War is the epitome of cruelty and violence, an experience that can prove maddening and strip away some of the most intrinsic characteristics of humanity. Kurt Vonnegut’s experiences as a prisoner of war during World War II inspired his critically hailed novel Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), in which characters continually search for meaning in the aftermath of mankind’s irrational cruelty ("Kurt Vonnegut: 1922-2007" 287). Both the main character, Billy Pilgrim, and Vonnegut have been in Dresden for the firebombing, and that is what motivates their narrative (Klinkowitz 335). In his anti-war novel Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut expresses the adverse emotional effects of war through the psyche of Billy Pilgrim.
Vonnegut’s distinct style conveys that the horrors of war are not only tragic, but inexplicable and absurd. His use of black humor, such as Billy's attempts to publicize his encounters with the Tralfamadorians, conveys the incongruity/senselessness of war (“Slaughterhouse-Five” 267). While this is an example of black humor in a larger plot element, the device can also be used in small details. This is evident in the description of the half-crazed Billy Pilgrim after the Battle of the Bulge. “Wind and cold and violent exercise had turned his face crimson” causing Billy to be designated by Vonnegut as a “filthy flamingo” (Vonnegut 42). By utilizing black humor, Vonnegut is able to convey not merely the tragedy, but also the absurdity, of an event.
Vonnegut’s uniqueness of style includes not only the descriptions of events but their arrangement as well. The narrator tells his friend that “It is so short and jumbled and jangled Sam, because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre” (Vonnegut 24). Starting du...
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