Use of Literary Devices in Slaughterhouse-Five
An educator on the topic of multi-dimensions states that, If we think of ourselves as we were one minute ago, and imagine ourselves as we are at this moment, [that] would be a line in the fourth dimension. If you were to see your body in the fourth dimension, you’d be like a long undulating snake… (?? ? ?). In the fourth dimension, all of one’s lifespan is viewed, so a normal human would appear snake-like with baby feet on one end, and aged feet on the other.
All suffering, joy, and loss happens at the exact same time only in different sections of the snake. If the notion of a four dimensional reality is true, then that would mean that every single human effort to create a destiny or a better life does not exist because a fate is already planned without control of the individual. Everything that will be and everything that already happened exists at the same time, fixed in a particular moment in one’s lifespan. Not only that, but if one part of the snake is in trouble physically, and another moment is content, then that would mean ill-fortune is still ever-present. The book Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut uses imagery, parallelism, and similes to show that since war is never-ending and unavoidable, it is hopeless for an individual to escape its after effects ensuring that not one person nor a world will ever be free from it.
First of all, the use of imagery reflects how unfeasible it is to avoid obstacles as represented by the main character’s attempts to try and do so. After another one of Billy’s time travel escapades, he struggles out of a stationed military hospital in order to find the latrines outside. He delivered himself to a barbed-wire fence which snagged him in a dozen places. Billy tried to back away from it, but the barbs wouldn’t let go. So Billy did a silly little dance with the fence, taking a step this way, then that way, then returning to the beginning again (Vonnegut 123). The barbed wire fence represents an obstacle in Billy’s life, and in this case, any attempt to find a way around it is fruitless unless he goes back to the root or place before he got stuck. It is more impactful to the reader if they can visualize a scenario in which a problem cannot be solved unless one returns to a time before it happened. In order to avoid war, one must have never started it, which is impossible considering that the world has seen it before (Moody 75). In other words, the obstacles in both scenarios are unpreventable to overcome unless a person goes back to before the catastrophe took place so that the obstacle would have never existed. Yet this absurd notion cannot be obtained because, as shown by Vonnegut’s example of the fence, war entraps and ensnares the defenseless, making it so that war is all the world truly knows.
More over, using imagery shows how war can continue even after the fighting is over due to the morbid descriptions that haunt the main character. As Billy is being hospitalized, he looks upon and vividly captures the essence of the dreary table next to him. There was a still life on Billy’s bedside tabletwo pills, an ashtray with three lipstick-stained cigarettes in it, one cigarette was still burning and a glass of water. The water was dead. So it goes. Air was trying to get out of that dead water. Bubbles were clinging to the walls of the glass, too weak to climb out (Vonnegut 101). The bubbles struggling to get out of the water reflect Billy’s own disposition and experience he had witnessed in the war. This disturbed and morbid representation of imagery is necessary to show how Billy views the war to entrap innocent lives who are too weak to do anything to prevent their demise. In post-war life his ordeal continues, his wartime traumas return to haunt him and he is tested further… (Hinchcliffe 189). Even in the peaceful life that comes after the war, any effort to fully live in harmony is demolished by the left over trauma that manipulates and distorts every day life. As mentioned, how Billy regards the bedside table scene is more troubling than how an average person might have viewed it. He is constantly seeing loss and battles in life whenever he looks at ordinary objects because the ordeals he witnessed as a soldier has been ingrained in his memory.
Moreover, the structural usage of parallelism helps define the impossibility to escape from the clutches of devastation in the war. During Billy’s war experienced, he was imprisoned with many other Englishmen as prisoners of war and watched as they attempted to escape camp. They could tunnel all they pleased. They would inevitably surface within a rectangle of barbed wire, would find themselves greeted listlessly by dying Russians… They could scheme all they pleased to hide aboard a vehicle… but no vehicle ever came… They could feign illness… but that wouldn’t earn them a trip anywhere either (Vonnegut 93). Even through the numerous efforts and attempts at trying to free oneself from the harsh realities experienced by war, all that would come out of it is hopelessness. The use of they could would always be followed by an outcome of sheer despair. The device helps to emphasize the use of how many times the men have tried to escape, showing that no matter what one does to get out of a bad situation, it is unobtainable. Here Vonnegut is expressing his renunciation of the simplistic notion of time on Earth that defines and imprisons us (Sumner 130). Alas, it does not matter how many times one attempts to run from being victimized by war, because time is preventing any change to happen. The fixation of time only proves that the chances of freedom are slim due to the future being set and the events leading up to it are inevitable.
In addition, the overextended use of parallelism applies Billy’s example to show that it is fruitless to run away from one’s unfortunate dilemmas. Whenever a hardship occurs in Billy’s past, present, or future, he travels in time to another moment of his life. As this happens throughout multiple instances, because Billy finds himself in many harsh events, only a few of them are stated. …Billy blinked in 1958, traveled back in time to 1961… Billy traveled in time to another moment which was quite nice… Billy, knowing the plane was going to crash pretty soon, closed his eyes, traveled in time back to 1944 (Vonnegut 46, 118, 156). The only way to get out of a bad situation, in Billy’s mind, is to go back to a time when it was never present. Even after trying to get away from them, he is met with another moment that does not please him and he tries to turn time to get away. This desperate attempt at fleeing is shown multiple times in order to emphasize the reality of how many drastic attempts it takes for Billy to run away from his problems. … The importance thing is to go on, to escape the paralyzing emotional rigidity that can turn one into a pillar of salt (McGinnis 148). Even if perils track Billy down through time and space, he still strives to move on to the next less traumatizing moment in order to ignore any PTSD that tries to come at him. However, this does not excuse Billy from fully fleeing. If time is truly set as Kurt Vonnegut states in his beliefs of a fourth dimension, then that would mean one part of Billy is having a fun moment, when the other Billy in the past is still suffering. The undying proof that one part of his lifespan is in in trouble, shows the constant suffering that will never truly go away.
Next, the presence of similes portrays how war will feel never-ending if it continues to be glorified and fought by inexperienced soldiers. As Vonnegut visits his war friend, Bernard V. O’Hare, he is lectured by an angry Mary O’Hare in concern of how he will write his anti-war novel. You’ll pretend you were men instead of babies, and you’ll be played in the movies… And war will look just wonderful so we’ll have a lot more of them. And they’ll be fought by babies like the babies upstairs (Vonnegut 14). Generally, it is common knowledge that during World War II, young people were most likely drafted for the war. However, it is not advisable, as Mary claims, for media to glorify the young participants’ stories because it leads to more war. This would in fact attract more impressionable youths to fight, in hopes of becoming big shots. By comparing the youths in the war, to the children in Mary’s house, the device amplifies the absurdness of fighting a war of children war because it only brings more war in the future. Convinced that his novel will glorify war and make young people eager to fight, she reminds Vonnegut that most soldiers are really children (Marvin 114). At a relatively young age, Billy fought in the war, and due to his lack of ability and ingenuousness, many of the traumatic events amplified and followed him longer in life. Vonnegut deliberately wanted to compare how other forms of media about try to showcase a war fought for honor and bravery, when in reality the youths who get drafted are more susceptible to PTSD and are so inexperienced that war can drag on longer.
