Slaughterhouse-Five is Kurt Vonnegut’s fifth novel; it was an overwhelming success and established him as one of the best fiction writers of his era. He wrote it while he was a writer-in-residence at the University of Iowa. With money from a Guggenheim Fellowship, he went to Dresden, Germany, to complete his research. Vonnegut appears in the first and last chapters, as a journalist reporting on the work at hand, and he appears three times during the narrative. Unique to this novel, this device is extremely effective. It was a great boon to experimental writing and was thought to be a progressive step in the evolution of literature and narrative stance. Vonnegut makes clear to the reader that he is not Billy Pilgrim. Vonnegut is a character in scenes with Pilgrim; he is watching Pilgrim, like the reader is watching them both. Vonnegut is telling an astounding truth, of the Dresden holocaust, that the allied forces managed to keep mostly unknown to Americans, while he tells the remarkably funny and moving tale of Pilgrim, who is helpless before the larger powers of the universe.
Vonnegut has the uncanny ability to implant suggestions in the mind of the reader and then work those suggestions into tangible forms in the text. For example, in the first chapter, Vonnegut says that when he is drinking he listens to talk-radio shows, then, as the novel proceeds, Pilgrim stumbles onto a radio program in which the topic is whether or not the novel, as a literary form, is dead. Also, after the firebombing of Dresden, innkeepers on the outskirts of town offer the soldiers their stable, as a place to sleep. Twenty pages later, Vonnegut reminds the...
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