Marked by two world wars and the anxiety that accompanies humanity's knowledge of the ability to destroy itself, the Twentieth Century has produced literature that attempts to depict the plight of the modern man living in a modern waste land. If this sounds dismal and bleak, it is. And that is precisely why the dark humor of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. shines through our post-modern age. The devastating bombing of Dresden, Germany at the close of World War II is the subject of Vonnegut's most highly acclaimed work, Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children's Crusade: A Duty Dance with Death. Vonnegut's experience as an American POW in Dresden fuels the narrative that unconventionally defines his generation through the life and death of Billy Pilgrim. The survival of Billy Pilgrim at Dresden and his re-entry to the shell-shocked world reveal a modern day journey of the anti-hero. Vonnegut's unusual style and black satire provide a refreshing backdrop for a vehement anti-war theme and enhance his adept ability to depict the face of humanity complete with all of its beauty and blemishes. Likewise, Vonnegut adds his own philosophy concerning time, our place in it, and connection (or disconnection) to it and one other. Perhaps the most crucial step in understanding this intriguing work is to start with its title, which holds the key to Vonnegut's most prevailing theme.
Vonnegut addresses the writing of his work about the bombing of Dresden in the first chapter, detailing the stress he felt when faced with such a laborious task. The carnage of Dresden does not haunt those who were not there. The combined efforts of the A...
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...dons the glimmer of hope that accompanies the fact that life has its moments of grandeur. He encourages the modern reader to escape the question "why me" and urges us to embrace a philosophy that consistently reminds us that even in the midst of the most cruel (and the most celebrated) events, humanity retains all of its virtue and vice. So it goes. Vonnegut allows us to laugh out loud, despite the tragedies of war and the anxiety of the post-modern world. His picture of the modern man is simultaneously dismal and hopeful. His unique style, satiric overview and astute ability to capture the multiple faces of mankind, properly place him in the realm of the most accomplished authors of the Twentieth Century.
Vonnegut, Kurt Jr. Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children's Crusade: A duty Dance with Death. New York; Random House, 1969.
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