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Slaughterhouse-Five; or, The Children's Crusade

Slaughterhouse-Five, City of Words

a novel by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr, published in 1969. Slaughterhouse-Five is perhaps the most successful of Vonnegut's novels. Its hero, Billy Pilgrim, a chaplain's assistant in the American army during the Second World War, is captured and imprisoned in Dresden (in the ‘slaughterhouse-five’ of the title) where he witnesses the infamous Allied fire-bombing of the German city. After the war he becomes a successful optometrist and on the evening of his daughter's wedding is hijacked by a flying saucer and taken to the planet Tralfamodore where he is mated in a public zoo with the actress Montana Wildhack. The plot of Vonnegut's novel, his characteristic mixture of the realistic and the science-fictional, largely functions as a framework for a series of mordant and satirical comments on human nature, and, more particularly, on war and life in the USA. The novel is markedly autobiographical—Vonnegut was a prisoner-of-war and saw at first hand the Dresden air-raid—and, in part, is concerned with the difficulty he had trying to erase his experience of Dresden from his memory and the process by which he came to fictional terms with it. Slaughterhouse-Five established Vonnegut as one of the most important of post-war American novelists. City of Words (1971) by Tony Tanner contains a valuable essay on Vonnegut which includes extended consideration of the novel.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Lemn Sissay Biography to Southwold Suffolk