Hocus Pocus Study Guide

Hocus Pocus

Hocus Pocus by Kurt Vonnegut

Eugene is fired from his job as a college professor after having several of his witticisms surreptitiously recorded by the daughter of a popular conservative commentator. Eugene then becomes a teacher at a nearby overcrowded prison run by a Japanese corporation. His employer, and occasional acquaintance, is the prison's warden, Hiroshi Matsumoto. After a massive prison break, Eugene's former college is occupied by escapees from the prison, who take the staff hostage. Eventually the college is turned into a prison, since the old prison was destroyed in the breakout. Ironically, Eugene is ordered to be the warden of the prison, but then becomes an inmate, presumably via the same type of "hocus pocus" that led to his dismissal from his professorship.

On pages 126-127 (as well as pages 155, 160 and elsewhere) Vonnegut heavily implies that his use of the term "hocus pocus" is intended as a euphemism for "bullshit"; throughout the novel Vonnegut's avoidance of profanity (with the express exception of the words "god" and "hell") is excused by his convicton that profanity entitles people who don't want to hear unpleasant information to close their minds to the important underlying message, which can be understood as an allusion to the frequent attempts to ban his books on grounds of obscenity.

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