Kurt Vonnegut’s Attack on Society Romanticizing War in Slaughterhouse-five
For centuries war has been romanticized as a heroic battle between a purely good side and the evil side. Incredible heroes fight against evil and give peace back to the good. The good and innocent all live peacefully afterwards while the evil are punished and forced to take responsibility for the war that they inevitably have caused. This heroic and manly battle of pure evil against pure good is the exact picture that Kurt Vonnegut strives to destroy through his novel Slaughterhouse-Five. Vonnegut seeks to show the reality of war and how damaging the evil verses good image has been on society as it contends humans against each-other. “For Vonnegut the subject matter is not simply Nazi atrocity; it is many other things” (Lundquist 43) such as many people’s obsession with revenge, issues of racism, and most importantly the question of how to tell a true story that is unimaginable to the point of borderline fiction. In Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five he uses a blend of realism and utopian imagination along with dark humor to deromanticize war.
As a German-American who fought with the allies in World War II, Vonnegut is torn between both sides of war. He recognizes the evil of Nazism and that the war was a necessary feat but cannot stand behind the attack “designed by the Allies to kill as many German civilians as possible” (Allen 95) as well as annihilate the beautiful and historic city of Dresden which held little to no value to the German Military. (Freese 77) War brings out an inhumanity in people that is unfathomable to Vonnegut. He finds it reprehensible that this attack, which seems purposeless for anything but revenge, had been kept almost entirely secret by the government. Vonnegut decided that it was his duty to write about Dresden to expose the truth about the attack and its severity. Still, the pressing issue stands that “there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre” (24) which makes writing about one all the more difficult.
To tell his story Vonnegut uses three different characters with varying opinions and perspectives regarding the story of Billy Pilgrim. While Vonnegut makes Pilgrim similar to Vonnegut in his war experiences, he does not exactly represent Vonnegut’s life or perspective. Due to the similarities between him and his protagonist “Vonnegut creates a mask, a narrator who provides a certain distance between” (Schatt 99) Billy and his author. The narrator serves to tell Billy’s story entirely through his own voice which allows Vonnegut to interject a few small comments of his own into the story, proving his views to not be congruent with those of the narrator. By showing himself as an Army scout alongside Billy, Vonnegut “dispel[s] any thought that Billy Pilgrim was an autobiographical rendering of the actual author” (MacFarlane 151). Through using perspectives unlike his own to tell Billy’s story and talk about war, Vonnegut is able to make the reader focus on their own thoughts and opinions rather than his.
The story’s protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, is in some ways the same as and in many other ways totally different from Vonnegut. While Vonnegut seems to have an attitude of wanting change in the world and striving to accomplish his goals, Pilgrim is an extremely passive character which makes him a very odd choice as a protagonist in a war story. The choice to convey Billy as passive and unenthusiastic about life makes him the exact opposite of the typical hero in war stories. This places Billy, as the protagonist, in the place of an anti-hero which gives the book a clear anti-war message (Marvin 124).
While Vonnegut believes in a man’s ability to change his fate, Pilgrim is convinced by his imaginary abduction by aliens called Tralfamadorians that a person’s life is already planned to follow a set course from birth until death. Tralfamadorians believe that life is full of set moments that cannot ever be changed but can be visited at any time at random. “Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time” (29) and he believes that he can now time travel to any point in his life whenever he pleases. Pilgrim cannot accept everything about fate like the Tralfamadorians. Although they tell him to focus on the good moments in life and not the bad ones, Billy still cannot simply forget and accept that there is nothing he can do for others’ suffering (Schatt 100). Billy’s lack of control over his life is meant to appear ridiculous to the reader and emphasizes Vonnegut’s point that people can control the world around them even in regards to war.
