Vonnegut’s dramatic, tragic younger life greatly influences his fiction and establishes a framework for most of his themes. His immigrant family achieved the grandest of American dreams, only to have its success shattered by economic and political change. Traditional American values such as common sense, self-reliance, and practicality are juxtaposed in his fiction with the absurdity of fate and the folly of humankind. Such folly is epitomized by the bombing of Dresden on February 13, 1945, only a few months before the end of World War II. Dresden was an unarmed, historic city of no military importance, and the motive for the Allied decision to bomb it into oblivion is still a mystery. The two-hour bombing killed 135,000 people.
It is against the backdrop of the bombing of Dresden that the dark world of Slaughterhouse-Five emerges. The hauntingly innocent main character, Billy Pilgrim, exudes a childlike wonder that such an atrocity could have been perpetuated. The mythical world of Tralfamadore, a product of Billy’s innocence and perhaps of his insanity, stands as an alternative to a world in which nuclear weapons have given humankind the ability to obliterate life on earth.