Lastly, similes play a key role in comparing the trauma Billy receives with torture objects to represent how war will continue to follow an individual. In one of the flashbacks, Billy is at his eighteenth wedding anniversary party when he starts to react strangely to a barbershop quartet that triggers a post traumatic experience. Billy had powerful psychosomatic responses to the changing chords. His mouth filled with the taste of lemonade, and his face became grotesque, as though he really were being stretched on the torture engine called the rock (Vonnegut 173). It is quite concerning for Billy to recall a torture device and collate it to his expression. This vivid and troubled comparison proves the war continuing to follow him by the result of his views on everyday objects. Billy reacts to the memory called up by this association by having what seems to be a cardiac seizure (Edelstein 35). Again, it is important to not over look how normal things, such as a quartet, stress and give Billy anxiety because of the memories that he associates them with. The forced situations Billy had to undergo during the war will continue to slip into the crevices of his mind, and distort Billy’s outlook of the world. If this were to go on for the rest of his life, then everything that Billy will look at will be compared to another recollection of the war causing it to feel unending.
Overall, imagery, parallelism, and similes signify that war in Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, can never be fully stopped because it is unachievable for a participant, or the entire world, to be able to run away from its clutches because it will always try to follow them. It is important to distinguish the use of imagery and how a few of the examples either shown that the main character cannot evade an unfortunate obstacle, or how it represents the darkness of war that hides in one’s mind as they look at the good of the world. To add, parallelism in the novel is known to emphasize the numerous amounts of times it takes to escape disaster and never attain it. Also it serves to show that it is impractical to even try to escape through the main character’s example. Finally, the use of similes prove how war follows an individual because of how young they might have been when they first participated in it. It also shows how it follows an individual by comparing one’s trauma to that of other horrid objects. No matter the instance, war can still be
present in another part in the snake. However, it is not wholly impossible to live a life in the snake that was unhappy because who knows just how long their own lifespan may go and the many moments they will experience.
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youtu.be/0ca4miMMaCE. Accessed 20 Nov. 2018.
- Edelstein, Arnold. Slaughterhouse-Five: Time out of Joint. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt
Vonnegut, edited by Leonard Mustazza, Salem Press, 2011, pp. 132??“147.
- Hinchcliffe, Richard. Would’St Thou Be in a Dream’: John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. European Journal of American Culture, vol. 20, no. 3, p. 183. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lkh&AN=10011762&site=lrc-plus. Accessed 11 Nov. 2018.
- Marvin, Thomas F. Kurt Vonnegut: a Critical Companion. Greenwood Press, 2002.
- McGinnis, Wayne D. The Arbitrary Cycle of Slaughterhouse-Five: A Relation of Form to
Theme. Critical Insights: Slaughterhouse-Five, edited by Leonard Mustazza, Salem Press, 2010, pp. 148??“163.
- Moody, Jennifer. Mixing Fantasy with Fact: Kurt Vonnegut’s Use of Structure in
Slaughterhouse-Five. Theocrit: The Online Journal of Undergraduate Literary Criticism and Theory 1.1, Theocrit, 2009, pp. 132-147. https://theocrit.sfasu.edu/docs/spring2009/Mixing%20Fantasy%20with%20Fact.pdf. Accessed 11 Nov. 2018.
- Sumner, Gregory D. Unstuck in Time: a Journey through Kurt Vonnegut’s Life and Novels.
Hunter Publishers, 2013.
- Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse Five. Dell Pub., 1991.
About Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five novel
Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five novel has an extremely dark, tragic story line. But, in Vonnegut’s melancholic autobiography, he incorporates a fair amount of irony and black humor into the novel. As a result of including black humor and irony into the story, the novel enables the reader to comprehend the terrors of war – and contributing to the anti-war sentiment – while simultaneously finding humor in some of the laughable situations in the book.
Mainly, Vonnegut included black humor and irony into the novel because he wants the audience to acknowledge the reality – that we have to accept things as they are, no matter how awful they may be.
Black humor is a comical style of writing that makes light of a subject matter that is normally considered serious or hard to talk about. Kurt Vonnegut uses this writing technique throughout the entire book to contribute to the novel’s anti-war message to the readers. There are multiple moments where the readers are almost forced to find humor in his words. On one occasion, an exceptionally drunk Billy Pilgrim is searching for the steering wheel of his car: “He was in the backseat of his car, which is why he couldn’t find the steering wheel” (Vonnegut, 60). Drunk driving isn’t something people usually joke around about, but Vonnegut finds a little bit of humor in it by making fun of the fact that he was so drunk to the point where he couldn’t find his steering wheel. A second instance where Vonnegut uses black humor by comparing humans to machines was when he said: Tralfamadorians, of course, say that every creature and plant in the Universe is a machine. It amuses them that so many Earthlings are offended by the idea of being machines (197). By comparing humans to machines, their death are basically a malfunction’, making their death less mournful or unprincipled, and humanity is basically overlooked. Another moment in the book where Vonnegut compares humans to machines was when Billy was talking about his memories of Dresden and the war: I think of how useless the Dresden part of my memory has been, and yet how tempting Dresden has been to write about, and I am reminded of the famous limerick:
There was a young man from Stamboul,
Who soliloquized thus to his tool:
“You took all my wealth
And you ruined my health,
And now you won’t pee, you old fool.” (Vonnegut, 3)
In this excerpt, a young man’s private area is related to a tool, as regular human body parts in the novel simply become part of a machine. The limerick that Billy used references a tool that does not work very well, and will not perform its purpose. Vonnegut uses this specific limerick to manifest the idea of how people just treat soldiers as robots or machinery, therefore the humans become tools of war. The dehumanization of humans through black humor also relates to the moments of the animalization’ of the soldiers in the novel. The way that Vonnegut describes the prisoners of war makes them basically equated to working animals. The sleeping place of the prisoners in Dresden is satirically named Schlachthof-Fí?nf. Schlachtof’ actually means slaughterhouse in German. During the war in Dresden, the animals in the slaughterhouse had been killed and eaten and exerted by human beings, mostly soldiers (Vonnegut, 194). And now the slaughterhouse in Dresden was going to serve as a home away from home for one hundred American prisoners of war (Vonnegut, 194). By telling the readers that the slaughterhouse once housed animals, then those animals got eaten by the soldiers, and now the slaughterhouse was going to hold imprisoned humans, it is exemplifying the fact that humans are being dehumanized down to the level of animals in war to be killed and imprisoned. The animalization of human beings shows how war will just treat humans as objects used for work or just something to get rid of or kill, which also adds to the anti-war sentiment of the novel.
One more important issue in the novel is the so it goes’ moments. Vonnegut adds a sci-fi element to the novel by adding these aliens to the novel, called Tralfamadorians. The Tralfamadorians are able to see any moment in time, and they innately know what will happen in the past, present, and future – so everyone’s fate is already known by the Tralfamadorians. Fate is a big part of the novel with Billy and the Tralfamadorians, even at the very beginning of the book, as Vonnegut writes, I’ve finished my war book now It begins like this: Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time. It ends like this: Poo-tee-weet? (Vonnegut, 28). Because of that, the novel is already decided before the reader even starts it, producing an idea of fate all throughout the novel. Since Billy is in contact with the Tralfamadorians, he talks about their views on death: When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in bad condition in that particular moment Now when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say that the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, whiz is So it goes (Vonnegut, 34). The phrase So it goes’ certainly adds a less depressed feel on death in the novel, adding to the black humor. This small phrase becomes continuous remark in the novel after any death that is brought up. This phrase also becomes satirized in the book, when the death of a person is compared to champagne. The extreme amount of overstating the phrase makes death less emotional to the reader. With Vonnegut incorporating lots of black humor into this novel, it adds some laughable moments to such a dark and depressing story.