One of the ways that Vonnegut denounces romanticized stories about war is through his comedic depictions of characters that bear similarities to the classic war heroes. The strongest example of this strategy is found in a young soldier named Ronald Weary whom Billy fights alongside in the war. Weary is the exact opposite of Pilgrim in nearly every way. He is an obese boy who “had every piece of equipment he had ever been issued” (50) by the military and more. While Billy spends time daydreaming about his future on Tralfamadore and his life outside of war, Weary spends every second pretending to be some great war hero as if he is preparing the story that he will tell his family when he gets home. Despite the fact that he is actually strongly disliked by the other three men in his small squad he “imagines himself to be one of the three close war comrades who call themselves the ‘Three Musketeers’ ” (Schatt 101).
In reality, Weary is simply a child who tells other men stories, which he creates in his mind, in order to feel as though he is a hero. Vonnegut, Billy, and Weary “had been foolish virgins in the war, right at the end of childhood” (18) Weary’s stories are his way of coping with a war that he, as a mere child, is unable to comprehend. The kinds of false stories that Weary creates represent the type of stories where veterans will “pretend [they] were men instead of babies” (18). These stories are exactly what Vonnegut promises his friend’s wife Mary O’Hare that he will never write. Weary’s character is Vonnegut’s way of showing what people do not see when they read or hear about men who are glorified as heroes.
Another example of satirical versions of stereotypical war characters are the English prisoners of war whom Pilgrim meets after his capture. These men are the perfect soldiers told about in stories, confident in their troops abilities and pleasing to the eyes of the Germans as “they made war look stylish and reasonable, and fun” (120). Vonnegut then essentially dismisses the romanticized outlook of the Englishmen and the Germans in regards to war by pointing out that “the British had no way of knowing it, but the candles and the soap [the soldiers used] were made from the fat of rendered Jews and Gypsies and fairies and communists and other enemies of the State” (122). This statement, followed by the narrator’s signature “so it goes” (122), acknowledges that there is no such thing as a war hero and that anybody saying there is does not know about actual war.
Vonnegut’s opinion about people’s abilities to change their fate shows most evidently through a contrast in Billy Pilgrim. Billy struggles with his own life and death as well as his belief that the lives and deaths of those around him are unchangeable. Almost immediately after being drafted into the military Billy has his first experience with death when his father dies in a hunting accident while Billy is at boot camp. Then during the war Billy attempts to get killed several times in battle because he “didn’t really like life at all.” (130) Although Billy does not believe in the ability to change his fate he still attempts to die or at least acts indifferent to dying.
Billy’s deteriorated mental state is evident in his obsession with the question of “why me?” (97) throughout the book. When he is abducted by the Tralfamadorians and he asks why they chose him, they simply say that there is no rhyme or reason for why anything happens. Every “moment simply is” (97) and there is no way to change it. This concept ties the Nazis to the Tralfamadorians later in the book when an American is beat by a German guard for muttering something under his breath. Afterwards the American asks “why me?” (116) and the Guard’s responds is very similar to that of the Tralfamadorians “‘Vy you? Vy Anybody?’”(116). By tying the Tralfamadorians to the Nazis Vonnegut shows that the alien lifestyle that may seem utopian to Billy is not as perfect as it seems.
Billy struggles with surviving many things that he does not want to or believes he should not have. He is awestruck when looking at the moonscape that Dresden is post-bombing and cannot understand why he is lucky enough to live when so many die. He faces this existential confusion again when he contemplates the plane crash that he walks away from as the only survivor.
Despite actually being alive, Vonnegut associates Billy with imagery and symbolism relating to death. Vonnegut describes corpses as having blue and ivory feet which he also uses to describe Billy on two different occasions. He has a weird fascination with death and even spends his wedding night planning his gravestone. Perhaps the best example of the idea of death that seems to follow Billy throughout his life is when it states that Billy’s happiest moment is when he is lying beneath the warm sun, napping on a coffin shaped wagon. Even Billy’s happiest moment ties to death and lying in a coffin. By relating Billy to death Vonnegut emphasizes how a person who possesses no free will and chooses to not control their own life is essentially dead. Ironically, the quote that is supposedly Billy’s “method for keeping going” (76) is a quote about having “wisdom always to tell the difference” (77) between the things that he can and cannot change in his life. This saying holds a dark irony to Billy’s life since “the things Billy Pilgrim could not change were the past, the present, and the future” (77) which is untrue for any living human being, but not for Billy, who might as well be dead. By believing that fate is unchangeable and that he cannot control his life Billy is not actually living at all.
