Free Slaughterhouse-Five Essays: Dresden

Free Slaughterhouse-Five Essays: Dresden

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Slaughterhouse-Five Dresden

 The focal point of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five is the devastating fire-bombing of Dresden in World War II, an event which was experienced by the real-life Vonnegut as well as the fictional Billy Pilgrim. Through the novel, Vonnegut renders his account of an occurrence which is, in itself, indescribable. In order to tell this story to the world, Vonnegut uses Billy Pilgrim's Tralfamadorian experience as a window that allows the reader some relief from the horrors of war. According to the author, the war was a traumatic experience which is virtually impossible to describe. As Vonnegut says in the introduction, " . . .I thought, too, that it [the novel] would be a masterpiece or at least make me a lot of money, since the subject was so big . . .but not many words about Dresden came from my mind then"(Vonnegut 2).

As a result of Vonnegut's involvement in the war, the accounts which are depicted in the novel create a realistic picture for the reader. Such accounts include Billy's trek to the actual slaughterhouse, and his stay there, which lasted for years. Vonnegut had this same experience. According to one source, "Sheltered in an underground meat storage locker, Vonnegut managed to survive a raid that devastated the city and killed an estimated 135,000 people-more than the number of deaths in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined"(Boomhower 1). Also, all of the characters mentioned in the novel are based on actual people encountered by Vonnegut throughout the war. At the very beginning of the war the author states that all of this "happened, more or less. The war parts, anyway, are pretty much true . . .I've changed all of the names(Vonnegut 1)."

Vonnegut makes clear that he, too, has experienced Billy's struggles. He does so by intruding into the accounts of the fictional Billy with his own personal thoughts. In one case Vonnegut states, " . . .it would make a good epitaph for Billy Pilgrim--and for me too"(121). Another such event occurs when Pilgrim travels "back to Dresden, but not in the present. He was going back there in 1945, two days after the city was destroyed. Now Billy and the rest were being marched into the ruins by their guards. I was there. O'Hare was there"(212).

Billy escapes from the nightmares and realities of his earthly life on the planet Tralfamadore.

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Free Slaughterhouse-Five Essays: Dresden

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Because Vonnegut lives vicariously through Billy, the fictional Tralfamadore is also the author's way of escaping from the pressure and nightmares of his experiences during the war.

In the beginning, Kurt Vonnegut thought writing a book about Dresden would be simple because all he would have to do would be to report what he had witnessed firsthand. He soon realized that it would not be so easy. It took Vonnegut more than 20 years to write Slaughterhouse-Five (Boomhower 1). He was so filled with frustration that it was nearly impossible for him to recollect what had occurred there. He ended up having to displace some of the wartime events with time-tripping experiences in order to tell an entire story. He saw so much death in the war ,"so it goes" that writing the novel became an anti-war pursuit. However, as Harrison Starr says, there is no point in writing an anti-war book, for there will always be wars, just as there will always be glaciers (Vonnegut 3).

 
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