Analysis of Slaughterhouse-Five, a Novel Written by Kurt Vonnegut

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Slaughterhouse-Five, a novel written by Kurt Vonnegut, tells the story of the devastating effects of war on a man, Billy Pilgrim, who joins the army fight in World War II. The semi-autobiographical novel sheds light on one of history’s most tragic, yet rarely spoken of events, the 1945 fire-bombing of Dresden, Germany.
Kurt Vonnegut was born in 1922 in Indianapolis, Indiana to German parents. As a young man, Vonnegut wrote articles strongly opposing war for his high school newspaper, and the school newspaper of Cornell University, where he attended college (Allen 1). World War II broke out when he was just 16 years old, and at the age of 20, Vonnegut joined the US army. Speaking about his disdain for war, Novels for Students discloses, “After Pearl Harbor, however, Vonnegut put aside his reservations about the war and joined the U.S. Army in January, 1943” (259). It was this chapter of Vonnegut’s life that Slaughterhouse-Five is modeled after.
The events that took place on the battlefield that Vonnegut experienced are parallel to much of Pilgrim’s experiences. During the historic Battle of the Bulge, Vonnegut and his troop were captured and held as prisoners by Germans (Novels 259). On February 13, 1969, the British and American air forces dropped almost 4,000 tons of high-grade explosives on the German city of Dresden, resulting in a devastating firestorm that destroyed over 1,500 acres. As this happened, Vonnegut was being imprisoned in an airtight meat locker and slaughterhouse 60 feet below the ground, which was being used as a detention facility for prisoners of war. It was due to these circumstances that Vonnegut and his troop miraculously survived the bombing. However, afterwards his and the rest of his troops’ job beca...

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... War has a lasting and damaging effect on people, and there isn’t anything smart that can be said about war because all it is is a massacre.
The Tralfamadorian philosophy on life and death is one that Billy Pilgrim adopts as his own to help him cope with the traumas of war. It makes time a fourth dimension, where everything simultaneously exists and everything is also predetermined, which insinuates that there is no such thing as free will (Scholl 4). “All moments, past, present, and future,” Vonnegut explains, “always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just the way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance” (27). (Freese 43).
The structure and setting of Slaughterhouse-Five is unique and complicated, but it furthers our understanding of the book and helps us empathize with Billy Pilgrim.

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