In addition to the black humor, Kurt Vonnegut also includes some irony into the novel. The main character, Billy Pilgrim, is an isolated person who doesn’t have a lot of close friends or family. His father believed in the sink or swim method, and his father actually throws him into the deep end of a pool when he was five years old. From that time on, Billy becomes afraid of a lot of things. At 21 years old, he is drafted to be a soldier in World War Two. Billy becomes a chaplain’s assistant, which is apparently a figure of fun in the American Army (Vonnegut, 38). So, Billy Pilgrim is basically a mockery of what a real soldier usually is, who is strong and courageous – which is very ironic for an anti-war novel. But, In chapter one, Vonnegut mentions that those who are most against the war are those who fight in it. Another example of irony in Slaughterhouse Five is when the four soldiers are walking behind enemy lines after the Battle of the Bulge, and Billy is the least likely to survive, but he is the only one who actually survives. Billy Pilgrim also survives the horrible bombing of Dresden, and he was also the only survivor of an airplane crash, which is ironic because he seems like the most unfit man to be a soldier, and the last person that the audience would expect to survive such horrific things.
Other random moments of irony in the novel is when Edgar Derby is tried and killed for after stealing a teapot from the rubble in Dresden after the entire city is destroyed, when Billy uses an insignificant Science Fiction book as his guide for life, when Billy isn’t able to sleep at night but cannot stay awake at work, and when Billy’s happiest moment in his entire life is when he sits on a coffin shaped carriage carried by two horses. Then, his happy moment is interjected when he sees the horribly sick horses, and it causes him to cry for the first time ever throughout the entire war. Irony adds a touching aspect to this novel. When Billy is training to be a solder, his father is shot to death while he is hunting. When Billy is in the hospital after being in a plane crash, his wife Valencia speeds to the hospital , and she hits a car, tears off her exhaust, and then dies from carbon monoxide poisoning. After the Dresden bombing, Edgar Derby is tried and killed in Dresden for trying to steal a teapot. These ironies are all ended by the same small phrase: So it goes. This simple phrase serves as a reason for the readers to find humor at the ironies of Billy’s life.
Kurt Vonnegut utilizes black humor and ironies to reveal the darkness and cruelty of the war, and to make his own commentary on the effects of war, specifically a war he fought in himself, which has a huge impact on him and his mental health. Vonnegut discusses the tough subject of war, and his use of the black humor and irony enables him to talk about such a difficult subject. Vonnegut wants the audience to understand the terrible struggles he went through in the war, while also laughing along with him so the story won’t be so melancholic. If the novel was just depressing and simply told the audience a lot of facts about the war, no one would see the bigger picture or take anything good away from the book. But since Vonnegut added in the black humor and irony, the audience can understand the terrors of war, but also find the humor in some of the laughable situations in the book, which makes it a lot more interesting to read.
In Kurts Vonnegut’s melancholic autobiography, Slaughterhouse Five, he incorporates a great amount of irony and black humor into the novel.
As a result of including black humor and irony into the story, the novel enables the reader to comprehend the terrors of war – and contributing to the anti-war sentiment – while simultaneously finding humor in some of the laughable situations that the main character, Billy Pilgrim, encounters in the book. If the novel just simply told the audience multiple facts about the war, no one would see the bigger picture or take anything good away from the book. But since Vonnegut added in the black humor and irony, the audience can understand the terrors of war, but also find the humor in some of the laughable situations in the book, which makes it a lot more interesting to read. Mainly, Vonnegut included black humor and irony into the novel because he wants the audience to acknowledge the reality – that we have to accept things as they are, no matter how awful they may be.
About the topic of slaughterhouses
The topic of slaughterhouses is not typically a conversation people want to have, but nine billion animals are slaughtered every year, therefore we need to start talking about it. One of the largest environmental concerns associated with slaughterhouses is wastewater and water contamination. The United States alone has 32 slaughterhouses responsible for dumping 55 million pounds of pollutants into the waterways every year (Farr). Not only do slaughterhouse effect the environment, but they also put human health at risk. In addition, far too often animals are often abused and tortured.
One of the largest environmental concerns associated with slaughterhouses is wastewater and water contamination (Farr). Currently, the wastewater from slaughterhouses contain material such as fat, grease and manure. Imagine drinking or showering in water containing those disgusting materials. According to the Environmental Working Group there are eight slaughterhouses that are ranked among the top 20 polluters of surface water in the U.S. Farr states that Collectively, those eight slaughterhouses dumped 30 million pounds of contaminants including nitrogen, phosphorus, and ammonia into waterways in just one year! There are many reasons why all this wastewater is a huge problem. One major problem is nitrate pollution. Nitrates are a huge source of water contamination. Nitrate levels in water can cause health conditions in infants and kill aquatic life. In addition to water contamination, the environment is also effected by greenhouse gas emissions. According to Farr, the main sources of these emissions is from the electricity used to run the slaughterhouses and to get rid of the previously mentioned wastewater as well as packing, cooling and transporting the dead animals. She further states that, The amounts vary depending on the animal and other factors, but it’s estimated that electricity outputs account for five percent of beef related emissions, 13 percent of pork related emissions and 24 percent of chicken related emissions.
Slaughterhouses are also responsible for a large output of methane and carbon dioxide (Farr). These gases are produced in the process of slaughter and by the degradation of wasterwater. As mentioned previously, wastewater contains numerous amounts of organic material, which releases methane and and carbon dioxide when they decompose. Given the fact that 55 milion pounds of wastewater are dumped into waterways each year the amount of these gases is likely exorbinant. (Farr).
In the United States, slaughterhouse waste is disposed of in several different ways. One of those ways is to spray the wastewater as irrigation over fields. This is a very bad idea for many reasons. One reason is because this method contaminates surface and groundwater. It also causes terrible smells, contributes to greenhouse gases and negatively impacts the soil. Another way they dispose of waste is lagoons. Lagoons are commonly used as storage for manure and other factory farm waster, but they are also used for slaughterhouse waste as well. The problem with this approach is it produces a lot of methane and terrible smells.
The environment is not the only thing impacted by slaughterhouses. Human health is also affected as well, not only physically, but emotionally as well. Studies have shown that working in a slaughterhouse can have an immense emotional and psychological impact, with serious consequences for these workers. The worst thing, worse than the physical danger, is the emotional toll … Pigs down on the kill floor have come up and nuzzled me like a puppy. Two minutes later I had to kill them…” Ed Van Winkle, slaughterhouse worker.. According to Dilliard, Workers in slaughterhouses internationally have been found to endure serious health and safety risks, especially those related to heavy lifting, repetitive motions and proximity to dangerous equipment. In addition, experts found evidence suggesting that participating in the routine slaughter of animals can increase a worker’s propensity for committing a range of violent offences against people. www.animalsaustralia.org/issues/slaughterhouse-cruelty-human-factor.php
According to the United States Department of Labor. https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/meatpacking/hazards_solutions.html
Meat processing workers are exposed to biological agents during slaughter, when handling meat that is freshly slaughtered, and with exposure to ill animals. Heath effects may include skin infections, flu, gastrointestinal infections (vomiting and diarrhea) and sometimes more serious infections such as pneumonia, meningitis and sepsis (blood infection). As mentioned previously, nitrate levels in the water can cause blue baby syndrome, which is a fatal condition that can occur in infants under six moths. In addition, contaminated water has been proven to increase the risk of other serious health risks, including cancer, gastrointestinal illnesses, birth defects, epilepsy, and miscarriages (Kasserman).