Billy’s struggle against life leads to his imaginary episodes where he recalls being abducted by aliens called Tralfamadorians. He imagines being kept in a dome shaped container in a Tralfamadorian zoo with a young porn star named Montana Wildhack. He imagines the two living together in a picturesque life and having a child all before the eyes of the Tralfamadorians. “Billy and Montana appear as a sort of new Adam and Eve, who live in the confines of a perfect world” (Allen 103) and learn about the idea of fate and its resistance to change from the God-like Tralfamadorians.
The idea of time traveling to other moments in his life especially to Tralfamadore is Billy’s way of coping with the stress and pain he feels when remembering the war. By juxtaposing seemingly normal moments from Billy’s life to the dark moments from war Vonnegut pictures for readers how war affects soldiers minds and all of their memories. Veterans have no choice but to find a way to cope with the new state of their minds. Science fiction stories like that of the Tralfamadorians are escapes for Billy and his hospital roommate, Eliot Rosewater, who “were trying to reinvent themselves and their universe” (128). For Billy it is easier for him to escape to another planet in his mind where nothing requires any explanation than to try to understand why people do the evil things they do when their vision is clouded by war.
The novel Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut provides a clear message of ending the romanticized portrayals of war so often seen in film and writing. Vonnegut does not condemn war as a whole as much as he condemns the way that many people choose to both see it and talk about it. By using the shifts between the blunt realism of war and the idealism of stereotypical characters and a utopian world like Tralfamadore Vonnegut produces a book filled with a dark humor that does not push a particular viewpoint on readers, but instead makes them consider their own feelings and views based on only the facts.
Anti War Message in “Slaughterhouse-five” by Kurt Vonnegut and “Dr Strangelove” by Stanley Kubrick
Humankind cannot endure too much reality: Anti war texts and their conventions stand for diversified modes of perception that alter the emerging streams of interpretations extracted from the human endeavour and it’s universally flawed disorder. Both Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 anti-war novel, a fusion of meta-fiction and science fiction, Slaughterhouse-Five, and Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 satirical, comedy feature film, Dr Strangelove, examine the war and counterculture of their times, and expose the iniquity, mayhem, and virtues of the human condition, in all its raw sentiments. Through an exploration of Kubrick’s and Vonnegut’s perspectives appropriated across contexts, respective audiences bear a more profound understanding of the relationship between interpretations extrapolated in a text and its milieu, and are compelled to challenge and recognize the significance of the expressed didactic concerns and their imminent presence in the trials and tribulations of today.
War ruptured the position of mankind and ontological perceptions of being, brought to the fore the tensions of time and morality as relative or universal and revealed the resonance of sanity on the human endeavor and individual psyche. Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 Dr Strangelove profoundly explores these ontological notions through characterization and satirical techniques. The decision to render the scenes of conflict between the American troops at the air base fortress with an unstable, handheld camera exhibits the old, boisterous thrill that the military figures crave; yet as responders we are resurfaced away from this past pining by the shrilling cues of tragic savagery, while looming in the shadows stands the ironic sign, “peace is our profession,” only prompting us with a hesitant sort of laughter that drags us back to thought. Additionally, Strangelove himself is an excellent rendition of the radical brain power that madly dominated 1964. Kubrick’s use of Nazi allusion developes his character, as the idea of computers acting as a selection pressure on nuclear survivors aligns with the guards and concentration camps of Nazi Germany – notably, he reflects the angel of death. The employment of mis-en-scene and futuristic setting corresponds to Strangelove’s mechanical arm: it has a tendency to pass into a Nazi Salute, emphasizing the abolishment of humanness in government institutions also present in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5: “it was a moment of truth, too, because American civilians and ground troops didn’t know American bombers were engaged in saturation bombing,” where the government was previously devoted to as a respecter of all life. Yet in all its horror, this is merely an agent of madness and evasion for Strangelove: to adjust to the relative insanity of the human condition. So aroused by mass slaughter, he rises from his wheelchair shrieking “Mein Fuhrer, I can walk! Thus, escapism as a relief is inevitably accentuated as the reality of the human endeavor is degradingly heart wrenching, as is the way in which we condition ourselves to moral objectivity and certain mentality.
