What Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five” Tells Us Now


“I first read ‘Slaughterhouse-Five‘ in 1972, three years after it was published and three years before I published my own first novel. I was twenty-five years old. 1972 was the year of inching slowly toward the Paris Peace Accords, which were supposed to end the war in Vietnam, though the final, ignominious American withdrawal—the helicopters airlifting people from the roof of the American Embassy in Saigon—would not take place until three years later, at which point, by way of a small footnote to history, I had become a published writer. I mention Vietnam because, although ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ is a book about the Second World War, Vietnam is also a presence in its pages, and people’s feelings about Vietnam have a good deal to do with the novel’s huge success. Eight years earlier, in 1961, Joseph Heller had published ‘Catch-22‘ and President John F. Kennedy began the escalation of the United States’ involvement in the conflict in Vietnam. ‘Catch-22,’ like ‘Slaughterhouse-Five,’ was a novel about the Second World War that caught the imagination of readers who were thinking a lot about another war. In those days, I was living in Britain, which did not send soldiers to fight in Indochina but whose government did support the American war effort, and so, when I was at university, and afterward, I, too, was involved with thinking about and protesting against that war. I did not read ‘Catch-22’ in 1961, because I was only fourteen years old. As a matter of fact, I read both ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ and ‘Catch-22’ in the same year, a decade later, and the two books together had a great effect on my young mind. It hadn’t occurred to me until I read them that antiwar novels could be funny as well as serious. ‘Catch-22’ is crazy funny, slapstick funny. It sees war as insane and the desire to escape combat as the only sane position. Its tone of voice is deadpan farce. ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ is different. There is much comedy in it, as there was in everything Kurt Vonnegut wrote, but it does not see war as farcical. It sees war as a tragedy so great that perhaps only the mask of comedy allows one to look it in the eye. Vonnegut is a sad-faced comedian. If Heller was Charlie Chaplin, then Vonnegut was Buster Keaton. His predominant tone of voice is melancholy, the tone of voice of a man who has been present for a great horror and lived to tell the tale….”
New Yorker
The Enduring Legacy Of Slaughterhouse-Five
The First Reviews of Slaughterhouse-Five


The Graphic Novel Adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, Coming Out This Year, amazon

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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