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Howes English 7 17 May 2006 Kurt Vonnegut’s War Experience and His Slaughterhouse-Five With his bushy mustache and black humor, Kurt Vonnegut has been regarded as a “modern Mark Twain” (“Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.”, par.1). From 1952 to 2005, Vonnegut wrote dozens of satirical novels. The memory and experience of the war and its effects on American individuals and their country are major themes that pervade Vonnegut’s works (Grossman 40-46). Vonnegut faced them directly in his masterpiece published in 1969, Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade. Though many dramatic events, such as mother’s death on Mother’s Day, had occurred in Vonnegut’s early life, his traumatic survival of the Allied bombing of Dresden has had the biggest impact on most of his work, especially on Slaughterhouse-Five. Kurt Vonnegut was born a fourth generation German American. Before enlisting for World War II, he majored in chemistry and served as an editor of the school’s newspaper during his first two years of college in Cornell University. In the army he served as a German translator in the combat infantry. In the Battle of Bulge of 1944, he was captured and transported to a German industrial city, Dresden. After days of forced labor and imprisonment, Vonnegut survived and witnessed the Allied bombing of Dresden, which caused 135,000 German civilian deaths, matching the death caused by the two nuclear bombs in Japan. After the war, he finished his college education, got a master degree in anthropology in University of Chicago, and served as a police reporter. In 1952, He published his first book, Player Piano, and, therefore, started his writing career.

By exposing the brutality of war. He writes about his early life and the significant events that occurred during the process of writing the book. explaining a World War II veteran’s motivation to write such a book. and Vonnegut had written the crucial personal experience out of his own system (Reed. using literature elements such as repetition of several phrases and time traveling. He marries a revolting woman because her father will make him a wealthy optometrist. The interaction of the fiction character and the author himself not only shows the strong interrelationship of time periods. Kurt Vonnegut made the first chapter of this book an autobiographical chapter. Several critics also assert that . “The Later Vonnegut”. It is the hallmark of post modern literature. including his own death. He responds to every death he encounters. Billy has the practically the same experience as Vonnegut – he is captured in the Battle of the Bulge. In addition. Slaughterhouse-Five has been admitted as Kurt Vonnegut’s magnum opus. Vonnegut amplified the sense of his own existence throughout the novel. By this mean. and he survives and witnesses the bombing of Dresden. Billy claims that he is kidnapped by the Tralfamadorians. making death seem routine and satirical.1). After a plane crash. with the phrase “so it goes”. He adopted Tralfamadorians’ attitude toward death – that death is inevitable and predictable. The protagonist was a complacent weakling who lives a live filled with indignity (“Billy Pilgrim”. and making bombing of Dresden more noticed. who are the extraterrestrial beings. and travels through time and space. the novel conveys a strong anti-war sentiment. Vonnegut himself would also make appearances as Billy Pilgrim’s story goes on. In terms of being a World War II American soldier. because he has no passion for living.1). it also demonstrates a certain type of parallelism of Vonnegut’s life to Billy Pilgrim’s. pars. His initial impulse was to expose the atrocity in Dresden.Yang 2 Slaughterhouse-Five is the life story of Billy Pilgrim. He has no fear of death. Billy Pilgrim becomes “unstuck in time.” traveling from past to future. pars.