Again we see a devotion to the existential philosophy surrounding ethics and virtue in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, as the text manifests mania and loss of reason as a product of insanity and the rationalization of war. Aligning with Dr Strangelove, Vonnegut’s text also reveals the jocular elements of an absurd realm to incite a change in values. Through clear antiwar sentiment and mock serious humor, Vonnegut comments on the bombing of Dresden, while indirectly addressing the bombing of Hiroshima, and the burdens of the Great Depression. However, through metafiction, post modern fiction and characterization, he simultaneously disconnects from Dr Strangelove by using time to reveal new viewpoints as diverse subjectivity on morality – the same way that the theory of relativity broke out and came to the fore.
Revealing as an unreliable narrator through the rupturing effect, “That was I. That was me. That was the author of this book,” Vonnegut’s stylistic choice through outlandish authorial interjections allow him to dictate the responder back to the very first sentence, “All this happened, more or less.” blurring the boundary between absurd, lighthearted fiction and tragic reality. Oscillating between his factual presence and the fictional Billy Pilgrim: Vonnegut’s consoling tone displays differences in moral judgments, “Most 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.” This grants Billy with a sense of dignity: no standpoint on his appearance is uniquely privileged, hence denying universality and reflecting moral relativity in the human condition. Through cumulative listing, “no beginning, no middle, no end, no moral,” a link can be drawn between Vonnegut’s post modern approach that requires us to ‘read in a new way’ and Tralfamadorian literature. Billy ultimately ascends into a science fiction world that denies free will, to obtain acceptance and moral rationality for his life. Slaughterhouse-Five remarkably testifies to war as a collective folly, and an audacious sense of vanity born from the human psyche, only yielding a reaction that speaks nothing, and everything, “Poo-Tee-weet?” in alignment with Kubrick’s “Hi There!” inscribed on the nuclear bombs. Thus, the balance between Vonnegut’s true war memoir and his fictional mediation to storify an atrocity presents the audience with a range of new, intense insights and dualities that reflect the workings of a diverse mode of perception.
The crisis of warfare and the worship of a horrific technology embracing annihilation at the hands of deranged institutions led to the emergence, glorification and the rationalization of mass killing. Kubrick captures the resonating attitudes of a “missile gap” and “mutually assured destruction,” as his use of caricature places the deranged political figures on pedestals of minimal detail. The true horrors of a 1960’s ideology are evaded to the words “mineshaft gap” coupled with Kubrick’s employment of cinematography in three settings – the air force base, the war room, and the B-52 which achieve the political development of which modern war has crafted: the bureaucratization of terror. The layered generalization that is sublimely employed by Kubrick in the war room, embodies powerful figures becoming disconnected from our nature and civilization – revealing a new mode of perceiving governments in the modern limelight, that radically altered traditional concepts of war. It becomes apparent that the strategic impulses of the military commanders are not what the audience should be pondering upon, but rather the need for a revaluation of the military industrial complex and its key bodies. Madness shaped the absurdity of Jack D. Ripper’s “monstrous commie plot” and from deranged internal compulsion, he delivers a unilateral decision to act on a nuclear master plan. Kubrick’s gripping intervals and the collective cloudy haze presented in the film contradict the therapeutic tones of the phone call by the American president to the Soviet premier, in apology for the fact that one of his generals “went a little funny in the head,” reflecting the heightened fear born from the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, invoking the establishment of a “hotline” from the White House to Kremlin. Thus, Kubrick remarkably heightens the necessity to reevaluate and challenge the harmful reverberations that coexist with multilateral institutions and advancing technology.
