Kurt Vonnegut was born on the 11th of November in 1922 in Indianapolis. He was the son of Kurt Vonnegut Sr., an architect and Edith Liber, the daughter of a wealthy Indianapolis brewer. His parents were German immigrants who settled in the United States in the 19th century. His early years were eclipsed due to family issues. His father faced a financial crisis during the time of the Great Depression when his architectural business suffered a setback, causing him chronic depression. His mother died in 1944, and his father died in 1957.
Kurt Vonnegut, a great American writer, attended the James Whitcomb Riley School, a public school followed by Shortridge High School in 1936. There, he developed his interest in literature and started writing in school magazines. Later, Kurt became the editor of his school newspaper, The Shortridge Echo. After completing graduation in 1940, he attended Cornell University, New York, with two options in mind: either to study humanity or to be an architect like his father. Still, destiny had planned something else for him. He studied biochemistry and became a member of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he won a tough competition and secured a place in The Cornell Daily Sun, university’s newspaper. Later in 1940, he joined the U.S. Army and was dispatched to study engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in 1943. During the bombings in Dresden, he took shelter in a meat locker. The next year he fought the Battle of Bulge, and unfortunately, got captured and became a prisoner of war. During his imprisonment, he witnessed the destruction caused by war. Until his death, he could not come out of the fearful experiences.
After his return from the U.S. Army, he met his childhood friend, Jane Marie Cox, and the couple got married in 1945. They had three children together. Also, after the death of Vonnegut’s sister and her husband, they adopted their children. Unfortunately, their marriage could not last for a long time. Vonnegut divorced Jane in 1979 and, after a year, remarried Jill Krementz, a photographer. With Jill, he adopted another child and focused on his writings.
After reaching a pinnacle of success, Kurt continued to suffer from acute depression and attempted suicide in 1984. The later years of his life were cloaked in the horrors and sufferings of the Dresden bombing he witnessed during World War II. Unfortunately, he fell at his home that caused some internal brain injuries. Later, due to the injuries sustained, Kurt Vonnegut breathed his last on the 11th of April in 2007 at the age of eighty-four.
Some Important Facts of His Life
- He wrote three short stories collection, fourteen novels, five non-fiction books, and five plays in his life.
- His novel, The Slaughter House Five, won global recognition.
- He witnessed the complete devastation caused by bombing in Dresden, Germany.
Kurt Vonnegut’s interest in literature developed when he was attending high school, where he focused on writing and became the editor of his school newspaper. Before taking literature, he tried several professions, including teaching, newspaper reporter, general electric, and public relations employee. Although he was writing in newspapers, yet his first work, Player Piano, appeared in 1952. This novel won appreciation for exhibiting his talent for satire. More novels followed including, God Bless You Mr. Rosewater, Cat’s Cradle, Mother’s Night, a spy novel, and The Sirens of Titan. The publications depict his unique writing talent and creative ideas. Through the power of his personal experiences, he produced his masterpiece, Slaughterhouse-Five, which hit the shelves in 1969. His other masterpieces include The Eden Express, Breakfast of Champions and Slapstick, Jailbird, Deadeye Dick, and Bluebeard.
Though Kurt led a turbulent life, the problems did not hinder his writing. He continued to write until his death. Emerging as a new literary figure, he became known for his unique style, including little punctuation, long sentences coupled with humanistic ideas. His satirical ideas in his novel, Play Piano, influenced generations. Dresden’s bombing and its aftermaths became the center of his novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, which appeared in 1969 against the backdrop of cultural and social upheaval, racial unrest and war in Vietnam.
Moreover, Slaughterhouse-Five also presents a mixture of fiction, autobiographic traits, and elements of science fiction. With the help of these elements, he has successfully shown how technology is responsible for the dehumanization of humanity. Supernatural elements also played a pivotal role in most of his writings. However, the common themes in his writings are war, destruction, the need for common decency, and social equality.
Kurt Vonnegut’s Major Works
- Best Novels: He wrote many outstanding pieces. Some of them include Player Piano, Mother’s night, Slaughterhouse-Five, Hocus Pocus, Breakfast of Champions, Time quake, Jailbird, and Bluebeard.
- Other Works: Besides novels, he tried his hands on short-fiction. Some of them include “Welcome to the Monkey House”, “Sun Moon Star”, “Happy Birthday Wanda June”, “Between Time” and “Timbuktu and Canary in a Cat House.”
His Impact on Future Literature
Kurt’s writings left deep imprints on global literature with his prolific ideas and exclusive style. The combination of scientific elements in literature spotted the uniqueness in his writings, which gave people a new direction to interpret literary works. The representation of horrific and heart-wrenching war incidents with the union of supernatural creatures makes his readers stay amazed at such a horrible description of events. His ideas about culture, racism, and society leave a profound impact on the readers’ life. He successfully documented his ideas and experiences in his writings. Today writers try to imitate his unique style, considering him a beacon for writing fiction.
- “Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’” (God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater)
- “People have to talk about something just to keep their voice boxes in working order so they’ll have good voice boxes in case there’s ever anything really meaningful to say.” (Cat’s Cradle)
- “It is so short and jumbled and jangled, Sam, because there is nothing to say about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want anything ever again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds. And what do these birds say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like “Poo-tee-weet?” (Slaughterhouse-Five)