Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., was written as a general statement against all wars. Vonnegut focuses on the shock and outrage over the havoc and destruction man is capable of wreaking in the name of what he labels a worthy cause, while learning to understand and accept these horrors and one's feelings about them. Through his character, Billy Pilgrim, he conveys not only these feelings and emotions, but also the message that we must exercise our free will to alter the unfortunate happenings that might occur in our lives.
Vonnegut had tremendous difficulty writing this novel. He says, "I thought it would be easy for me to write about the destruction of Dresden, since all I would have to do would be to report what I had seen" (Vonnegut 2). He did not count on his emotions interfering with his attempts at a factual and logical report of such atrocities. It took Vonnegut twenty years to directly face his private demon of the firebombing of Dresden in the form of this novel. He had trouble recalling any memories of substance about his time in Dresden. It could be said that he was blinded by the firebombs of Dresden. It was not until Vonnegut returned to the sight of the bombing twenty years later, along with one of his war buddies, that he was able to recall the disastrous and horrific incidents in Dresden. The novel served as a form of therapy for Vonnegut; it enabled him to examine the events of the past that impacted on his life, and to come to terms with them. Vonnegut chooses to focus the novel on events surrounding the firebombing of Dresden, Germany. As James Lundquist explains:
"The bombing of Dresden was a surprise raid. It wasn't expected because the city was militarily unimportant. The population of the city had been doubled by prisoners-of-war and refugees. On February thirteenth, 1944, American bombers dropped high-explosive bombs followed by incendiaries, which caused a firestorm that could be seen more than two hundred miles away. On February fourteenth, the Americans carried out a second raid, which completed the destruction of the city. More than two-hundred thousand people were killed outright, burned to death, or died after. Vonnegut and Billy Pilgrim were herded with other prisoners-of-war into the storage area of a slaughterhouse and later emerged to find the once beautiful city looking like the surface of the moon" (Lundquist 47).
As Vonnegut reexamines the bombing of Dresden, he relates the event in a way that shows the reader his personal view of the incident. He confronts the Dresden experience with compassion and sorrow rather than anger, bitterness or pain. He sees the madness and cruelty of the world condensed in the blasting of the city. Vonnegut feels special anguish over the bombing because of his situation of being under attack by his own forces and sharing the sufferings of his enemies (Reed 494).
Billy Pilgrim's character is also greatly affected by the war and by...