The Effects of World War II on Kurt Vonnegut's Writing

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The Effects of World War II on Kurt Vonnegut's Writing

February 13, 1945: Dresden, Germany. War is raging across

Europe. In a deep underground meat locker beneath

Schlacthof-Funf, Slaughterhouse Five, 100 American prisoners and

their six German guards feel the Earth move as Royal Air Force

bombers lay wreckage to the city above. They can only hear the

mass terror as the greatest slaughter in European history takes

place, killing an estimated 135,000 civilians and destroying

cathedrals, museums, parks, and even the zoo. In the morning,

after the carnage has ended, the prisoners are put to work

excavating bombed-out buildings to search for the dead. One of

those Americans was none other than Private Kurt Vonnegut,

Junior.

Vonnegut's experiences in World War II were to haunt him

the rest of his life, and were to feature prominently within his

writing. Two of his novels, Mother Night and Slaughterhouse Five,

take place almost entirely within Hitler's Germany. The latter is

perhaps Vonnegut's most autobiographical work to date, the action

occurring in and around Slaughterhouse Five, the very hellhole in

which he toiled for his captors. The former is no doubt less

autobiographical, but the main character certainly has many

things in common with his creator: an American artist within Nazi

Germany, doing what he felt was necessary to stay alive and to

further his work.

Mother Night, ironically, was not brought about as much

by Vonnegut's exposure to the Nazis in Dresden, but more from his

impressions and experiences in the mid-West during the Thirties,

when American Nazis were rampant in Indianapolis and his own aunt

encountered the new race laws of the German Germans, but it no

doubt drew heavily upon his experiences at the hands of Nazi

captors and his time spent in their land.

Even in the stories that do not actively portray the
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