by Kurt Vonnegut
Slaughterhouse-Five Literature and Writing Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Section.Paragraph)
All this happened, more or less. The war parts anyway, are pretty much true. One guy I knew really was shot in Dresden for taking a teapot that wasn't his. Another guy I knew really did threaten to have his personal enemies killed by hired gunmen after the war. And so on. I've changed all the names. (1.1.1)
If Vonnegut is writing a novel that is "pretty much true," why write it as fiction at all? What can fiction do that an autobiography can't? What kind of structural experimentation does writing about Dresden in a novel make possible?
I think of how useless the Dresden part of my memory has been, and yet how tempting Dresden has been to write about, and I am reminded of the famous limerick:
There was a young man from Stamboul,
Who soliloquized thus to his tool:
"You took all my wealth
And you ruined my health,
And now you won't pee, you old fool." (1.2.3-4)
First off, we think it's hilarious that the narrator starts off his quoting spree with a dirty limerick. Second, we find it intriguing that he feels almost compelled to write about Dresden, even though it's difficult, and even though it's taking up valuable real estate in his brain. How might writing itself be a form of therapy? What other reasons does the narrator give for needing to write about the Dresden firestorm? And what does this limerick mean, anyway?
"I think the climax of the book will be the execution of poor old Edgar Derby," I said. "The irony is so great. A whole city gets burned down, and thousands and thousands of people are killed. And then this one American foot soldier is arrested in the ruins for taking a teapot. And he's given a regular trial, and then he's shot by a firing squad." (1.3.19)
The narrator talks about Edgar Derby's real-life execution as though it were a moment of dramatic irony, as though the real war were also the product of an author with a dark sense of humor.