Free Slaughterhouse-Five Essays: Dresden

Free Slaughterhouse-Five Essays: Dresden

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Slaughterhouse Five      Dresden

 

"In Slaughterhouse Five, -- Or the Children's Crusade, Vonnegut  delivers a complete treatise on the World War II bombing of Dresden. The main character, Billy Pilgrim, is a very young infantry scout* who is captured in the Battle of the Bulge and quartered in a Dresden slaughterhouse where he and other prisoners are employed in the production of a vitamin supplement for pregnant women. During the February 13, 1945, firebombing by Allied aircraft, the prisoners take shelter in an underground meat locker. When they emerge, the city has been levelled and they are forced to dig corpses out of the rubble. The story of Billy Pilgrim is the story of Kurt Vonnegut who was captured and survived the firestorm in which 135,000 German civilians perished, more than the number of deaths in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. Robert Scholes sums up the theme of Slaughterhouse Five in the New York Times Book Review, writing: 'Be kind. Don't hurt. Death is coming for all of us anyway, and it is better to be Lot's wife looking back through salty eyes than the Deity that destroyed those cities of the plain in order to save them.' The reviewer concludes that 'Slaughterhouse Five is an extraordinary success. It is a book we need to read, and to reread.' "The popularity of Slaughterhouse Five is due, in part, to its timeliness; it deals with many issues that were vital to the late sixties: war, ecology, overpopulation, and consumerism. Klinkowitz, writing in Literary Subversions.New American Fiction and the Practice of Criticism, sees larger reasons for the book's success: 'Kurt Vonnegut's fiction of the 1960s is the popular artifact which may be the fairest example of American cultural change. . . . Shunned as distastefully low-brow . . . and insufficiently commercial to suit the exploitative tastes of high-power publishers, Vonnegut's fiction limped along for years on the genuinely democratic basis of family magazine and pulp paperback circulation. Then in the late 1960s, as the culture as a whole exploded, Vonnegut was able to write and publish a novel, Slaughterhouse Five, which so perfectly caught America's transformative mood that its story and structure became best-selling metaphors for the new age. '"Writing in Critique, Wayne D. McGinnis comments that in Slaughterhouse Five, Vonnegut 'avoids framing his story in linear narration, choosing a circular structure.

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