Kurt Vonnegut American Literature Analysis
Vonnegut has spoken of his experience of being in Dresden in 1945, when that city was firebombed and perhaps a hundred thousand lives were lost, as being an early motivation to write. Although it was not until his sixth novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, that he actually based a book on that experience, his first five novels point in that direction. Notably, there is an apocalyptic event involved in each of those novels. There is also the descent into an underground place—much as he went underground to survive Dresden—from which the protagonist emerges with a new view of the world. In this way, Vonnegut weaves together personal experience with the mythic pattern of descent (Jonah into the belly of the whale, Orpheus into the underworld) as prelude to rebirth, transformation, or new knowledge.
Other patterns discernible in Vonnegut’s novels clearly draw on personal history. Vonnegut’s father was a retiring person who, after his prolonged unemployment, became reclusive. The novels contain numerous father-son relationships in which the father is distant. Vonnegut’s mother committed suicide, and he speaks frankly of his “legacy of suicide” and his proneness to depression. He repeatedly treats the themes of isolation, depression, mental illness, and suicide in his characters as manifestations of the stresses of society.
Vonnegut was very close to his sister Alice—in Slapstick, he speaks of her as the imaginary audience to...
(The entire section is 8127 words.)
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