Tattoo Ideas: Kurt Vonnegut

Updated on January 24, 2016
From:  "Slaughterhouse-Five"
From: "Slaughterhouse-Five"

"It came to me in a flash that everything that ever has been always will be, and everything that ever will be always has been."

Discovering Kurt Vonnegut when I was young was monumental because although I was always a voracious reader, his books were the first time I really connected with the science fiction genre. Vonnegut's most famous works, which began with the publication of Player Piano in 1952, are still immensely popular today. Born in 1922 and still a beloved American icon well after his death in 2007, at age 84, Vonnegut's timeless characters and quotes are often rendered in tattoo form.

Slaughterhouse-Five tattoos

Kurt Vonnegut's semi-autobiographical satirical novel, Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) is about a soldier named Billy Pilgrim and follows his travels through time. Billy is captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge, and held prisoner in an abandoned slaughterhouse. Because Billy has come unstuck in time, he randomly travels both forwards and backwards in time, experiencing future events and reliving past ones. He ends up being abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore who can see in four dimensions and therefore already know every instant of their lives. The Tralfamadorians, who first appeared in Vonnegut's previously published The Sirens of Titan, continue to be featured in several more works of his.

During one such instance of time traveling, Billy is catapulted back to his wedding night, which took place shortly after his release from the mental ward. After consummating his marriage with his ugly, wealthy, overweight wife, Valencia asks Billy to tell her a story about the war. He is unable to respond, and so Vonnegut as narrator speaks for him, stating that a good epitaph for Billy, and for the author as well, would be: "Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt."

The saying "So it goes" is used repeatedly throughout the novel (106 times to be exact), often when death, dying, or other issues of mortality are at play. This repeated refrain "isn't notable for its unique wording so much as for how much emotion—and dismissal of emotion—it packs into three simple, world-weary words that simultaneously accept and dismiss everything."

Cat's Cradle tattoos

"She was a fool, and so am I, and so is anyone who thinks he sees what God is doing."

Vonnegut's fourth novel, published in 1963, eventually earned him a Master's Degree in Anthropology from the University of Chicago in 1971. The narrator, John, is a writer researching what important people were doing the day the United States dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. His inquiries lead him to the Hoenniker family, who were the children of the "Father of the Atomic Bomb", Felix Hoenniker. Felix's other creation was a substance called ice-nine, now secretly in possession by his children. John and the children eventually end up in the Caribbean, on an island called San Lorenzo, an extremely poor country that practices Bokononism, an unusual postmodern religion, and the story progresses from there.

Some of my favorite parts of the novel are when we are introduced to Bokononist language, and the terms they use to explain various concepts. For example, karass, a "group of people who, often unknowingly, are working together to do God's will. The people can be thought of as fingers in a Cat's Cradle." On the contrary, granfalloon, is "a group of people who imagine they have a connection that does not really exist." When a Bokononist finds himself thinking about how complicated and unpredictable life is, he whispers to himself, "Busy, busy, busy".

Breakfast of Champions tattoos

"Our awareness is all that is alive and maybe sacred in any of us. Everything else about us is dead machinery."

Vonnegut's 50th birthday present to himself, published in 1973, Breakfast of Champions was alternately titled as Goodbye Blue Monday. It is the story of Kilgore Trout, an aging science fiction writer who appears and reappears in several other of Vonnegut's works. Dwayne Hoover is a wealthy businessman rapidly losing his mind, who is handed one of Kilgore Trout's fictional works and starts to believe the words are a message intended solely for him, that everyone is a robot, and Hoover is the only one with free will.

Vonnegut was undoubtedly prolific and imaginative whether he was writing a novel or not. His signature was often accompanied by a sketch of his face, and he could often be read in interviews expressing sentiments that often made him seem way ahead of his time. His thoughts are iconic and as his sentiments will last beyond his lifetime as well as beyond ours, a permanent inking of Mr. Vonnegut is never a bad idea.

"You are afraid of the pain now, Unk, but you won't learn anything if you don't invite the pain. And the more you learn, the gladder you will be to stand the pain." -Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan

Questions & Answers


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      • profile image


        5 years ago

        Just type in free tattoo disengs . You will prolly get at least a million hits. Pat Fish is a good one tho. Why not do something a little more personal? Have an artist friend design something for you. Or, you could draw up something yourself. Any reputable artist will work with you on getting the design just right. If artist is not willing to work with you, you need find a new one. Another website you might try is It lists many of the top tattoo artists in the world. At least when you go there, you will be able to determine what kind of style you are looking for. And maybe you will see something you really like and you can do your own take on that design. I got lucky. I found a great artist to my first professional' tattoo. She found a picture of what I wanted and she put her own spin it. It's perfect for me. I trust her work so much that I gave her an idea for a calf sleeve and told her to run with it. She has free reign of design and color. I hope you will find an artist that will be willing to the same for you. Best wishes and keep us posted!

      • ReverieMarie profile image


        5 years ago from Tuscaloosa, Alabama

        I love this hub! I have actually been considering getting a Vonnegut-themed tattoo, so it is nice to know that others have, too!

      • ambersparks profile image


        6 years ago from La Plata, MD

        Thoroughly enjoyed this :)

      • Liz Green Berry profile image

        Liz Green Berry 

        7 years ago from TX

        Really interesting!

      • diogenes profile image


        7 years ago from UK and Mexico

        Vonnegut was a prophet in his own times. And he must be venerated by tattoo artists. His ideas about all having been and all will be (in brief) are backed today by scientific study of the universe and its particles. We believe this to be true for the moment anyway.

        I enjoyed your well illustrated article...Bob

      • Eanatas profile image


        7 years ago from Ohio

        Vonnegut is one of my favorite reads. Love the tattoos. People really are changing the style for tatts.


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