and several figures from American history.
Professor Farrell shared her thoughts with The Daily Vonnegut.
Q: In “American Fascism and Mother Night,” you draw connections between the characters in the novel and several historical figures from the 1930’s and 1940’s. With the exception of Father Coughlin, these relatively obscure American fascists have faded from historical view. Tell us about your research and how you came to write the essay.
A: I first became interested in writing the essay because I happened to read something about Sufi Abdul Hamid, a religious mystic and political activist who lived in Harlem during the 1930s, and who served as the historical model for Robert Sterling Wilson in the novel. Both men were known as the “Black Fuhrer of Harlem.” I was immediately intrigued. Vonnegut’s character seemed so cartoonish and outlandish that it was hard to believe he had an actual historical counterpart.
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