Another issue regarding slaughterhouses is how the animals are treated. Accoring to Animals From Farm to Slaughterhouse https://aidanimals.com/animal-cruelty/slaughter-house/#section-0
Beating, boiling and dismembering animals alive is common-place in today’s slaughter houses. Often animals, such as cattle, sheep and pigs, are stunned prior to being slaughter . This process involves a gun firing a metal bolt into the brain of the animal causing the animal to lose consciousness immediately; however, many times this is done incorrectly and animals that are not stunned correctly are butchered when they are fully conscious.
These hogs get up to the scalding tank, hit the water, and just start screaming and kicking. I’m not sure whether the hogs burn to death before drowning. The water is 140 degrees. Not only are animals burned alive, but often animals are completely skinned while still alive. Aniamls are hung upsude down, stabbed in the throay, and heads are wwisted until they are completely off. Claves are separated from their mother as little as two hours after bith, choickens legs are forced into shackles as they are hunf upside down and pigs epeatedly struck pigs on the head with hard metal pipe before their throats are cut. Although the U.S. technically has humane slaughter laws, they unfortunatelty provide very little protection to pigs, cows, sheep and goats, and do not provide any protection for chickens, turkeys, or other birds. (Humane Slaughter).
Throughout this paper, various problems have been assressed with slaughterhouses. Not only do they effect the environmeny, but they impact human health and more often than not mistreat the animalsOne solution to reduce and elimate slaughterhouse waste is to stop eating meat, however, this very difficult for some people to do and is not always an easy option. A quick, cost effective and safe disposal method is thus essential in order to reduce the risk of disease following animal slaughter. Ingrid H Franke-White states that that different methods for the disposal of such wastes exist, including composting, anaerobic digestion (AD), alkaline hydrolysis (AH), rendering, incineration and burning. She also adds that composting is a disposal method that allows a recycling of the slaughterhouse waste nutrients back into the earth. In addition. improvements need to be made to facilities and practices to improve worker safety and reduce the risk of food contamination.
To protect the rights of animals and end their abuse and torture, cameras should be installed in every slaughtergouse. Messenger calls the installation of cameras “a critical step that will increase control and deterrence”, Slaughterhouse impact he environment, human health and animal warfare. Althought people don’t want to talk about slaughterhouses, it is important that they are aware of how it may be effecting them,
Vonnegut's finest masterpiece – Slaughterhouse Five
After reading through one of Vonnegut’s finest masterpieces, Slaughterhouse-Five, I can safely conclude that this was one of the most unconventional novels I have ever read. Yet, even with all its timeline jumps and inner monologue, Vonnegut wrote this novel in such a simple manner that it remained easy to follow. In fact, it seems that the comment included on the back of Slaughterhouse-five summarizes his style perfectly.
Splendid art a funny book at which you are not permitted to laugh, a sad book without tears.(-Life). This comment initially left me confused, yet intrigued. How can a novel, filled with so much raw emotion, leave a said reader feeling more empty than fulfilled? Vonnegut achieved this through dreams, as well as reality.
Vonnegut opens this novel with his own narration and thoughts. We get to know him as a person, how his brain works and what type of war novel this really is. For Slaughterhouse-Five, is hardly even a war novel at all. It is rather, a look past the glorifying commercials, past the medals and heroes. These brave men that went off to war were nothing more than children ready to die. An experience such as this one, cannot simply be explained. For when we are in such terrible conditions, we’d rather dream we were somewhere else. This is where Billy Pilgrim is introduced.
Billy, the main character, is our guide throughout this novel. As the story goes along we not only learn about how he was the laughing stock of the war, but about his deepest darkest thoughts and beliefs. Billy no longer has a set separation between dreams, reality, present, or past. He has become unstuck in time. This, believe it or not, is the theme of the novel. Humans can only have three different mindsets: past, present, and imaginary. For we cannot know what the future holds, future does not exist. All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist (Vonnegut). With this mindset, death became unimpactful. Every dead character: Roland Weary, Valencia, Edgar Derby. We took their passing with a grain of salt. Because to Billy, death does not exist. They will always be there, nothing is ever truly gone.
Just like Billy’s beliefs, the timeline of the novel plays out in a sort of limbo. When circumstances become overly morbid, we then step into Billy as a little boy. Then forward on to his anniversary. Even all the way out into space in Tralfamadore, away from everything and everyone. There’s no concept of time, no fault in war. Sequences such as these blur the lines in this novel between fiction and reality. For instance, the character Kilgore Trout, is served more as Vonnegut’s alter ego than a living breathing character. Montana Wildhack is nothing more than Billy’s fantasy on Tralfamadore. Suddenly the tragedy of Dresden is nothing more than a strange dream sequence to Billy. Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt. (Vonnegut).
Though as readers we somehow become accustomed to Billy’s perception of the world, the world itself proves to go against him. After the war, the bombing, the plane crash, his wife’s death, and so on. Billy talks less and time travels more, for he is beyond the concept of time. Though he believes his findings would greatly impact how humans perceive time as a whole, his daughter Barbara sees him as nothing more than a nutcase who can’t take care of himself. How nice to feel nothing, and still get credit for being alive. (Vonnegut). As the novel closes, we reflect on all the corpses we have witnessed. People Billy came across who were once living and breathing, now unnamed charred bodies. We get time to reflect on how this novel has impacted us, yet we’re left with nothing. For the only magic we come across is in our fantasy of stretched truth. So it goes. (Vonnegut).
Understanding the Effects of War Slaughterhouse-Five
Slaughterhouse- Five is a novel written by Kurt Vonnegut. The original novel was published in March of 1969. Throughout Slaughterhouse-Five we see a weirdo who is the main character and his name is Billy Pilgrim.
Billy Pilgrim is an awkward student of optometry who gets drafted to enter the military. He was soon sent to fight in Dresden against the Nazis, he was captured by a group of Nazis and became a prisoner of war. He somehow lands himself on everybody’s bad side. Billy Pilgrim finds himself unstuck in time. All throughout the book, we see Tralfamadore and many different flashbacks. Vonnegut shows many characteristics throughout his book, but the one that stands out the most is the sign of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), along with his unattainable way of describing the traumatizing features of the war, and the elements he uses constantly in Slaughterhouse-Five such as point of view, theme, and the genre.
Although Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder wasn’t recognized as a mental disorder in World War II, now we see that Billy Pilgrim is a victim of PTSD. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a psychiatric disorder that can be caused by experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event such as physical abuse, war, natural disaster, a terrorist attack, or a serious accident. Mustazza states in his eBook The psychological consequences of the experience of war can be readily analyzed using the criteria now established by psychiatrists to diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD has only been recognized as an independent psychiatric classification since its inclusion in the 1980 edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) (Mustazza 294). Thus, Mustazza is proving that Billy Pilgrims multiple traumatic events did lead up to him getting PTSD. An example of traumatic events in the book is when a siren went off, scared the hell out of him. He was expecting World War Three at any time. The siren was simply announcing high noon. It was housed in a cupola atop a firehouse across the street from Billy’s office (Vonnegut 73). The siren made him think back to the war and brought him to the idea of World War III. Another example of PTSD is when Billy was trying to find a place to sleep while being transported to the prisoner camp. Nobody wanted him near them because he would constantly yell and kick while he was sleeping. This means that Billy had to sleep standing up or not at all. The constant yelling and kicking are symptoms of PTSD, even though Billy wasn’t conscious of himself doing so; he was dreaming about the war and was having conscious reactions while unconscious.
