Themes In Slaughterhouse-Five By Kurt Vonnegut

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A DUTY DANCE WITH DEATH
Kurt Vonnegut’s life was defined by his experiences in the Second World War. In particular, he was affected most by his sentence as a prisoner of war in Dresden, Germany. While in Dresden, he witnessed the most appalling and unpleasant aspects of human life. Vonnegut survived a barrage of incendiary bombs dropped by Allied forces on Dresden which killed approximately 135,000 innocent civilian lives. Of course, the visions that Vonnegut had of Dresden after emerging from the slaughterhouse which he had taken refuge in haunted him for the remainder of his life. “Slaughterhouse-Five…is about Vonnegut’s efforts to tell his story as much as it is about Billy Pilgrim” (Beacham 1425). Before Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut had unsuccessfully attempted to write about his experiences in Dresden in several different novels.
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The idea that humans have no control over their own destiny was the major theme that shaped Vonnegut’s writing style in all of his works. As a result, Slaughterhouse-Five has free will as the central focus in its story. Vonnegut creates fictional aliens - the Tralfamadorians - to further emphasize the futility of human life. “‘If I hadn’t spent so much time studying Earthlings,’ said the Tralfamadorian, ‘I wouldn’t have any idea what was meant by “free will”. I’ve visited thirty-one inhabited planets in the universe. Only on Earth is there any talk of free will’” (“Slaughterhouse-Five” 109). The characters in Vonnegut’s story are representative of all humans. It is the inherent nature of humans to have no control over their destiny. Vonnegut’s pessimistic view on his existence culminates in Billy Pilgrim’s motto: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage the change the things I can, and wisdom always to tell the difference” (“Slaughterhouse-Five”

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