Vonnegut uses time travel throughout the novel and this allowed him to relate seemingly unrelated events. In Slaughterhouse Five: Reforming the Novel and the World Jerome Klinkowitz says the time traveling narrative style of Slaughterhouse Five revolutionized the novel and had a profound impact on literary style around the world (76). But first, in order to fully explore how and perhaps why Vonnegut used time travel to tell the story of Billy Pilgrim, it is important to first understand a bit about Vonnegut himself.
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was born 11/11/1922 into a prominent midwestern family. The family saw significant financial hardships during the Depression that led Vonnegut's father to discourage him from a career "in the arts". He majored in chemistry and biochemistry at Cornell University but lost his draft deferment in 1943 at the height of WW II so he enlisted in army. His mother committed suicide on Mother's Day in 1944 right before the young Vonnegut was shipped to Europe (Klinkowitz iix). On 12/19/1944 he was captured and put to work in a factory in Dresden where he lived with fellow prisoners of war in an underground meat locker. It was this unlikely shelter that proved to be salvation for Vonnegut during the controversial firebombing of Dresden on February 13th 1945. German casualties were estimated at 135,000 to 250,000 and Vonnegut and his fellow prisoners inherited the grisly job of helping the German army clean up the dead (Klinkowitz 93).After the war he resumed his education at the University of Chicago, where he studied anthropology,
Vonnegut spent the next twenty-five years writing with varying degrees of success but the desire to write a novel about the nightmares of Dresden never left him. He struggled to tell this horrific story and even remarks in the book that "there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre" (Allen 77). In 1969, during the height of the Vietnam War, Slaughterhouse Five was published and embraced by the war weary American public. Vonnegut's tale of life, death, war and the tragic human experience became a best seller and is considered a modern literary classic.
Kurt Vonnegut's black comedic style makes Slaughterhouse Five a sardonic epic about the human experience. The unique use of time travel allows for a depth of character development in Billy Pilgrim that a chronological tale simply would not accommodate. Vonnegut also uses time to incorporate himself into the story using the first and last chapters of the book as his monologue. This allowed him to personally comment on issues ranging from alcohol, getting old, life, death, war and even Bobby Kennedy. It seems he used Slaughterhouse Five as a way to explore his own humanity and in various ways he lets his audience know that he and Pilgrim are one in the same. For instance, he talks about the character Lazzaro as someone he knew in Dresden. The knapsack, the plaster Eiffel Tower, the wagon full of clocks, the birds, all snips of images to come later in the book.
In the first chapter of Slaughterhouse Five Vonnegut discusses the difficulty he had writing the book and eludes to the demons he has faced since his Dresden experience. He talks about getting too drunk and calling old friends late at night and it seems neither his friends nor his wife really understands. The reader gets the feeling right at the outset that Vonnegut, like Pilgrim feels out of place in the world, like a "foreigner" or