Reed Books: Miss Temptation


Jess Reed, Editor

“Miss Temptation” by Kurt Vonnegut, written in 1956 and part of his Welcome to the Monkeyhouse collection of short stories, takes only a few pages to lightheartedly describe and criticize an aspect of the patriarchy incredibly relevant today: slut-shaming. Vonnegut tells the story of a veteran, Fuller, who returns to his hometown and finds a young girl, Susanna, has also started living there. She is exceptionally beautiful, and kind to her neighbors, but he finds her beauty promiscuous and thus, evil. “Miss Temptation”  by Kurt Vonnegut is a surprisingly progressive story that touches on and dismantles misogyny, all while remaining accessible and comedic. 

First, let’s talk about “slut-shaming”. The term has been popularized through third-wave feminism as a way of describing a sexist microaggression perpetuated by the patriarchy and rape culture. Slut-shaming is when a person, usually a man, devalues a woman because of her beauty or sexual liberation. For example, if a man calls a woman a “slut” for dressing a certain way, even though she is minding her business, it is based in misogynistic thoughts, as it implies that that woman cannot be in charge of her own sexuality, and must be doing it for the attention of men. Slut-shaming also manifests in victim blaming. This is when a victim of sexual harassment, assault, or rape is blamed fully or partially for the incident because of their actions or appearance (i.e., “asking for it in that skirt”, “what did she expect getting that drunk”, etc.).

In “Miss Temptation”, Fuller mocks Susanna in front of the whole town for her beauty, claiming that she is only dressing this way (in a dress and barefoot) to force men to look at her. When he gets home, he complains to his mother about how ungodly she is, and that he is doing the righteous thing by fighting temptation. Slowly, however, his guilt starts to eat at him. He confesses that he only lashed out at her because he was angry at all beautiful girls, claiming that they never gave him the time of day in high school. The tavern owner responds that if he was a beautiful girl, he wouldn’t look his way either. The next day, Fuller realizes that Susanna is moving out because of her embarrassment. He swallows his pride and apologizes to her. She gives him a piece of her mind, and decides that he can make it up to her by walking arm in arm with her through the streets of the town to show that he is not ashamed to be seen with her.

What makes this story so great is that it is shockingly relevant. This is a situation that happens every day, particularly online. Men – often deemed “incels” – demean beautiful women out of the insecurity that they cannot be with one, often using religion as a mask for their actions. In reality, these women are minding their business, and dressing for themselves. 

“Miss Temptation” also hits a great note by allowing Susanna to defend herself. While the story is centered around Fuller, it certainly gives Susanna the page time to voice her thoughts, instead of simply accepting Fuller’s apology upfront. Still, it ends on a happy note, with Fuller having learned his lesson, and the two of them becoming friends.

Overall, “Miss Temptation”, despite being written in 1956, is just as relevant a comment on toxic masculinity as any contemporary piece. It’s sweetness, pointed message, and happy ending prove Vonnegut to be much more than a science fiction author; he becomes a political author, too.