We constantly see Billy Pilgrim go to Tralfamadore all throughout the book. One could see that Billy uses these fantasies involving Tralfamadorian aliens as a way to make amends with what is currently happening to him in his life, such as the shame and horror of his war experience. As soon as Billy arrives to the prisoner of war camp the Germans make him strip, so do the Tralfamadorians. The Germans also refuse to admit why they beat one prisoner and not the other, like how the Tralfamadorians refuse to tell why they have abducted Pilgrim. The Germans confine him to a slaughterhouse, and the Tralfamadorians confine him to a zoo. In his Tralfamadorian fantasy world, Billy can rewrite these painful events which are currently happening to him, like when Billy felt emasculated by the Germans. They commanded him to strip, and they forced him to put on a women’s coat, but Tralfamadorians had no way of knowing Billy’s body and face were not beautiful. They supposed that he was a splendid specimen. This had a pleasant effect on Billy, who began to enjoy his body for the first time (Vonnegut 144). He also describes himself as possessing a tremendous wang, incidentally you never know who’ll get one. (Vonnegut 169). He is desired by a 20-year-old porn star named Montana Wildhack, but on earth he is married to Valencia. Billy didn’t want to marry ugly Valencia. She was one of the symptoms of his disease. (Vonnegut 137). Kurt Vonnegut also uses the phrase so it goes constantly throughout the entire book. One that really stands out is the one about Sodom and Gomorrah. The sun was risen upon the earth when Lot entered into Zo-an, I read. Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire He overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities So it goes. (Vonnegut 27). Lot’s wife was told not to look back at the city, but she did it anyways. Vonnegut uses this quote because of the human qualities it has. It shows the fundamental aspect of what Vonnegut sees as human nature, or the human condition, in postmodernity (Tally 72). As humans we are often told not to do something, but we usually end up doing it anyways. Vonnegut uses so it goes after this because it’s really something we can’t explain, it just happens (Vonnegut).
Throughout Vonnegut’s novel, we see many different elements like the genre, theme, and point of view. At the very beginning and very ending of the book, we see the perspective of Kurt Vonnegut in first person omniscient point of view. This elaborate structure is enclosed within a wider framework: in the first and last chapters, the novelist himself appears, telling about his writing and about the events which led to his writing it (Holland 40). Vonnegut pulls to the attention that we are reading a novel; this is an unusual and bold choice because as readers we like to use books as a way to escape reality and forget that it’s just a book. The rest of the book is also mainly first-person point of view, but we often see thoughts and motives of many different characters. Vonnegut wanted the genre of this book to be anti-war. One might ask how can a novel be anti-war? This novel was written based on real life events that happened to Kurt Vonnegut. He volunteered for military service in 1943 and was sent by the army to study engineering at Carnegie Tech. He then transferred to the infantry and served as a scout during the allied invasion of Europe. He was captured by the Nazis and was in prison in Dresden when the allies bombed the city (Holland 5). So of course, Vonnegut would be against the thought of war because of the traumatizing events that he personally experienced. His main purpose to write this anti-war novel was to bring awareness of war’s actions and wrongdoings through his personal detail, like the phrase Poo-tee-weet. It’s a symbol of how Vonnegut feels about war. Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want anything ever again. Everything is supposed to very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds. And what did they say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like poo-tee-weet? (Vonnegut 24). Vonnegut’s main theme for this book is that one cannot vividly and correctly describe the traumatic effects of war. Like everyone, he is always a history book; all of the events exist, although some are just in his mind. However, he cannot read all of those events at the same time Like everyone, he cannot look at each moment at the same time, even though bits of each of them are meeting his mind’s eye (Tally 30). Tally writes this because it describes the entire book. With Billy being unstuck in time, he is constantly moving back and forth in time and it’s kind of hard to keep with, which is the whole point of the story.
In conclusion, Vonnegut wrote this anti-war novel as a way to bring awareness to war’s actions and wrong doings. We also constantly see throughout the entire book the way Pilgrim uses Tralfamador as a way to make sense with what is currently happening to him in that moment. We see the phrase so it goes constantly as a way to show that things just happen, and there is really nothing we can do about it. We also see many common symptoms that are related to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, like when he was kicking and talking in the train cart and nobody wanted him to sleep near him because of it. Overall, Vonnegut shows many different characteristics throughout his book, but the one that stands out the most was the sign of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), along with his unattainable way of describing the traumatizing features of the war, and the elements he uses constantly in Slaughterhouse-Five such as point of view, theme, and the genre.
What the author represents in the Slaughterhouse Five?
The book Slaughterhouse Five represents the author Kurt Vonnegut’s life and reflects it through the life of the protagonist, Billy Pilgrim. The story begins with the town of Dresden getting bombed. As the result, Billy got PTSD which is referred to in the story as being “unstuck in time.” In attempt to represent his own traumatic experiences, Vonnegut grants Billy with post-traumatic stress disorder.
This allows him to use flashbacks, bad dreams, and fears of his own to create a better illustration of his post-traumatic stress disorder.
Billy Pilgrim’s life is controlled by may flashbacks, bad dreams, and fears. He suffers emotional outbursts and even isolation. Throughout the entire novel, we are taken on a crazy journey from one moment in Billy’s life to another. For example, in one moment we are shown Billy’s life during World War II and then his childhood in the next. Most of the events are shown through flashbacks which wouldn’t be possible without post-traumatic stress disorder.
Vonnegut really shows you how much post-traumatic stress disorder can affect the everyday life of someone. He said “A siren went off, scared the hell out of him. He was expecting World War III at anytime. The siren was simply announcing high noon.” (Vonnegut 57). And again he created a visual representation of his post-traumatic stress disorder when he said “When Billy saw the condition of his means of transportation, he burst into tears. He hadn’t cried about anything else in the war.” (Vonnegut 197). It is obvious that Billy is very unattached to the world and separates himself from everyone including his own mother.
The reality in this novel is about Kurt Vonnegut’s experience in war. Billy is never really time travelling. It is actually just a part of his time in life that he keeps replaying, which is war. Due to the devastation he went through it is hard for him to live everyday as a normal person. It is not a proven medical diagnosis that Billy had post-traumatic stress disorder. However, as you read the novel, knowing that post-traumatic stress disorder is which is commonly known as a condition of persistent mental and emotional stress occurring as a result of injury or severe psychological shock, typically involving disturbance of sleep and constant vivid recollection of the experiences, with dulled response to others and to the outside world, you understand more about his life and why he is the way he is. This knowledge can allow you to make the assumption that he indeed has post-traumatic stress disorder. Billy’s lives in depression and isolation but finds ways to cope with his horrible reality.
Billy distracts himself from the world world by creating a fantasy planet called Tralfamadore with people called Tralfamadorians. His escape mechanism allows him to make connections as he reflects on real life, traumatic events. For example, in his fantasy world he is taken by the Tralfamadorians to a zoo where is forced to take his clothes off and is put in a cage like he is an animal. The connection with this scenario is that in real life he was held captive by the Germans where he had no freedom.
