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Cover of first edition (hardcover)
Author Kurt Vonnegut
Country United States
Language English
Genre Novel
Publisher Delacorte Press
Publication date
Media type Print (hardcover and paperback)
ISBN 0-385-28627-9
OCLC 233790605

Jailbird is a novel by Kurt Vonnegut, originally published in 1979; it is regarded as Kurt Vonnegut's "Watergate novel."[1] The plot involves elements that include the U.S. labor movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the dialectical back-and-forth of labor and management, Marxism and capitalism in the 1930s and 1940s, even up to the imperiousness of the Nixon administration. Jailbird revolves around Walter F. Starbuck, a man recently released from a minimum-security prison in Georgia after serving time for his comically small role in the Watergate Scandal. Jailbird is written as a standard memoir, revealing Starbuck's present situation, then coming full circle to tell the story of his first two days after being released from prison.

Through Walter F. Starbuck (and near-rambling biographical sketches of the various characters referenced in the novel) Jailbird concerns itself primarily with the history of the American labor movement, while exposing the more egregious flaws of corporate America, the American political system, the Red Scare/McCarthyistic histrionics of the late 1950s and early 1960s, and both capitalistic and communistic theory.

Jailbird, as a novel, introduced Vonnegut's fictitious mega-corporation, RAMJAC. Vonnegut humorously suggested that RAMJAC owned 19% of all businesses in the United States of America at its zenith. Throughout the novel, whenever a business is mentioned, Vonnegut frequently mentions RAMJAC in a parenthetical comment: such as, "Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company (A RAMJAC Corporation)." RAMJAC may have been Vonnegut's response to large corporations and their television advertisements around the time of the novel's publication, in which they would routinely detail the many familiar brand names under their corporate umbrella.[citation needed]

Jailbird also features a brief cameo by Kilgore Trout, a recurring, fan-favorite Vonnegutian character known for writing science fiction novels and bizarre short stories. However, in this unique appearance, "Kilgore Trout" is revealed to be the pseudonym of a character in prison, deliberately contradicting the autobiographical details of Trout's life as delineated in both earlier and subsequent Vonnegut novels, as Vonnegut began to flirt with the unreliable narrator mechanism so en vogue by the late '70s and '80s.[citation needed]

Literary significance and reception[edit]

The New York Times Book Review called Jailbird Vonnegut's "Sermon on the Mount".[2]

'Vintage Vonnegut!' – Time magazine[citation needed]

'There are enough kernels in Jailbird to feed the entire population of an intellectually ravenous world.' – Los Angeles Times[citation needed]

'Jailbird definitely mounts up on angelic wings – in its speed, in its sparkle, and in its high-flying intent. A profoundly humane comedy.' – Chicago Tribune Book World[citation needed]


  1. ^ Allen, William Rodney (December 26, 2013). "Kurt Vonnegut on Jailbird, His Watergate Novel". WNYC.org. Retrieved March 22, 2015. 
  2. ^ Leonard, John (September 7, 1979). "Books of The Times". The New York Times. Retrieved March 22, 2015. 

External links[edit]