Kurt Vonnegut Bio/Style

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Evan Turnbull
10 October 2011
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Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut was a man of pacifism and pessimism. The son of an architect, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., was born on November 11, 1922 at Indianapolis, Indiana (Elkins). Vonnegut was born into a family that was largely affected by the Great Depression, which proved to shape his science-fiction writing style. Vonnegut’s works are known for their black humor and use of science fiction, as well as their underlying themes of morality and references to political topics. Vonnegut largely uses technology as an antagonist in his writing, or rather, human’s misuse of it. In Cat’s Cradle, a chemical freezes all the water on Earth and brings about the apocalypse. Player Piano ends with the failing of a rebellion against a world run by machines. In Slaughterhouse-Five, the Dresden bombing occurs, which kills more people than Nagasaki and Hiroshima combined. Vonnegut's science fiction centers on three interrelated attitudes: (a) a deep mistrust of humanity's ability to control science and technology, and, hence, (b) a profound pessimism concerning the future of the human race unless (c) it can create useful fictions to replace those traditional myths rendered obsolete by science (Elkins). Vonnegut writes with a lack of trust in humankind relating to the control of technology, which could quite possibly lead to the apocalypse unless humans understand their mistakes and create a new way of life.

The semi-autobiographical nature of Kurt Vonnegut’s work is shown in Slaughterhouse-Five. In this novel, the protagonist Billy Pilgrim closely mirrors Vonnegut, specifically regarding Dresden. Billy Pilgrim is an unassuming man that is drafted into the war before he can finish school, exactly like Vonnegut. Pilgrim is thrust into the Battle of the Bulge with very little training, and ends up becoming captured by the Germans and eventually taken to an underground slaughterhouse in Dresden to help produce vitamins, hence the name Slaughterhouse-Five. Soon enough, the fire-bombings of Dresden begin and Billy Pilgrim, along with the other POWs, is forced to take shelter in a meat cellar. Over the course of one night, the entire city is demolished and its inhabitants massacred. The next morning, Pilgrim and the other POWs, as well as the surviving German officers, ventured out into the suburbs. The entire city demolished and corpses everywhere, the POWs were soon forced to take on the job of disposing of the bodies. Slaughterhouse-Five proved to be immensely difficult for Vonnegut to write about, taking him about twenty three years, because he experienced these exact events. As a pacifist, war was disgusting to Vonnegut, but these bombing were on a completely different level. These bombings killed an estimated 135,000 people, majority of whom were citizens, and left the city a bleak wasteland, the incendiary bombs burning everything to a crisp. The bombing of Dresden still remains as one of the most controversial events of the 20th century because the city offered no military strategic value. It is comparable to the Paris of Germany in that it contained much of the German artistic and national identity. As Charles L. Elkins says in his critical essay, “In his Introduction to Mother Night (1961), Vonnegut describes the Dresden bombing as "the largest massacre in European history." All of his novels can be viewed as attempts, explicitly and implicitly, to come to terms artistically with this experience. Dresden became for Vonnegut a symbol of humanity's irresponsible infatuation with technology” (Elkins). Throughout Slaughterhouse-Five, there is a not a linear structure where all the events lead up to one final climax, which would assumingly be the bombings of Dresden, but instead there is a somewhat circular structure to the plot. The plot jumps back and forth from certain places, eventually connecting all the events in the story. Vonnegut keeps the story disjointed...
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