Inside a fantasy world of time travel, aliens, and porn stars, Kurt Vonnegut delivers an iron hard moral statement on the aftermath of war in his novel, Slaughterhouse-Five. We follow the fictional character, Billy Pilgrim, as he struggles, like Vonnegut did, to discover the purpose of life. Kurt Vonnegut uses Slaughterhouse-Five as a way to cope with his experience in the Dresden massacre. By taking the narrator’s voice, and by employing the themes of time and fate, Kurt Vonnegut seeks to reach out to the world, exposing to humanity the horrific aftermath of war.
During World War II, Kurt Vonnegut was captured by the Germans and sent to the Dresden, “an open city with no significant targets,” to be held as a prisoner of war. On February 13, 1945, the Allied forces dropped incendiary bombs on the city, which created a “firestorm” that killed an estimated 135,000 people, and destroyed the city (Cox). When asked his purpose for writing, Vonnegut stated that he “agrees with Stalin and Hitler and Mussolini that the writer should serve his society,” however he disagreed with how they serve, saying, “they should be- and biologically have to be- agents of change” (Merril). In witnessing the massacre, Vonnegut felt as though it was his duty as a writer who had witnessed it first hand to write about this horrific massacre. Remaining the single heaviest air strike in military history, Dresden is relatively ignored in histories eyes (Cox). Kurt Vonnegut takes an anti-war stance in order to enlighten the world of the unnecessary strike and to emphasize, as someone who witnessed it first hand, the horrors of war. The book uses the massacre as a foundation of the main conflicts in the novel, with every other event, simply as fleeting as a passage of time.
In most novels, the author speaks through his characters, using the characters to represent the author’s overall message. However, by directly addressing the readers, Kurt Vonnegut conveys a much deeper personal significance behind his experience in Dresden. Twenty-three years after the massacre, Vonnegut finds himself “outlining the Dresden story many times” resulting, finally, in the writing of this book (Vonnegut 5). After so many years, this book represents his attempt to “come to terms with the horror of Dresden” (Vanderwerken). Yet, in the twenty-three years, he has not figured out what to say about it, as he expresses his struggles, “I have written five thousand pages by now, and thrown them all away” (Vonnegut 15). Ironically, Vonnegut compares the Dresden firebombing to a bird’s song, “Poo-tee-weet” (Vonnegut 19). He believes that “everything is supposed to be quiet after a massacre…except for the birds,” who say, “all there is to say about a massacre, things like “Poo-tee-weet” (Vonnegut 19). In this, Kurt Vonnegut emphasizes that nothing intelligent can be said about a massacre, only gibberish. Gibberish, in which even the birds cannot comprehend, let alone the men that fought in the war.
Throughout his entire introduction, Kurt Vonnegut does not go into detail of the massacre, instead he emphasizes its aftermath. By focusing on the response (or lack of their of) and the affects of the massacre, he enhances overall power of his message. Vonnegut has played down the immediate impact of the war in order to make a “powerful little statement about the kinds of social attitudes responsible for war and its atrocities” (Merril). The solid, personal foundation of the book, which is the Dresden airstrike, builds a strong framework for the rest of the book and the moral statement it’s trying to show. Although this soon becomes covered up by the fantasy of the rest of the book, it is still very much there. Just as the individual impacts of war gets quickly covered up by the overall picture of war, they are still very much there, haunting the soldiers, even twenty-three years later.
Kurt Vonnegut ends his introduction by introducing the...