Vonnegut's Life In Slaughterhouse Five and Cat's Cradle

Topics: Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five, World War II Pages: 5 (1787 words) Published: February 25, 2014

Kurt Vonnegut places his own life experiences In Slaughterhouse Five and Cat’s Cradle, in order to make the novels, which are frequently deemed ludicrous, more realistic and to answer problematic queries that have risen up in his past. In Slaughterhouse Five, Vonnegut‘s experience in World War II, a prisoner of war forced to witness the Allied forces’ firebombing of Dresden, is the essence of the novel, while Vonnegut’s great distaste for war and his mother’s suicide are greatly personified in Cat’s Cradle. Both of Vonnegut’s novels reflect historical and experiential elements of his own life. In Slaughterhouse-Five, snap-shots of the protagonist Billy Pilgrim’s life are depicted. Billy is taken on a journey through different time periods of his life - past, present and future – with the help of aliens and inexplicable transportations. In the main insight into Billy’s life, captive of war Billy Pilgrim is transported in a crowded railway boxcar to a prisoner of war camp in Germany. Soon he and the other Americans captured along with him travel to the beautiful city of Dresden, still relatively untouched by wartime privation. Here the prisoners must work for their keep at various labors, including the manufacture of nutritional malt syrup. Their camp occupies a former slaughterhouse. One night, Allied forces carpet bomb the city, then drop incendiary bombs to create a firestorm that sucks most of the oxygen into the blaze, asphyxiating or incinerating roughly 130,000 people. Billy and his fellow POWs survive in an airtight meat locker. They emerge to find a moonscape of destruction, where they are forced to excavate corpses from the rubble. Several days later, Russian forces capture the city, and Billy’s involvement in the war ends. The story of Billy Pilgrim is actually that of Vonnegut and his interpretation of one of the most horrific massacres in European history, the World War II firebombing of Dresden in eastern Germany. More than 130,000 civilians died in Dresden, roughly the same number of deaths that resulted from the Allied bombing raids on Tokyo and from the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Inhabitants of Dresden were incinerated or suffocated in a matter of hours as a firestorm sucked up and consumed any available oxygen. As a prisoner of war, Vonnegut witnessed and survived the Allied forces’ firebombing of Dresden. After the bomb raid, Vonnegut, like his protagonist Billy Pilgrim, emerged from a meat locker beneath a slaughter-house into the moonscape of burned-out Dresden. His surviving captors put him to work finding, burying, and burning bodies. His task continued until the Russians came and the war ended. Vonnegut survived by chance, confined as a prisoner of war in a well-insulated meat locker thereby missing the moment of attack, emerging the day after into the charred ruins of a once-beautiful city. i Slaughterhouse Five is Vonnegut’s way of dealing with his past. Up until this novel, Vonnegut unsuccessfully attempted to describe in simple terms what happened that day and to attach to it plausible reason. In Slaughterhouse Five, Vonnegut discovers a way to successfully deal with the death and suffering he witnessed by shifting his perspective from that of human beings to that of god, or in this case, the Tralfamadoreans, which are toilet plunger shaped aliens who kidnap Billy in order to, among other things, explain their concept of time to him. We see the transformation of perspective when Billy Pilgrim finds himself in the Tralfamadorean zoo. Billy asks “why me?” The answer he receives is puzzling: “That is a very Earthling to ask Mr. Pilgrim. Why you? Why anything? Because this moment simply is…”ii The Tralfamadorean perspective is very similar to that of god; the Tralfamadoreans speak to him as though from a higher power and with immeasurable knowledge. Vonnegut uses this change in perspective along with the Tralfamadoreans’ sense of time to explain the mass sufferings of innocent civilians as...
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