Kurt Vonnegut’s background had an endless influence upon his writing. In his early years, Vonnegut was a private in the 106th infantry division in World War II. He and five scouts were caught behind enemy lines, and then captured. They were held POWs and were beaten on various occasions. In 1945, they witnessed the fire-bombing of Dresden, Germany. Kept during this time in a slaughterhouse, this is part of the inspiration for Slaughterhouse-five. After being released from the Slaughterhouse, Vonnegut called Dresden “utter destruction” and “carnage unfathomable”. This distressing time in his life led to one of the many themes of Slaughterhouse-five which is that nothing good can come from war and a massacre. This theme is expressed in the story when Billy Pilgrim says “Birds were talking. One bird said to Billy Pilgrim ’Poo-tee-weet?’” After the bombing, the POWs had to gather the bodies for a mass grave and then all the remains were set on fire. Vonnegut and the other prisoners were only there for a few more months, until they were rescued. The lasting effect this awful war caused Vonnegut had significant affect upon his writing; on return to the U.S., he was awarded a purple heart.
II. Book Analysis-
Setting (time): This story starts with Vonnegut writing in first person and is set in 1968. The rest of the storyline is jumbled up as Billy is “caught in time”. It goes from meticulous descriptions of war experiences in 1944-1945, to skipping around his whole life from childhood in the 1920’s to death in 1976.
Setting (place): Billy spends most of 1944-1945 in Germany in the war. He was in the Battle of Bulge, in Belgium, in the forest. He was then transported in a boxcar to a war camp in Luxembourg, Germany then to a slaughterhouse in Dresden. Before and after the war, Billy spends most of his time in Ilium, New York. He also is in a zoo on the foreign planet, Tralfamadore. Billy also spends a brief amount of time in an institute for people suffering post-traumatic stress disorder due to the war.
Point of View: In the beginning, Vonnegut the narrator, explains his relations to the war and his experiences in Dresden. After that he narrates the story, but comes up at other various times in the book as “this is I” or “this is me”. He comes up then as for the reader to relate Billy Pilgrim to the author. The rest of the book is in third person omniscient. It mostly talks about Billy and his experiences, but sometimes minor characters thoughts are talked about too.
Theme: There are a couple themes in this book. The first theme is the destructiveness of a massacre. This is displayed when the narrator says “Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds. And what do the birds say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like ‘Poo-tee-weet?” (pg. 215 Vonnegut). The bird says this because the narrator is trying to get the point across that there is...