Well here we are in another year. Let’s take a minute and think about time and how it affects us. Vonnegut’s book follows the character Billy Pilgrim as he is “unstuck in time” after having encountered a race of aliens called the tralfamadorians. What kept me reading at the beginning of this book is that it is not a traditional narrative in respect to chronology; Pilgrim moves back and forth through times in his life from when he was a soldier in World War II to when he was on an alien planet to being in Dresden when it was firebombed in 1945. What I didn’t know at the time, when I was reading this book a few months ago, was that the author—Kurt Vonnegut himself—really was in Dresden when it was firebombed. He was there when a city with no military significance was reduced to rubble, killing 130,000 people.
So part of this book is autobiographical?
Amazingly enough: yes. The fiction of this story is packaged within an autobiographical beginning and an epilogue. To appease my curiosity of why Vonnegut would write a book that was both fiction and fact, especially a fact like this, I searched the web. Low and behold I found many articles but no answers. I did however find an interesting statement made in the NY Times about this very question: “The odd combination of fact and fiction forces a question upon the reader: how did the youth who lived through the Dresden bombing grow up to be the man who wrote this book? One reads “Slaughterhouse-Five” with that question crouched on the brink of one’s awareness. I’m not sure if there’s an answer, but the question certainly heightens the book’s effects.”
I do have a theory: perhaps the things that Vonnegut witnessed in Dresden after the bombing was burned so permanently into his mind, and he was subsequently so trapped by it, that he couldn’t get away from that one part of his life even years later when it was a distant memory to others. Maybe to him Dresden was following him through time the way Billy Pilgrim was unstuck in it. Could it be that he wrote this book to grapple with his own feelings about the things that he couldn’t get out of his head?