This is Kurt Vonnegut's Brilliant Rejected Thesis From the University of Chicago

Legendary author Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007) was best known for his imaginative satire, darkly humorous prose and, most importantly, the glowing humanity he brought to all his work. But according to him – as stated in his autobiographical Palm Sunday – his “prettiest contribution” to the culture was his rejected master’s thesis. A University of Chicago anthropology student at the time, Vonnegut claimed his professors spurned the project because “it was so simple and looked like too much fun.”

What was it? A series of graphs visualizing how popular storylines are shaped:

by Maya Eilam

Definitely too much fun. Designer Maya Eilam assembled this graphic version of Vonnegut’s concept, charting familiar narratives like “Boy Meets Girl” and the “Cinderella” story. Vonnegut explains “the Shapes of Stories” more thoroughly in this lecture segment:


Why is this important? In the course of this work, Vonnegut uncovered something fascinating: the striking similarities between seemingly unrelated narratives. “Cinderella,” for example, follows an arc identical to the New Testament, with protagonists receiving incremental gifts from on high before the rug is yanked from beneath them, culminating in a final climb to redemptive salvation.

These similarities grant insight into how we preserve culture and effectively share ideas. The ability to recognize such shapes can make us all better rhetoricians, critical thinkers, and interpersonal communicators. And thanks to Vonnegut, we now have visual evidence of how it all breaks down.

How likely are you to make Mic your go-to news source?

Zak Cheney Rice

Zak is a Senior Staff Writer at Mic.

MORE FROM

'Hot Mic' podcast: Tropical Storm Cindy, Housing for Grenfell fire survivors, Uber CEO steps down

The important stories to get you caught up for Thursday.

EPA committee told that "climate change will be de-emphasized" by Trump administration

A key advisory committee has been "totally decimated" ex-members say.

O.J. Simpson's parole hearing will be held in Nevada on July 20

The former NFL player is serving a minimum 9-year sentence for armed robbery, kidnapping and other charges related to a 2007 confrontation with two sports memorabilia dealers

Your favorite coffee could be going extinct thanks to climate change

Your caramel mocha frappuccino is in peril.

'Wall Street Journal' reporter fired over ethical violations

The reporter was allegedly part of a potential business deal with a source.

Sex crime advocates say 2 underage girls forced into sex during robbery are victims, not criminals

Prosecutors are charging the teen girls as adults for their involvement in an alleged robbery.

'Hot Mic' podcast: Tropical Storm Cindy, Housing for Grenfell fire survivors, Uber CEO steps down

The important stories to get you caught up for Thursday.

EPA committee told that "climate change will be de-emphasized" by Trump administration

A key advisory committee has been "totally decimated" ex-members say.

O.J. Simpson's parole hearing will be held in Nevada on July 20

The former NFL player is serving a minimum 9-year sentence for armed robbery, kidnapping and other charges related to a 2007 confrontation with two sports memorabilia dealers

Your favorite coffee could be going extinct thanks to climate change

Your caramel mocha frappuccino is in peril.

'Wall Street Journal' reporter fired over ethical violations

The reporter was allegedly part of a potential business deal with a source.

Sex crime advocates say 2 underage girls forced into sex during robbery are victims, not criminals

Prosecutors are charging the teen girls as adults for their involvement in an alleged robbery.