Kurt Vonnegut is both the actual author of Slaughterhouse-Five and the narrator of the novel. He appears immediately in the first chapter to explain his process of writing the novel, which is based on his own experiences as a POW in Dresden during WWII. After the initial chapter, where Vonnegut’s character is front and center, he remains the narrator of Billy Pilgrim’s journey but stops referring to his own experiences. However, from the brief information of the first chapter, it’s clear that some of Billy’s character is molded around Vonnegut’s personal experiences with Dresden and PTSD.

Vonnegut is characterized by his dark, biting humor, his gloomy outlook, and his blunt honesty. There is a listless quality to his dedicated chapter. He describes, in a meandering fashion that echoes the rest of the novel, mundane yet memorable moments in his life, both during and after the war. It seems that for Vonnegut – and for Billy, the character he creates – the war has never really ended. Slaughterhouse-Five is, perhaps, his attempt to get everything he feels out onto the page so that he can finally move on. In fact, he even mentions that the next book he writes will be a fun one.

It’s important to separate the real-life author Kurt Vonnegut from the narrator of the same name – while they, of course, share extensive similarities, one is a real person and the other is a character and rhetorical device. However, it also stands to reason that much of Slaughterhouse-Five really is Kurt Vonnegut the author reflecting on his own life and attempting to make sense of his trauma. The Tralfamadorians, Kilgore Trout, and other world-building elements of Slaughterhouse-Five actually make appearances in some of Vonnegut’s other novels. The Tralfamadorian philosophy, Kilgore Trout’s controversial views on religion, the absurdity of war and politics, and the power of science fiction as a commentary device are greater themes that Vonnegut explores throughout his entire body of work.