War is a tragic experience that can motivate people to do many things.Many people have been inspired to write stories, poems, or songs about war.Many of these examples tend to reflect feelings against war.Kurt Vonnegut is no different and his experience with war inspired him to write a series of novels starting with Slaughter-House Five.It is a unique novel expressing Vonnegut’s feelings about war.These strong feeling can be seen in the similarities between characters, information about the Tralfamadorians, dark humor, and the structure of the novel. Kurt Vonnegut is an American novelist from Indianapolis, Indiana, born in 1922.
A very important part of his life was when he served in WWII where he was taken as a prisoner of war. Vonnegut was captured by the Germans on December 14, 1944 in the Battle of the Bulge (Biography).He was kept in Dresden with other POWs to work in a syrup factory.When Dresden was bombed on February 13, 1945, he survived while hiding in a cellar of a slaughterhouse where the POWs were living.
Vonnegut was finally able to come home in May of 1945.He discusses his struggle to write about his experiences of at the beginning of his novel Slaughterhouse-Five and was unable to publish the book until 1969. Vonnegut created Billy Pilgrim, the protagonist of the story, in order to express his own views about war.One critic mentions that “no characters in contemporary fiction are more traumatized and emotionally damaged than those of Kurt Vonnegut” (Broer 121).Billy and Vonnegut carry many similarities throughout the novel. Just like Billy, Vonnegut was taken as a POW and witnessed the firebombing of Dresden (Vees-Gulani 175).
During Billy’s time in Dresden he meets a German guard named Werner Gluck.Even though the reader knows that Gluck is actually Billy’s cousin, Billy never learns this.This kinship can further connect Billy and Vonnegut together.Since Vonnegut is a fourth generation German, it is possible that Vonnegut could also have a cousin that was a Nazi soldier (Biography).Though it may be a far stretch, a further connection the two have is the name of their hometowns.Billy was from the town of Illium, Illinois and Vonnegut was from Indianapolis, Indiana.The correlation between the two cannot be ignored.
Billy could very easily be a way for Vonnegut to show the emotions that he felt during the war to the rest of the world. The anti-war message is upheld further with the ironies that Vonnegut provides in the book.One example is “when one of the soldiers, a POW, survives the fire-bombing, but dies afterward from the dry heaves because he has to bury dead bodies” (Vit).
When Billy and one of his comrades join to other scouts the Vonnegut portrays as well trained, Vonnegut displays irony by killing the skillful scouts and allows the less competent Pilgrim and Roland to survive.Roland does eventually die because he is forced to walk around in wooden clogs that turn his feet to pudding.The greatest example of irony is seen in what Vonnegut claims to be the climax of the story.
He explains the situation before the story even begins. He is referring to the: …execution of poor old Edgar Derby…the irony is so great.A whole city gets burned down, and thousands and thousands of people are killed.And this one American foot soldier is arrested and subsequently executed…for taking a teapot.
(Vonnegut 164)Derby has survived the firebombing but when he is caught by the Germans for stealing a small tea pot, he was shot.While Slaughterhouse-Five is primarily a fiction novel, Vonnegut uses some science fiction to help prove his point.The Tralfamadorians are aliens that abduct Billy on a clear night 1967.“These aliens live with the knowledge of the fourth dimension, which, they say, contains all moments of time occurring and reoccurring endlessly and simultaneously” (Lichtenstein).The aliens believe they have no control over what is going to happen because they can see what is about to happen and know that they have no control over it.“Because of this ability, they have a totally different mentality than earthlings and criticize Earth’s beliefs” (Vit).The aliens talk of the problems that they see on earth.The Tralfamadorians explain to Billy that they have no free will and free will is on earth because humans have no dimension of time.For this reason the Tralfamadorians believe that free will does not exist.They “also believe that there will always be war on earth, since humans are designed that way” (Vit).This is how Vonnegut uses the Tralfamadorians to criticize war.The Tralfamadorians also serve as an escape for Billy when he is stressed from his experiences on Earth.These aliens allow Billy’s mind to flee from stressful situations such as the war and the death of his wife..