Would'st thou be in a dream: John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress and Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five

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Abstract:

This article establishes intertextual connections between Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five and John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress and describes how the Puritan conversion narrative form and the pilgrim narrative play a major part in Vonnegut's canonical anti-war novel. The protagonist Billy Pilgrim is seen as a modern personification of the Protestant work ethic, a successful, wealthy and hardworking businessman. He blithely espouses white Anglo-Saxon Protestant attitudes but becomes an evangelist for his science-fiction fantasies, which appear constructed from the religious materials around him and in his past. The narrative of Slaughterhouse-Five, like Tralfamadorian time, tries to destabilize the dominant Western master narrative typified by the linearity of The Pilgrim's Progress. If Dresden is seen as an inversion of Bunyan's Celestial City then its destruction is an indictment of capitalist progress born from pilgrim and conversion narratives.

Keywords: Conversion; Narrative; Pilgrim's Progress; Progress; Puritanism; Slaughterhouse-Five

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1386/ejac.20.3.183

Affiliations: University of Central Lancashire and Edge Hill University College.

Publication date: November 1, 2002

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  • The European Journal of American Culture (EJAC) is an academic, refereed journal for scholars, academics and students from many disciplines with a common involvement in the interdisciplinary study of America and American culture, drawing on a variety of approaches and encompassing the whole evolution of the country.
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