Kurt Vonnegut and Slaughter House Five

Kurt Vonnegut and Slaughter House Five

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Kurt Vonnegut and Slaughter House Five

 

Kurt Vonnegut is one of the favorite dark humorists of the past century. Combining humor and poignancy, he has become one of the most respected authors of his generation. For twenty years, Kurt Vonnegut worked on writing his most famous novel ever: Slaughter House Five. The novelist was called "A laughing prophet of doom" by the New York Times, and his novel "a cause for celebration" by the Chicago Sun-Times. However, Vonnegut himself thought it was a failure. He said that, just as Lot's wife turned into a pillar of salt when she looked back, so his book is nothing but a pillar of salt. Kurt Vonnegut tied in personal beliefs, characters, and settings from his life into the novel Slaughter House Five.

 

Kurt Vonnegut grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana. He alluded to Indiana in his writings frequently and considered himself a Midwesterner. There were three traumatic experiences Vonnegut talked about in this novel that happened to him as he was growing up. One was when his father took him to the pool when he was young and taught him to swim by the "drown if you don't" method. Another time, he and his family went out to see the Grand Canyon. As he was looking over the edge his mother touched him and he wet his pants. The third experience he mentioned was when his family was touring a cave, he was very scared and then the tour guide asked everyone to turn off all their lights and it was pitch black except for two glowing red dots from his dad (Modern Critical Interpretations 4). These experiences showed through Vonnegut's novel as his alienation from others throughout the book (Novels For Students 464).

 

Kurt Vonnegut's personal beliefs in life, we also in Slaughter House Five. Vonnegut believes that only heart believes in freewill but it is non-existent. In his novel he writes about a group of aliens called tralfamadorians who come and take Billy to their world and put him in a zoo (Kurt Vonnegut Jr. 75). While Billy is with them, they teach him this also, and they are obviously the far superior race. Another belief that Vonnegut has, is that war is horrible, he says "war is not an enterprise of glory and heroism, but an uncontrolled catastrophe for all involved" (Novels For Students 265).

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Vonnegut believes very strongly on this point because he was in the war and saw himself what it can do, he realizes it is ineffective and uses that as a strong point in his book (266). Probably the strongest theme in the novel is about death. Kurt Vonnegut wrote that the tralfamadorians can really see time, they see it as you would see a mountain range, they can look anywhere they like and focus on the good parts so death really isn't anything, you will always exist in the past. But they believe humans can only see through a tiny hole and have to see everything in chronological order, so when someone dies that's the last they will ever see them. In this novel Billy the main character learns this, and the way tralfamadorians treat death, is when they see someone or something dead they say so-it-goes. So does Billy throughout the book, he says so-it-goes over one hundred times which is a lot of talk about death (Kurt Vonnegut 74). Kurt Vonnegut has seen people use patriotism as an excuse for mass murder. In his novel the also do this. An example would be Betrand Copeland Rumfoord who in the novel defends the Dresden raid. He says it was for his country, this character was based on someone Kurt really knew (Novels For Students 265).

 

A lot of the characters are people Kurt really knew or based on people Kurt really knew that made and impression on him. An example is Paul Lazzaro, he was friends with Roland Weary who didn't like Billy and told Paul that Billy killed him, so during the war Paul promised that he would kill Billy after the war. Which is ironic because they were in the middle of war where everyone was dying, why kill more people? Kurt really did know someone in the war that threatened to kill his personal enemies after the war. Another example is Edgar Derby, Edgar was mostly in the story because of his death, he was caught for taking a teapot in the rubble of Dresden as a souvenir, the soldiers that caught him shot him. Kurt really did meet a man that was shot for taking a teapot (266). Bernard O'Hare was Vonnegut's old friend from the war that he visited to help think of memories to write about in his novel. He writes about this in his novel and about meeting his wife who is upset that he is writing it because she thinks it will be a pro war novel and turn into a "Mel Gibson " movie. He assures her that it will not be and even dedicates the novel to her. Gerhard Muller was a taxi driver that became friends with Bernard and Kurt as they were driving to the Slaughter House where they were held. This novel was also dedicated to him (266).

 

In this novel, Vonnegut's talks about himself, Billy is a German prisoner of war and a man walks by him and says something. Then it says, "That was I, that was me. That was the author of this book."(Slaughter House Five 160). Then it goes on to a new paragraph and keeps telling the story as if nothing happened. However some people still say that Kilgore Trout, a character in this novel, still represents him. In the novel Kilgore Trout is a science fiction writer who isn't very popular but has a couple very strong fans.

 
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