but against all wars. of a mass of civilians. This phrase almost becomes Vonnegut’s signature. “Poo-tee-weet?” is another mysterious phrase that occurs several times in the book.Yang 3 Slaughterhouse-Five is Kurt Vonnegut’s semi-autobiography. The author uses this phrase to convey his opinion on the atrocities of war and how war affects people. or even of books. For example. The protagonist of the novel thinks that death is inevitable and predictable. Billy has no fear in death because he becomes used to it. “So it goes” is Billy Pilgrim’s attitude regarding death. just like Billy Pilgrim is. As readers encounter more and more “so it goes”. and thereby develop their consciousness of the devastation of war. The underlying theme that Vonnegut tries to convey is not just merely against atrocities of Dresden. nobody could have generated such an in-depth feeling about vast death in war. they would also gradually become numb and unaware of death that occurs. “So it goes” is the most frequently present phrase that is haunting the entire novel. and whether the death is intentional. the description of German’s candles and soaps made out of dead enemies’ fat is frightening enough to be disturbing. In the first autobiographical chapter. Without Vonnegut’s practical bitter experience in the World War II. This phrase expresses his particularly casual and numb attitude toward death. It follows every death in the story. which was adopted from Tralfamadorian. The routine appearance of “so it goes” not only ridicules death in this novel. natural. Connoisseur Leslie Phillips states that: “Vonnegut wants us to accept life as it is and to understand that death is inevitable and something we must not fear. It is said by birds. or accidental. whether it is the death of one human being. of bacteria. Vonnegut’s goal is to instigate readers’ fear by letting them find out how horrifying it is to be used to death. but exposes the cruel fact that death become an ordinarily event in war.” Instead. Vonnegut writes “all there is to say about a . even without the first autobiographical chapter.

Remarkably. serving as Kurt Vonnegut’s own “so it goes. This phrase. as Vees-Gulani points out in a pathological and psychiatric study of the book. The bird’s words express the author’s speechlessness toward the bloody war and the inhumane atrocities he witnessed. We can tell that Vonnegut has probably been evasive when it comes to his wartime memory. “somehow ma[d]e their books even more . Writing Slaughterhouse-Five. and yet how tempting Dresden has been to write about” (Vonnegut 10). the phrase is punctuated by question mark. this kind of questioning also appears many times in the book – “Why me?” “Why anybody?” On the other hand. Alberto Cacicedo found that both authors had more or less expressed their scornful attitude toward the war as well as their traumatic memories of it. It can also be interpreted as the author’s accusation and query to human’s malicious action against each other. another phenomenal anti-war novel by Joseph Heller. and. and particularly the destruction of Dresden. further shows the indirect inner relation between Billy Pilgrim and Vonnegut. therefore. It is not hard to imagine how much the war.” While comparing SlaughterhouseFive and Catch-22. pars.” though more enquiring. can also be seen as a therapeutic process for Kurt Vonnegut.Yang 4 massacre” is “things like ‘poo-tee-weet?’”(26) At the end of the book. The atrocity he had witnessed had significant impact on his physical and mental ability as well as his faith. “Kurt Vonnegut's Fantastic Faces”. Billy Pilgrim comes out of the stable he is locked in and sees a bird talking to him saying “poo-tee-weet?” (223) It has no literal meaning.7). Vonnegut may be using Billy Pilgrim as his spokesman for his experience throughout the novel (Reed. but it is the most heart-quaking phrase in the novel. had traumatized Vonnegut that time. while the World War II is over.” As a matter of fact. since he would regard one of his most major experiences as “useless. Vonnegut “think[s] of how useless the Dresden part of [his] memory has been. asking “why is all this happening.

I'm a different person now. Vonnegut himself also admitted that the novel “was a therapeutic thing. and he did not think that public officials should have the right to ban a book that talks about real thing.S. Citing biblical story of Lot’s wife becoming a pillar of salt at the end of his autobiographical chapter. In an interview with Don Swaim. Vonnegut actually provides a really effective therapy to his trauma caused by the war. Kurt Vonnegut is a professional writer. I got rid of a lot of crap. Vonnegut replied the same line in his book: “There is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Various reasons were found regarding the prohibiting of the book: Objectionable language. this book is so “short and jumbled and jangled” (Vonnegut 26). Regarding the criticizes of his frequent use of profanity and redundancy in the book.” He had already declared in the beginning of the Slaughterhouse-Five that. In some states it is a required book for high school English curriculum. But he didn’t. the book was even charged for serving its inherent intention. indictment of the war.Yang 5 bitter”(Cacicedo 357).5). antiAmerican…etc. in McGinnis 56) Despite its widely exalted literature value. Vonnegut says he would not care as long as those who boycott his book are private individuals. criticizes on government actions. and challenged in numerous states (“Banned Books”).” (qtd. In fact. while in other states the book has been removed from school libraries and curricula (“Slaughterhouse-Five”. Vonnegut stated that “[p]eople aren’t supposed to look back” (Vonnegut 29). by giving himself a change to look back. sec. . and refuse to beautify wars by using exuberant language. the novel has been burned. banned. the Slaughterhouse-Five was one of the most frequently banned books in the U. The bitter experience of the war determines that Vonnegut would always decide to tell what he thinks about war. He could have use big words and extend the storyline to make his novel favorable to more people. which is to discourage teenagers from fighting for their country. Nevertheless. Ironically. What’s more.