When Billy isn’t in his fantasy he uses a coat he is given in the war for comfort even though people tease him about it. “He had no idea that people thought he was clowning. It was fate, of course which had costumed him – fate, and a feeble will to survive.” (Vonnegut 151)
After the spread of cholera caused by pollution, the state of Louisiana decided to seek a way of remedying the state’s current situation by passing a law in March 8th, 1869 (Skelton, n.d.). The law consisted of the prohibition of having slaughterhouses, slaughtering livestock, and keeping animals that were meant to be sold or slaughtered in New Orleans and some surrounding areas. This was to the exception of one slaughterhouse, Crescent City Livestock Landing & Slaughterhouse Company, which through the established law, was granted a monopoly of the area for twenty-five years.
The company was designed to comply with several rules established by the state which included allowing other butchers who were not in the company, to work in their land. Independent butchers were also now required to pay fees in order to have their animals slaughtered in the company’s land. These enforcements were regarded as police regulation for the health and comfort of the people (the statute locating them where health and comfort required), within the power of the state legislatures (Skelton, n.d.).
The Butchers Benevolent Association, a group of independent butchers, proceeded to challenge the law established stating that, according to the 13th and 14th Amendments, which at the time had only been passed a few years ago, it was unconstitutional (O’Brien, 2014, p. 284). They claimed that working for Crescent City Livestock Landing & Slaughterhouse Company could be classified or seen as a form of involuntary servitude since they only had the option to either work for them or not at all. Significantly, their main argument was that the 14th Amendment was being violated because the state was enforcing a law which abridged their privileges and immunities as citizens of the United States, and were ultimately not being granted equal protection of the laws while being deprived of property (Skelton, n.d.). A state court along with the Louisiana State Supreme Court stood by the law passed and ruled that the amendments mentioned were not being violated. This led to the Butcher’s Benevolent Association to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court (O’Brien, 2014, p. 284).
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Crescent City Livestock Landing & Slaughterhouse Company, the ultimate decision being five to four, stating that the 13th and 14th Amendments of the Constitution of the United States had not been violated. Justice Miller announced the majority’s (including Justices Clifford, Strong, Hunt, and Davis) decision, while Justices Field, Swayne, Bradley, and Chief Justice Chase dissented to the Court’s ruling. The basis on the Court’s decision was on the notions there is a distinction between state and U. S. citizenship, the recently-passed amendments were designated for the time in history that had taken place in regards to slavery, and the limitation of the extent of the privileges or immunities stated in the 14th Amendment section 1 of the U. S. Constitution.
In the Court’s majority opinion, Justice Miller declared that the intention of the 13th and 14th Amendments were mainly directed towards the African race, highly taking into consideration the period the country had just emerged from a few years prior. Justice Miller states No one can fail to be impressed with the one pervading purpose found in [the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments], lying at the foundation of each and without which none of them would have been even suggested; we mean the freedom of the slave race, the security and firm establishment of that freedom, and the protection of the newly made freemen and citizens from the oppressions of those who had formerly exercised unlimited dominion over them (O’Brien, 2014, p. 285). He proceeds to state that by this he does not mean that these amendments only protect African Americans, but instead that without having been in the previous era the country was in, these amendments would not have been brought upon.
Moreover, while delivering the Court’s majority opinion, Justice Miller stated that one of the most important observations is that there is a distinction between being a citizen of the United States and being a citizen of a state. He emphasizes that a person can be a citizen of the United States but can also not be a citizen of a state at the same time. He states that he notes this distinction because the next paragraph of this same section [of the article], which is the one relied on by the plaintiffs in error, speaks only of the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States, and does not speak of those of citizens of the several states (Skelton, n.d.). Continuing on noting the distinction of dual citizenship, the Court states that the language used in the U. S. Constitution is that no state should enforce any law that abridges privileges specifically from U. S. citizens. Therefore, if the clause was meant to protect citizens of the state then those exact words would have been included (O’Brien, 2014, p. 285). This proves to be a significant observation to which the justices declare that the phrasing used was done so for a particular purpose.
On the dissenting side of this case, Justice Field delivered his stance on the Slaughterhouse Cases, stating that he did believe that the law passed by the state of Louisiana was unconstitutional. On his dissenting statement, Justice Field focuses on Section 1 of the 14th Amendment, first questioning what would then be considered privileges and immunities. He answers this question by stating that they are the those that which of right belong to the citizens of all free governments (O’Brien, 2014, p. 287). Along with this statement, he adds that the words privileges and immunities were not merely added in the 14th Amendment, but were rather already incorporated in the Constitution previously in Article 4 Section 2 Clause 1 (Skelton, n.d.). This is important to note because Justice Field continues by stating that it should be clear that among the privileges and immunities of a citizen should be placed the right to pursue a lawful employment in a lawful manner, without other restraint than such as equally affects all persons (O’Brien, 2014, p. 288). Through this statement, Justice Field makes it not only clear that all people should equally have the legal protection to participate in a job that they may please, but that while this right may not be explicitly stated, it is a natural right to have, or sacred right as he further describes it.
Another dissenting opinion came from Justice Bradley whose focus was on the due process clause incorporated in the 5th and 14th Amendments. He states that he finds that a law which impedes a citizen from pursuing a lawful employment (as Justice Field also describes) is a form of deprivation from their liberty and property without due process of law (O’Brien, 2014, p. 288). He goes on to describe that the liberty would be the citizens’ right to choose and the property would be their profession (O’Brien, 2014, p. 288). He adds that a monopoly is granting an exclusive right to only one company and limits the rest of the people, in this case butchers, from pursuing what they want. Moreover, Justice Bradley goes on to address the reason that was given for the purpose of the law passed in the state of Louisiana. The purpose stated was that it was for the benefit of the people due to the pollution and spread of cholera therefore, the law could be classified as a police regulation. To this, Justice Bradley argues that the portion of the act which requires all slaughterhouse to be located below the city, and to be subject to inspection is clearly a police regulation but what is not considered a police regulation is the part of the act which allows no one but the favored company to build, own, or have slaughterhouses (Skelton, n.d.). He states that a police regulation would not impose these types of infringements on individuals while granting an exclusive right to another.
Constitutional Doctrine and Theory
This case was able to bring upon a new light on the way the recently established 13th and 14th Amendments could be interpreted. As Justice Miller declares as he delivers the Court’s majority opinion, this court is thus called upon for the first time to give construction to these articles, there was no precedent formerly established (O’Brien, 2014, p. 285). The 13th Amendment had been ratified in 1865 while the 14th Amendment had only been ratified in 1868. Therefore, these two amendments were fairly recent that they had yet not gone under further scrutiny of any other potential they may hold. As of yet, these amendments were merely based on the abolishing of slavery and granting of citizenship rights to the newly freed men.
The case proved to be extremely significant, not because it changed a previous precedent but rather because it established concepts such dual citizenship, and limited what privileges and immunities could further be interpreted as. It reaffirmed the meaning of the 14th Amendment, more specifically Section 1 which states that a state cannot enforce a law that abridges rights given to a U.S. citizen, making a distinction that the clause is not directly referring to state citizenship.
The Illusion of Free Will
Throughout the course of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five, the reader is taken through the life events of Billy Pilgrim, a character who amazingly lives through the Dresden firebombing and many other tragedies. Ironically, Billy finds comfort in the idea that free will is a fictional belief, and that nothing can be done about any of the surrounding misfortunes that occur throughout his lifetime, or throughout any lifetime. He vocalizes his thoughts and justifies them with a claim of alien abduction, and consequently is not taken seriously. While the text may imply that his extraterrestrial experiences did not occur, it still recognizes his ideology as valid and one of the main themes prevalent throughout the novel. Vonnegut utilizes Billy Pilgrim’s life experiences as well as other devices to convey the idea that free will is a mere illusion, and that there will perpetually be hardships through life that all beings will be forced to withstand.
