Essay #1 “Happy birthday 1951”
When people age and receive experiences with life, it greatly affects you as a person, and your views and perception. Kurt Vonnegut’s short story “Happy Birthday, 1951”, clearly demonstrates this. We are presented with two main characters. A young boy, and an old man, who live in city ruins during a war. The story tells us about each of their views and outlooks on the situation they are in, and the old man’s attempt to teach the boy and being a role model for him.
The major difference between the boy and the old man, are each of their views on war. The old man is very serious about the war, and he sees all the horrible things in it.
“He cut the sentence short. “It’s all nonsense,” he said, almost sharply. “It’s all meaningless, and today we’re going to forget all about it. Of all days, on your birthday, you shouldn’t be thinking about-” (p. 3, ll. 85-87).
This quote shows both that he isn’t comfortable talking about the war, and also his view on it. It is described as meaningless and nonsense.
On the opposite side, the boy is much less emotionally affected by the war and doesn’t take it as seriously. The boy’s ignorance can be seen here: “”Why are you shaking?” said the Boy. “Because I’m old. Because soldiers frighten old men.” “They don’t frighten me,” said the boy.” (p.1, ll. 15-17). This quote also demonstrates the boy’s innocence, since he doesn’t feel any form of threat from the soldiers. He is even somewhat fascinated by them. “” Black and red is the engineers,” … “Plain black is the military police, and red…” (p. 3, ll. 88-89). This quote very clearly shows that he has been studying the soldiers closely.
In the beginning of the text, the old man gives the boy two presents. A cart that the old man imagines as a car or a truck. And a trip away from the war, to the forest as the second gift. Clearly, the trip to the forest was meant as the most meaningful gift the old man could give the boy, but out of the two, the boy seems most glad for the cart. But not only does he prefer the cart over the forest trip, he pretends is a tank, which of course to the old man goes against his views on war. “”Brummmaaaa, brummmaaaa. Can I take my tank?” “If you’ll let it be a truck, just for today.” The boy shrugged. “I’ll leave it, and play with it when I get back” (p. 2, ll. 68-70). This shows the elements described before. That he would rather play with the cart, and how the old man wants him to call it a truck rather than a tank.
The story mainly occurs at two places, which are also opposites. The city, where they live in ruins and in cellars. The city, and the war that is going on there, from the old man’s perspective, represents fear, suffering and constraint. While in contrast to the city, the forest that the old man is eager to visit represents peace of mind and freedom. But not just the places themselves are contrasts. Again, the boy and the old man have different views. This time on the two places in the story. In the city the old man is shaky and nervous. But the boy likes the city: “I like it better in the city, with the soldiers…” (p.4, l. 129). The boy comments this when him and the old man go to the forest.
The boy looks up to the soldiers. He always speaks about them, and even pretends that he is one: “”Bang!” cried a small voice. The boy raised his head from the turret triumphantly. “Gotcha” he said.” (p. 4, ll. 150-151). In this part of the story, the boy has left the old man and their spot in the forest (not knowing it would cause the old man to panic and worry about the boy) to go play in the soldier’s turret instead of staying with him.
Perhaps the old man is fed up with the whole situation, since he fails to be a role model to the boy. The boy doesn’t listen to the old man: “The old man seized his arm rougly … You just don’t know. You’re too young, too young to know what this is, what I’m trying to give you. … long after your little cart is broken.” “I don’t want my cart to be broken,” said the boy.” (p 4. l. 130-134). This quote very clearly shows that the old man is giving some advice to the boy, but he is not being heard. Instead of replying or asking further questions, he chooses to focus on the cart. And of course the cart, since it is related to war.
In summary, the story describes the effect that age and experiences has on people’s views on things. It also shows which roles role models play in the different stages of our lives. When you are young you look up to people, perhaps you even imitate them in some way (like the boy does), but when you are older, instead of having a role model, you want to give back to the younger generations since older people often knows what is best for them, but when this fails, conflicts arise.