Cacicedo. "Kurt Vonnegut. "The Arbitrary Cycle of `Slaughterhouse-Five': a Relation of Form to Theme. Edward. InfoTrac.com/topic/kurt-vonnegut-jr>.html>. InfoTrac." SparkNotes. "Kurt Vonnegut. 2006 <http://en. Literature Resource Center. Articles." Alibris. 30 Apr. 3 May 2006 <http://www.alibris. 12 May 2006. the Free Encyclopedia. .com/articles_features/features/banned/banned. Literature Resource Center.cfm>. Keyword: Kurt Vonnegut and novels. Robert. "Vonnegut & His Audience. 18 May 2006 <http://www. BHHS Library." Wikipedia. Answers. 12 May 2006. Path: Biography.com. and Peter A.answers." Commentary July 1974: 40-46.org/wiki/Kurt_Vonnegut>. Jr. Literature Resource Center." Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction XVII (1975): 55-67. ProQuest.com/lit/slaughter/terms/charanal_1. McGinnis. BHHS Library. "Bill Pilgrim.wikipedia.Yang 6 Works Cited "Banned Books. BHHS Library. Grossman. ""You Must Remember This": Trauma and Memory in Catch-22 and Slaughterhouse-Five.sparknotes." Critique 46 (2005): 357. 19 May 2006. Wayne D. Path: Literary Criticism. InfoTrac. "Vonnegut's 'Slaughterhouse-Five': the Requirements of Chaos." Studies in American Fiction 6 (1978): 65-76. & Work Overviews. Merrill. Beverly Hills High School Library. Scholl. 19 May 2006." Who2? Biographies. 12 May 2006 <http://www. Alberto.

" 123HelpMe. 11 May 2006 <http://www. Slaughterhouse-Five.org/wiki/Slaughterhouse-Five>. Hill. Leslie.asp?id=16476>. Willem Dafoe." The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. Keyword: Vonnegut. "So It Goes.Com.html>.vonnegut. Tom Berenger. 4th ed. Peter. 6 Nov.com/lit/slaughter/themes. Orion Pictures. Perf. "The Later Vonnegut. BHHS Library. Jerome Klinkowitz and Donald Lawler. 12 May 2006 <http://123helpme. 2000. "Slaughterhouse-Five: Themes.com/article. the Free Encyclopedia." SparkNotes. "Pilgrim. Charlie Sheen. . Platoon. 12 May 2006 <http://www.suite101. 19 May 2006 <http://www. Literature Resource Center." Vonnegut. "The Horror of War Exposed in Slaughterhouse Five.cfm/censorship_books/83144>. Michael Sacks.com/artist. Universal Pictures. Ron Leibman. Vonnegut in America: an Introduction to the Life and Work of Kurt Vonnegut (1977): 150-84. Oliver Stone.wikipedia. Peter. Dir. "'a Tool of the Devil'" Suite101. and Forest Whitaker." Ed.com/Hollywood/4953/kv_sh5.Com. Dir.com/view.html>. 2001. George R. Russell. and Eugene Roche. 11 May 2006 <http://www. DVD. InfoTrac. 1972.asp>.sparknotes. Reed. 12 May 2006. Motifs & Symbols. 1986. Rick.geocities. "Slaughterhouse-Five.Yang 7 Phillips. 3 May 2006 <http://en. DVD. Perf." Marek Vit's Kurt Vonnegut Corner." Wikipedia. "Kurt Vonnegut's Fantastic Faces. Reed.Com.

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