Additionally, Vonnegut also confronts the irrational institutions that dictate mass slaughter, yet contrarily in a subjective manner that protects the responder’s psyche from unbearable matter. By embracing the origin of traditional narrative conventions: Vonnegut invents an innovation that plays on time, plot and story through a heart wrenching setting. Changes in Vonnegut’s milieu were reflected in his diversified alteration of Kubrick’s work, as exposed in the looming, ever culminating context that compelled both composer’s compositions. In 1969, in the midst of the dismal Vietnam War, Vonnegut’s work acted as a cautionary and critical omen. Slaughterhouse-Five made a forceful statement about the campaign in Vietnam, drastically intensifying and developing Kubrick’s fear of a nuclear holocaust, as the Vietnam war honored incendiary machinery that was, again, being employed against vulnerable civilians in the name of irresolute cause. Through this, Vonnegut channeled a new mode of perception that changed our perspective as an audience on the human condition as a cause of warfare. Within Vonnegut’s disengaged tone and use of anadiplosis through, “So it goes,” we are kept aware that the text is a product of a troubled mind. Through an anecdotal tone, Vonnegut remarkably alludes to the boundless destruction that he lived through but was so drastically undermined; “…he told me about the concentration camps, and about how the Germans had made soap and candles out of the fat of dead Jews and so on. All I could say was, “I know, I know. I know.” Despite Vonnegut’s fragmentation, he profoundly adapts Kubrick’s tone to present an authentic response to one of the most remarkable arguments against war and disorder in all it’s integrity.
Both Slaughterhouse-Five and Dr Strangelove offer visions of serious, yet comical counterparts to express the condemning voice of a generation exasperated with corrupt nations of tongue tied mimics in a war ridden milieu. While Dr Strangelove presents a dehumanized world where the military code of amorality strips away natural empathy, Vonnegut has a shaped a similar image of a fragmented death of individualism in the midst of mass suffering. My own view is that it is undemanding to avoid tragedy, yet there is eminent resonance in confronting it. Indeed, war is traumatizing and serves no purpose but to break humanity into casts of mind, yet it is obligatory for us to address such affliction.
Despite differing starkly in form, time of composition and the overriding tone with which their messages are conveyed, both Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove, and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, depict genuine fears for the future. By examining the cautionary warnings that these texts exhibit, and bringing the contextual qualities of both texts to the fore, a fundamental link can be drawn between the didactic concerns communicated, a new mode of perception that radically diversified traditional concepts of time and morality and a reevaluation of ultimately flawed multilateral institutions: for civilization and humanity.
Post-war Effects in Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
The Horrifying Effects of War
War is something that humankind has gone through since the Homo sapiens came around. Most of these wars have sacrificed a lot of people who go off and fight for the states involved. This is because of conflict between the two countries in which results in the two countries going into war to decide these matters. In Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, Slaughterhouse—Five, it talks about Billy Pilgrim and World War II. With this being said, Slaughterhouse Five is an anti-war book because of the after-effects of war.
When two or more states go into war, especially a hot war, it requires states to send their own countrymen into battle. The effects of when these soldiers are in the battlefield can be especially damaging to the mental image because of the horrifying effects of war. When Billy was with Roland and the scouts, “Billy stood there politely, giving the marksman another chance. It was his addled understanding that of the rules of warfare that the marksman should be given another chance” (Vonnegut 42). It is obvious that when the opponent tries to shoot Billy, he should dodge it to try and survive. It is not normal for any soldier in war to give their opponents the okay to shoot at them again. Another case of when Billy’s mind went haywire was when he was with the surgeon. When the surgeon asked Billy a question, that was when “Billy looked at him vaguely. Billy had lost track momentarily of where he was or how he had gotten there. He had no idea that people thought he was clowning” (Vonnegut 193). This time around, Billy was completely out of it with time and location. He was also oblivious to the fact that, what probably was his actions, that caused other people to think that he was acting funny.