There are several characteristics of Billy Pilgrim that illustrate him as a peculiar character. One of the most prominent ones is that subsequent to the firebombing of Dresden, the death of his wife, a plane crash in which he was miraculously the only surviving passenger, as well as other misfortunes, he states to have been abducted by aliens who have unique philosophies on time, and the nature of life in general. The Tralfamadorians–the aliens who abduct him–have distinct views on time and space, whereas the past, the present, and the future, are eternally ongoing events that will never cease to end. Essentially, each and every moment is simultaneously occurring, and the Tralfamadorians possess the capability to see any point in time, which they describe as the fourth dimension. They state that they have seen all parts of time, such as the end of the world, but there is simply nothing they can do to alter the future; it just simply is. This belief is contrary to the common idea of free will on Earth, as a Tralfamadorian bluntly stated, “I’ve visited thirty-one planets…and I have studied reports on one hundred more. Only on Earth is there any talk of free will”(86).
Billy’s experience with Tralfamadore is a turning point in the novel where the myth of free will is made an obvious theme. He is involuntarily drafted into World War II, where he later lives through the firebombing of Dresden, and finally after the war, he is the lone survivor of a plane crash–all things he has no power to change. As a result, he develops a mental illness, although it is also implied that he may have had a predisposition for it in the first place (again, something he has no control over). To add on, a quote that appears twice–once on a sign in Billy’s office, and last in the engraving of a locket of Billy’s fellow captor of the Tralfamadorians–is, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom always to tell the difference (60, 209). This serves to stress the theme that certain fates are set in stone and cannot be altered through any means, and accepting this fact is the easiest way to cope with it. Billy Pilgrim does this, and sits back, allowing life to take its course with no interference or objections.
The passive writing style also emphasizes the narrator’s disbelief of free will. “So it goes” is a repetitive line that follows each description of death in the novel and illustrates the inevitability of the event. “And so on” is another line often used after a description of events. The repetition creates a distant, unfeeling tone, while moving on from the topic, displaying how life continues and there is nothing we can do to alter fate. Additionally, the narrator demonstrates that although he views war as cruel and tragic, it is unavoidable. In the introduction, he states that he is writing an anti-war book to a character, with his response being, “Why don’t you write an anti-glacier book instead?”(3). This statement analogizes wars with glaciers, and by doing so, implies that they are both things that are naturally occurring and unpreventable. The narrator agrees with this statement, but still feels the need to express his thoughts of the tragedy of war and the lack of free will that humans posses through his novel and in reality.
The revolutionary essence of Slaughterhouse-Five is a direct result of the different devices Vonnegut applies, such as humor, irony, and tragedy. All of these devices serve to cause society to collectively think about the nature of war, and the nature of life itself, changing our perceptions of what power we truly possess to reshape our fate.
Structure and Meaning in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five
One of the most distinguishing aspects of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five is the structure in which it is written. Throughout the novel, Billy Pilgrim travels uncontrollably to non-sequential moments of his life, or as Vonnegut says, “paying random visits to all events in between.” (23). In order to exemplify this for the reader, Vonnegut uses a non-linear and seemingly sporadic storyline. However, by the end of the novel, Vonnegut’s use of plot fragmentation is clear. By constantly jumping back and forth throughout time, Vonnegut keeps all of the novel’s most significant events fresh in the reader’s mind. With his immediate and thought provoking introduction, “Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time”(23), Vonnegut establishes that there is something unique about Billy Pilgrim. By choosing the word “unstuck”, he implies that Billy has just been freed of something. In doing so, Vonnegut also prepares the reader for the non-linear storyline that follows. In fact, the rest of the novel consists of nothing more than random moments of Billy Pilgrim’s life. By portraying Billy in this way, the reader gets an all-encompassing perspective of Billy as a person, instead of having a myopic view that is based on a particular incident of Billy’s life. This same technique also allows Vonnegut to keep significant parts of Billy’s life fresh in the reader’s mind throughout the novel. For example, Billy’s experience during World War II and the bombing of Dresden are some of the most significant parts of his life. Vonnegut introduces them to the reader very early on in the novel simply by mentioning “Billy first came unstuck while World War II was in progress” (30). Again, Vonnegut’s way of writing has allowed him to redefine what makes sense in Slaughterhouse Five, as opposed to a typical chronological novel. As a result, the reader will be aware of the ongoing war, allowing them to build a mental picture that is constantly being developed with each event Billy encounters. Furthermore, Vonnegut’s ability to give a first-hand account of an event before it happens chronologically in turn allows readers to be able to reflect on an event as it resurfaces later in the novel. Again, this theme most strongly relates to Billy’s wartime experiences. Vonnegut returns time after time to the violence and destruction that surrounded Billy while he was a prisoner of war. And since these frightful and damaging thoughts rarely leave Billy’s mind, Vonnegut makes it so that they do the same for the reader. While Billy’s horrific experiences during the war play an active role in his personality and lifestyle, he is manipulated even further by his ability to become “unstuck in time”. Because Billy is constantly jumping through time, he is never given the opportunity to become comfortable in a single moment of his life. As a result, Billy says that he is in “a constant state of stage fright” (Vonnegut 23). This explains Billy’s lack of focus and initiative that is evident throughout the novel. He is forced to improvise his entire life, attempting to portray all of it at once, going fearfully from one moment to another, always without warning. Billy’s life consists of pieces that have no obvious coherency with on and other. Vonnegut himself sums up the meaning of his approach in describing the Tralfamadorian’s books through the words of Billy Pilgrim, Vonnegut writes: “There isn’t any particular relationship between all the messages, except that the author has chosen them carefully, so that, when seen all at once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep. There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time.” (Vonnegut 88). In this statement, Vonnegut emphasizes once more the importance of viewing many moments as a whole picture. At first glance, the spontaneous events appear to be incompatible with each other, telling many stories, but signifying nothing. However, this is exactly what Vonnegut hoped to achieve; these separate stories force the reader to view them all as one, or not at all.
