Kurt Vonnegut and his experiences
Kurt Vonnegut experienced many things that others do not during his lifetime. Many of these experiences Vonnegut wrote about in his novels. “Vonnegut has typically used science fiction to characterize the world and the nature of existence as he experiences them. His chaotic fictional universe abounds in wonder, coincidence, randomness and irrationality” (Reed 1). Kurt Vonnegut’s genre-bending novel Slaughterhouse-Five was directly influenced by his experiences in World War II. He knowledge of the fire bombings of Dresden, as a prisoner of war, which swayed his opinions and the opinions of many others “not about how war is wrong, but how it impacts the lives of soldiers who fight in them” (Batschke 1).
When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Vonnegut volunteered in 1943 for military service. Vonnegut had just graduated high school and had little knowledge of war. He was sent through basic training and then deployed to Europe. In Europe, Kurt was taken prisoner in the Battle of the Bulge by Nazi soldiers on December 1944, as a battalion scout. After being transported to Dresden, Germany, an old cultural town that many believed to be the most beautiful city in Germany; he was put to work making a diet supplement for pregnant women. Between February 13 and 14 the Royal Air Force (U.K.) and the United States Air Force made heavy raids on Dresden. But what put the whole city up in flames was due to the deeds of the British. British night bombers dropped a new kind of incendiary bombs on the city and burned down everything organic. At that time Vonnegut was amongst many prisoners in a meat-locker under a Slaughterhouse; the name of the Slaughterhouse was Schlachthof-fÃ¼nf or Slaughterhouse-Five (Vonnegut 153). Kurt was among seven Americans to survive the total destruction of the city. After the bombings ended Vonnegut was employed by the Germans to dig out corpses of the city (“Kurt Vonnegut 1922-2007” 1). The destruction of Dresden killed between 135,000 to 250,000 people and was on the scale of Hiroshima (“Art Out of Cataclysm”).
Vonnegut suffered from incredible feeling of guilt from his involvement in the war. His character in the novel Slaughterhouse-Five, Billy Pilgrim struggles to understand why he was one of the very few to survive the bombings. Kurt Vonnegut uses Billy Pilgrim as himself and this is reflected throughout the book.
Billy creates a fantasy of being abducted by aliens, called Tralfamadores as a way for him to emotionally escape his real life. His feelings were so intense that he needed a way to escape them. By creating a fantasy world where he was abducted by aliens he didn’t have to face the truth, about being a prisoner of war. “That is why Billy Pilgrim invents a world where justification can be given, where life and death are meaningless and feelings of guilt disappear” (Batschke 1). “The Tralfamadorians take Billy Pilgrim to live in a zoo-like geodesic dome on their planet. They kidnap the B-movie starlet Montana Wildhack to be his mate. Tralfamadorians see in four dimensions, so that they see past and future as well as the now” (Reed 7).
In Vonnegut’s life he has seen more death than most people could even believe. “Vonnegut’s vision of the fantastic in daily life surely must have been influenced by some of the extraordinary events that occurred while he was still a young man, such as the suicide of his mother on Mother’s Day 1944 while he was home on leave; his surviving as a prisoner of war when the Allied firebombing destroyed Dresden; the death of his sister Alice from cancer within hours of her husband’s death in a train crash” (Reed 1). “Vonnegut dealt hands on with dead bodies in Dresden as a prisoner of war he had to help dig dead bodies out of basements from the people who suffocated there. Then they took the dead bodies to a huge funeral pyre. But soon they gave up with throwing the dead bodies onto a fire because it took too long; so the Nazis brought in soldiers with flamethrowers to get rid of the rest of the corpses. All these civilians’ remains were burned to ashes. Kurt once said that it was one of the worst things he has ever smelt. (“Art Out of Cataclysm”) Many incidents of death also occur in his novel Slaughterhouse-Five which makes sense because he has been around it so much during the younger years of his life as he has somewhat been traumatized by it.
Ever since the war, Billy’s whole life had been tainted. He could not think of a happy memory, without at some point thinking of the war. He had many flashbacks of the war and it appeared he would not be able to escape the horrors that the war had done to him. Since Billy survived one of the worst and more unnecessary human massacres in the history of the world, it would be nearly impossible to forget what happened. Along with Billy in the book Kurt had many of the same feeling toward the war. He wrote the book in a very confusing and unnecessary way because he felt that all of the fire bombings were pointless and that the Allies didn’t gain anything for bombing the city besides killing a large amount of civilians. Vonnegut had many flashbacks of the war that haunted him for a long time. It took Kurt Vonnegut over 20 years to write the novel after he returned home from the war. “Kurt Vonnegut tried to write about it almost immediately but found both the details and the meaning of the event eluded him” (“Art Out of Cataclysm”). Vonnegut said,” You can’t remember pure nonsense and it was pure nonsense and pointless the destruction of that city and well I just couldn’t get it right” (“Art Out of Cataclysm”). According to Kurt the firebombing was a military experiment to see if you could burn down a whole city by scattering incendiaries all over it.
To Summarize my essay; Kurt Vonnegut’s genre-bending novel Slaughterhouse-Five was directly influenced by his experiences in World War II. Not only did he experience the firebombing of Dresden at first hand as a prisoner of war but he also was involved in digging up the left over corpses from the bombings. After Kurt volunteered for the war he was deployed to Europe where he was taken prisoner by the Nazis. This is when he experienced the firebombings in a meat locker under a Slaughterhouse, called Schlachthof-fÃ¼nf, which is where he got the name for his book Slaughterhouse-Five. After the war Vonnegut tried to write the novel but was unable because the reason for the firebombing was troubling and confused him. After over 20 years of returning home Vonnegut published Slaughterhouse-Five also know as The Children’s Crusade because Vonnegut thought that war is fought by young people or children in the early parts of their lives. In the book Kurt creates a character, Billy Pilgrim who is basically the book version of himself. Billy suffers from grief and wonders why he was one of the survivors. In the novel many people die and it reflects Kurt’s life where he has seen a countless amount of people die. Starting with his mother committing suicide on Mother’s Day, his sister dieing of cancer hours after his brother-In-law died in a train accident and not to mention the hundreds of thousands of people who died from the firebombings. He wrote the book in a very confusing and unnecessary way because he felt that the firebombing was pointless and that the Allies didn’t gain anything for bombing the city besides killing a plethora of civilians. Along with Billy Pilgrim Kurt also believes that since he experienced such a huge human massacre that it would not be easy to forget. He believes it was one of the most unnecessary catastrophes in the history of mankind.