Kurt Vonnegut in Slaughterhouse-Five attempts to come to terms with the bombing of Dresden, which killed about 135,000 people, mostly civilians, and destroyed one of Europe 's most populated cities that was not known to have the presence of troops during World War II. Kurt Vonnegut attempts to come to terms with the bombing through the description of his own personal war experiences as a war veteran, and through the narrative of Billy Pilgrim, a fictional character whose path intersects Vonnegut’s own path throughout the story at certain points.
An understanding of Dresden historically is very significant in the understanding of the impact and figurative meaning of war and humanity’s own destruction. Dresden is located in northern Germany and was known to be a cultural center filled with historical museums and historic buildings. Whatever the reasons were for the Allies bombing of Dresden, the fact is that the city was completely destroyed and innocent civilians were killed to a great extent for something that really wasn’t in their hands. The ...
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...xisting at the same time, anyone is capable of moving between moments of life and death and capable of becoming “unstuck in time.” This motivates the novel’s acceptance of death as part of life.
Vonnegut’s discussion of the Dresden firebombing similarly wishes to dramatize their horrors in order that future violence might be prevented. The end of the novel starkly captures this spirit. The final scene, presented partially as Billy’s memory, is also a memory of Vonnegut’s: burying the bodies of Dresden in mass graves, and when those graves are full, burning the bodies with flamethrowers. It is an image Vonnegut has taken the whole novel to give us—a report of what events “really were” on the ground in Dresden. And though it is a shocking scene, it is a successful act of reporting and bearing witness. Vonnegut has finally given us access to his experience in Dresden.
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