Kurt Vonnegut’s Observations of War Trauma
During times of war soldiers experience horrific atrocities that are mentally and physically crippling. Most cannot begin to comprehend these sinister and morbid images due to their lack of military experience. In Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, the main character is Billy Pilgrim, who serves the United States in World War II. Billy is a chaplain’s assistant and does not actually engage in combat, allowing him to be an observer of the war rather than an active participant engaging in battle. His position as an enlisted but unarmed spectator of the war leads to the cataclysmic sights and memories that Billy recollects throughout the novel because he witnesses more than most soldiers do and therefore is more traumatized. Billy is captured in Germany and kept as a prisoner of war in a concentration camp, where he witnesses the total destruction of the town of Dresden. The catastrophes that Billy experiences traumatize him for the remainder of his life and lead to his psychological impairment and eventual death. However, Billy uses his imagination to reduce some of the pain, creating memories that help him cope with his trauma. After witnessing the destruction and devastation of war, many soldiers, including Billy, mask the trauma; eventually leading to their psychological and physical deterioration. Nevertheless, the trauma will always be present throughout the entirety of a soldier’s life.Slaughterhouse-Five is somewhat of an autobiography of Vonnegut’s experiences in World War II, but, he writes the novel as narrative historical fiction. Vonnegut chooses this particular style and genre of writing because he is too traumatized by the war to write about his own life and therefore writes vicariously through the life of Billy. War is a faceless and violent way to resolve a problem and once war has begun, it is out of the control of the people and in the hands of the soldiers. However, these soldiers, representing and fighting for their country, do not have as much as control as they believe. “There are no characters in war, [Vonnegut] says, only pawns, victims. Lots of victims are children and, indeed, even the combatants seem like children swept up in events beyond their control” (Reed 4). War is truly out of the control of anyone and death is strongly associated with war. Death is one of the most significant events leading to trauma, and in war, death is a daily occurrence, especially for Billy. “One thing was clear: Absolutely everybody in the city was supposed to be dead, regardless of what they were, and that anybody that moved in it represented a flaw in the design” (Vonnegut 230). The bombing and total destruction of Dresden is an event so catastrophic that it is viewed as even more destructive than the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and therefore everyone should be dead. However, Billy is the “flaw in the design” and feels guilty for surviving. Billy is traumatized by his survival because he has to live with the knowledge that hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children died, but when the dust settles he is one of the few remaining. The trauma that Billy experiences during the war recurs when he is involved in a plane crash later in his life where he is the only survivor: The people who first got to the crash scene were young Austrian ski instructors from the famous ski resort below. They spoke to each other in German as they went from body to body. They wore black wind masks with two holes for their eyes and a red topknot. They looked like golliwogs…Billy thought the golliwog had something to do with World War Two, and he whispered to him his address: ‘Schlachthof-fÃ¼nf’ (Vonnegut 199). Schlachthof-fÃ¼nf is German for “slaughterhouse-five”, the name of the building that he lives and works in at the concentration camp, and if a guard ever approaches him he is to recite those words. The war traumatizes Billy so much that after being in the plane crash he does not know where or when he is and thinks the German speaking ski instructor is a German guard. Billy continuously re-experiences events in forms of distressing images, thoughts, perceptions, and dreams – his trauma is an aspect of his life that is beyond his control. The trauma from war exists in the lives of soldiers even after combat, and veterans, including Billy, often mask their trauma rather than trying to cope. Billy uses time travel to mask his pain, spontaneously jumping from one moment in his life to another. “Billy is spastic in time, has no control over where he is going next, and the trips aren’t necessarily fun. He is in a constant stage of fright, he says, because he never knows what part of his life he is going to have to act in next” (Vonnegut 29). Billy’s time travel is a way of masking his trauma; if he is not enjoying something, then he time travels to another, hopefully, but not always, joyful moment in his life. Billy uses different methods of masking his trauma, one technique is imagining that something as awful as death is not as bad as it is or may seem. “By exercising one’s selective memory, by becoming an ostrich, one may indeed live in a world where everything is beautiful and nothing hurts” (Vanderwerken 2). Billy is selective in choosing what he wants to remember, eliminating painful memories by masking them with more desirable and pleasing memories. A popular mask of Billy’s pain is his imagination’s invention of Tralfamadore. Billy devises the idea that he and actress Montana Wildhack are abducted by aliens, Tralfamadorians, and put in a zoo where they are observed. Billy uses Tralfamadore to mask his trauma; if painful memories enter his mind, then he instantly time-travels to Tralfamadore. Tralfamadore is a hallucination of Billy’s hiding from the pain that he endures during the war. The masking of his trauma evokes itself in subtle ways; for instance, Billy is quite successful in his life after the war. He is president of the Lions Club, works as a prosperous optometrist, lives in a comfortable upper middle class home, and has even fathered two children. While Billy seems to be leading a productive postwar life, there is much beneath the surface that is not revealed. Beneath the luxury of his success lies a man too war-torn to understand what is happening to him. In fact, Billy, short for William, indicates that he is more an immature boy than a man, and the war has not made him a better person, but has driven him into a corner of trauma.The experiences of war leave veterans, including Billy, traumatized; and even though their trauma will never completely go away, there are methods of coping to relieve some of the pain. The war has put Billy in a state of constant panic and suffering, never knowing when the horrific memories of war will reappear. “The price for his (Billy’s) survival is a memory haunted by fear and death. He moves from one disaster to another unable to either banish or accept the experience of Dresden” (Berryman 3). The trauma Billy has endured will never go away regardless of the many masks he uses to ease his pain. However, there are methods of coping with the trauma to reduce some of the fear and pain. The most significant coping technique that Billy uses is his invention of Tralfamadore, a place where he is able to heal his emotional wounds. “…Billy Pilgrim, finds only in the delusion of Tralfamadore, with its denial of time and offering of sex, a way to cope with his survival of Dresden and the many deaths before and after” (LeClair 1). Montana Wildhack, with her sexual innuendo and provocation, is Billy’s primary tool for coping with his pain, because he talks to her about his painful memories, which helps him cope with his traumatizing experiences. Furthermore, the Tralfamadorians believe time is a continuum of moments existing simultaneously rather than a chronological sequence. Their perception of time explains Vonnegut’s format of the novel; every scene is divided by three dots to give the audience an idea of the importance of time. The Tralfamadorians also believe that when a person dies they are not actually dead; they are simply in poor condition at that certain moment, and they are perfectly lively in another moment. This idea of death as meaningless allows Billy to view all of the deaths, including the hundreds of thousands in Dresden, as merely insignificant, discarding all pain and trauma he previously had. Billy’s new outlook on death leads him to say, “So it goes” whenever he mentions death. “Tralfamadorian philosophy, which opposes trying to make sense out of occurrences, helps Billy deal with the horrible events and their consequences by reinterpreting their meaning” (Vees-Gulani 5). Tralfamadore takes Billy away from the trials and tribulations of the harsh world he lives in by perceiving horrible events, such as death, optimistically. Tralfamadore also offers him new outlooks on life while easing his emotional pain. Vonnegut vicariously helps Billy cope with his trauma while actually coping with Vonnegut’s own trauma. “Faced boldly, narrated and thereby worked through, the trauma of Dresden is exorcised of its dark spell on Vonnegut’s imagination” (Giannone 12). Vonnegut has an immense amount of pent up emotion and relieves himself of much of it by helping Billy relieve some of his pain as well. Tralfamadore is the primary technique Billy uses to cope with, and even forget his trauma from the war. The trauma that Billy, along with many other soldiers, endures during the war is a pain that can never be relinquished, and masking the trauma is the worst possible way to deal with the pain. Nevertheless, there are many ways of coping with the trauma; however, some of them are not always beneficial, such as Billy’s methods of creating the memory that he is abducted by Tralfamadorians. “Tralfamadore is a fantasy, a desperate attempt to rationalize chaos, but one must sympathize with Billy’s need to create Tralfamadore” (Merrill and Scholl 6). Billy needs to create Tralfamadore to mask the trauma, but as he invites other accommodations to his fantasy planet, such as Montana Wildhack, the masking of his trauma turns into the coping of his pain. There is no past, present or future tense in Slaughterhouse-Five and therefore it is impossible to decipher the time in Billy’s life that he is speaking from. This reflects on the war trauma that haunts Billy until his death because it does not matter where you are in your life; trauma, pain and anguish will always exist.Works CitedBerryman, Charles. “After the Fall: Kurt Vonnegut.” Studies in Modern Fiction vol. 26. Gale Literary Database. 3 December 2004.