The Life of Kurt Vonnegut
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The Life of Kurt Vonnegut
The life of Kurt Vonnegut was filled with great accomplishments and great
tragedies. The biggest tragedy that he faced had to be the fire bombing of Dresden in
World War II. This is the topic of his book Slaughterhouse-Five. The book talks about
one of Vonnegut\'s friends who slips in and out of reality, having flashbacks of the
experience at Dresden.
Kurt Vonnegut was born in November of 1922 in Indianapolis. This is where he
eventually met and married Jane Cox. Vonnegut\'s life has been a struggle, starting with
his mother\'s constant bouts with depression. In 1943, when Vonnegut enlisted, his
mother\'s depression grew deeper. Because of that Private Vonnegut asked permission to
visit home to surprise her on Mother\'s Day. She overdosed on sleeping pills the night
before he arrived (Walker 206).
Surprisingly, this tragedy was overshadowed by another incident in his life that
happened just a year and a half after his mother\'s death, the fire bombing of Dresden. In
late 1944, Vonnegut was captured by Germans during the Battle of the Bulge. On the
night of February 13, 1945 exactly 100 American P.O.W.\'s and five German soldiers took
shelter in a meat locker while the Royal Air Force joined by U.S bombers attacked and
successfully annihilated the city of Dresden in one of the most vicious air raids ever. The
firestorm left over 130,000 people dead and many more missing. This event became a
major influence in his writing career ("The Biographies of Kurt Vonnegut" 775).
Vonnegut started writing novels in 1947, when he went to work for General
Electric Research Laboratory. The job gave him the storyline for his first novel Player
Piano. In 1951, he resigned from his job at G.E to pursue a full time writing career. He
wrote many short stories, which in 1969 were assembled into a collection called Welcome
to the Monkey House. The next novel was Cat\'s Cradle in 1963, then The Sirens of the
Titans and God Bless you, Mr. Rosewater in 1965 (Litz, 758).
In Sluaghterhouse-Five, Vonnegut conveys the message that World War II was
fought by children. He makes the vivid image of 17 and 18 year old boys in a far away
place fighting for their country. That is the reason for the popular alternative title for the
book, The Children\'s Crusade. Vonnegut was one of the oldest men in his unit at 20
years old. He tells how he got captured by three German soldiers, one 25 and the other
two 12 and 13 years old. At the end of the book as Vonnegut and the other men walk
through what used to be Dresden, he doesn\'t know how to feel, having just been bombed
by his own country (Litz 768).
The book is not just about the war, but mostly about an outcast of society named
Billy Pilgrim who travels through time from the present to the past, all in his own head,
though it all seems very real to him. He believes that he has this ability because of his
abduction by aliens called Talfamadorian\'s. These aliens hold him on their planet and then
release him later. The ingenious narration of the book makes us actually believe that we
travel from 1965, back to Dresden in 1944. Billy Pilgrim\'s problems in the present
obviously stemmed from his horrific experience in Dresden. In the book, he later becomes
an optometrist and while flying to a convention with 30 other optometrists, the plane
crashes and everyone dies except him. While he is recuperating in the hospital from a
fractured skull, his wife dies of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Billy Pilgrim is a protagonist who Vonnegut modeled after himself. The name
Billy Pilgrim itself implies that he represents an ordinary man in a different sort of
"pilgrimage," as you see him at every stage of his life. It is obvious by the second chapter
of the book that Billy Pilgrim, is in fact, a type of Pilgrim going into places he has never
been before, for a cause he believes in enough to be willing to sacrifice his life. Just like
Vonnegut did in 1943, by dropping out of college to join the military.
The innocence, vulnerability, and eagerness, to please is likened to Adam and Eve.
Several times Billy\'s description appears in terms of allusions to Jesus Christ, particularly
as a silently suffering victim. Pilgrim is more autobiographical than any other character
Vonnegut has come up with, yet is also profoundly different (Reed 774).
One tool that is most fascinating about
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American people of German descent, Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five, Billy Pilgrim, Player Piano, Cats Cradle, Welcome to the Monkey House, Tralfamadore, Kilgore Trout, Breakfast of Champions
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