This goes on to later on in the novel when Billy was involved in a plane crash. After the plane crashed and when Billy had to get surgery for the fractured skull, he “was unconscious for two days after that, and he dreamed millions of things, some of them true. The true things were time–travel” (Vonnegut 200). In this case, Billy is time-travelling because the mind seems to bring up memories of moments in a situation which was a very depressing and scary moment, such as the war. As a result, and whether this would be Billy’s first war or not, the behavior by which Billy is acting upon is not normal for anyone in war including after the war ended.
On the other hand, though, why this novel does not present itself as an anti-war book goes as the following. At one point during the early part of the war, Ronald Weary was trying to get Billy out of the way of those shots fired. The first time, Billy moved out of the road when Weary cussed at him to get out of the road. Then came the second time Billy was stuck in another situation, Weary had,
‘saved [his] life again, you dumb bastard,’ Weary said to Billy in the ditch. He had been saving Billy’s life for days, cursing him, kicking him, slapping him, making him move. It was absolutely necessary that cruelty be used, because Billy wouldn’t do anything to save himself (Vonnegut 43).
Obviously, Billy was unaware of what he was doing, and even though Weary had to discipline Billy for the sake of his own safety, Billy already has a pre-existing condition coming into the war that caused him to be acting and behaving in the way he is even though he already had been in World War II. Even though it is hard to deal with coping through any traumatic experience Billy had gone through, especially post-traumatic stress disorder, it may be even harder to cope with it since he is fighting his war with Weary and the three musketeers.
When Billy is going through to cause him to behave oddly is called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or shortened to PTSD. PTSD is this psychological shock that typically is associated with after-effects of any traumatic experience. In Billy’s case, being in the war and previous wars really had impacted his mindset. PTSD, coming from a war sense, is because there are a lot of cases where soldiers experience a lot of traumatic experiences during the time that they are in war. This can impact their behavior in many ways, each person is different with the severity.
Where was when the surgeon was trying to get Billy to answer him. This was because the surgeon “was demanding some sort of satisfaction. Billy was mystified. Billy wanted to be friendly, to help, if he could, but his resources were meager” (Vonnegut 193). According to what Billy was trying to do, it seemed like he was trying to get out of the situation when obviously, there are horrors like this where Billy had to face during World War II which factored into the post-traumatic stress disorder. Also, being in the slaughterhouse itself, this was a place where “it was going to serve as a home away from home for one hundred American prisoners of war” (Vonnegut 194). Just like any place where prisoners of war were treated, including slaughterhouse five, it is expected that the prisoners of war would be expected to be treated poorly with the horrors that came along with being a prisoner of war. Sometimes, they can be treated so poorly, especially during the second world war, and that, as a result, is another contribution to post-war behavior because of how they were treated while in custody. Even though it may seem like there are reasons why war is inevitable for these particular reasons, including more, war can cause after-effects which veterans can have that can cause behavior changes for a long time.
The main theme that is drawn out of the novel is that the post-war effects can have a huge impact on veterans. In Billy’s case, it was occurrent throughout the work that he was unaware of what he was doing in any given situation and at any given time. It is evident that Billy behaves in a very unusual manner a lot of the time, whether he is at home, war, or even with the Tralfamadorians that he always brings up. Plus, Vonnegut mentions that Billy had time travelled after the surgery. With PTSD, from the war prospective, there can be some flashbacks that can be associated with the dangers of trying to avoid weapons to the passing of some comrades during the war. With all this coming from PTSD that Billy is experiencing, it really comes to show how war can affect veterans coming out of war, hence the reason why Slaughterhouse – Five is an anti-war novel.
Issues of the Contemporary World in Slaughterhouse Five Novel
Slaughterhouse Five, a beautifully written anti-war novel by Kurt Vonnegut, has been under fire by parents and teachers across America. