Satirical Writer Kurt Vonnegut’s Near Death Experience Shaped His Greatest Work

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was an American writer whose career spanned 50 years. He penned fourteen novels and a handful of plays, short-story collections and nonfiction works. Arguably his best novel was Slaughterhouse Five, which paralleled Vonnegut’s own experiences during World War II in the U.S. Army. Vonnegut was captured by the Germans and sent to Dresden, which was fire bombed by the Allies. To this day the bombing of Dresden remains nearly as controversial as the atomic bombings of Japan in 1945. The Dresden firebombing completely destroyed Dresden and killed 135,000 of its inhabitants, but somehow Kurt Vonnegut survived even though he was a prisoner of war. The irony of an American of German heritage fighting against Germany, and then captured by the Germans and then nearly fire bombed to death by American planes was not lost on Vonnegut. Slaughterhouse Five remains a landmark novel; it quickly became a touchstone for the anti-war movement when it was published in 1969. Slaughterhouse Five established Vonnegut as a novelist of critical acclaim, and within a decade Vonnegut’s novels were required reading in high schools, colleges and universities.
Prior to the commercial success of Slaughterhouse Five, Vonnegut had penned five novels touching on politics, science, society and the individual. These five novels are all very different yet are told in Vonnegut’s clear, direct and satirical manner that defined him as a writer.
Here are 20 quotes from Kurt Vonnegut to inspire writers, artists, scientists and humanists alike to allow the bumps be a sort of road map for the journey:


“I get up at 7:30 and work four hours a day. Nine to twelve in the morning, five to six in the evening. Businessmen would achieve better results if they studied human metabolism. No one works well eight hours a day. No one ought to work more than four hours.” – Kurt Vonnegut Jr.


“True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.” – Kurt Vonnegut Jr.


“Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before.” – Kurt Vonnegut Jr.


We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.” – Kurt Vonnegut Jr.


“Maturity is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists, unless laughter could be said to remedy anything.” – Kurt Vonnegut Jr.


“Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.” – Kurt Vonnegut Jr.


“The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake.” – Kurt Vonnegut Jr.


“New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth. The more truth we have to work with, the richer we become.” – Kurt Vonnegut Jr.


“To whom it may concern: It is springtime. It is late afternoon.” – Kurt Vonnegut Jr.


“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can’t see from the center.” – Kurt Vonnegut Jr.


“When a man becomes a writer, I think he takes on a sacred obligation to produce beauty and enlightenment and comfort at top speed.” – Kurt Vonnegut Jr.


“Science is magic that works.” – Kurt Vonnegut Jr.


“I really wonder what gives us the right to wreck this poor planet of ours.” – Kurt Vonnegut Jr.


“This is Sunday, and the question arises, what’ll I start tomorrow?” – Kurt Vonnegut Jr.


“Anything can make me stop and look and wonder, and sometimes learn.” – Kurt Vonnegut Jr.


“It was very lucky for me as a writer that I studied the physical sciences rather than English. I wrote for my own amusement. There was no kindly English professor to tell me for my own good how awful my writing really was. And there was no professor with the power to order me what to read, either.” – Kurt Vonnegut Jr.


“One of the things that I tell beginning writers is this: If you describe a landscape, or a cityscape, or a seascape, always be sure to put a human figure somewhere in the scene. Why? Because readers are human beings, mostly interested in human beings. People are humanists. Most of them are humanists, that is.” – Kurt Vonnegut Jr.


“I don’t plot my books rigidly, follow a preconceived structure. A novel mustn’t be a closed system – it’s a quest.” – Kurt Vonnegut Jr.


“All writers are going to have to learn more about science, because it’s such an interesting part of their environment.” – Kurt Vonnegut Jr.


“That is how you get to be a writer, incidentally: you feel somehow marginal, somehow slightly off-balance all the time.” – Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Author: Phil Zavackis


Phil Zavackis is a freelance writer living in Toronto. He has recently finished a screenplay titled ‘105 Degrees & Rising’, which is about the Fall of Saigon in 1975.