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Saturday, June 22, 2024

Vonnegut remains modern literary icon


Tomorrow would be the 92nd birthday of World War II Veteran, former public relations worker for General Electric and great American novelist Kurt Vonnegut. Although he passed away in 2007, Vonnegut’s novels remain a gateway for young college students into the vast world of literature. Every college student should read a Vonnegut book at some point before graduation. His use of humor in narratives with deep subjects such as religion and death give his stories a unique voice that is matched by no other. This immortal author deserves recognition on his birthday for his ability to tell a story.

Vonnegut was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1922. His life was one of difficulty. Edith Lieber Vonnegut, his mother, committed suicide on Mother’s Day 1944 while Vonnegut was in the states on leave from World War II. While serving, Vonnegut was captured during the Battle of the Bulge by German soldiers. After capture he was transferred from the frontlines to Dresden, Germany, where he worked. 

Dresden was considered a city safe from Allied powers bombing because it housed no major weapons factories. As Vonnegut describes in Slaughterhouse Five, “Then a siren went off—it was February 13, 1945—and we went down two stories under the pavement into a big meat locker. It was cool there, with cadavers hanging all around. When we came up the city was gone.” Vonnegut was one of few to survive. He stated in his interview with the Paris Review that 135,000 died. Dresden’s bombing influenced Vonnegut’s most popular book, Slaughterhouse 5.

The book was his fourth and best-received novel. It was published in 1969. The story is of a time traveling WWII Veteran named Billy Pilgrim. Vonnegut inserts himself as a character at select points during the story interacting with Pilgrim. The book is science fiction in genre but touches on the much deeper motifs of death and war. Another theme the book indirectly discusses is post-traumatic stress disorder. 

During WWII and Vietnam soldiers were not diagnosed with PTSD because the term was not coined until the mid-1970s. Vonnegut was one of the first to bring attention to this issue. 

Vonnegut’s distinctive style of writing is very easy to follow and makes his novels easy and quick to read. The combination of this and their complex topics make them immensely popular among college students. In addition, his abstract opinions of death, politics and religion are conveyed in his writing through humor. Rather than writing in a serious or morbid tone on Dresden, one of the biggest and quickest massacres of WWII, Vonnegut uses witty humor and effortless simplicity to express his opinions. 

Vonnegut was also a bit of a graphic artist. First with Slaughterhouse-Five he incorporated a few of his own graphics into the text. Then, in his 1973 novel Breakfast of Champions, he used significantly more graphics which was received as a taboo, but was very popular. His signature is perhaps one of his most popular pieces of graphic art. Featured on the back of most publications of his books, Vonnegut draws a side profile of his face and puts his name between the eye and the hairline. The signature is really representative of Vonnegut’s writing. 

On his 92nd birthday Kurt Vonnegut is still bridging the gap between young people and the broad and wonderful subject of literature. Vonnegut’s clever satirical humor should be read by every college student at least once to provide a new, somewhat morbid perspective on life. 

I was so captivated by Vonnegut’s writing I had his signature permanently tattooed on my body, with the famous quote from Slaughterhouse Five, “So it goes.” If you do not understand the quote, the only solution is to read the book. Whether you read Cat’s Cradle, to Slaughterhouse Five, to Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut will influence the way you think for the rest of your life.

Do you share Miller’s passion for Kurt Vonnegut’s work? What literary works have influenced you the most in your life? Tell us how you feel and please send all feedback to


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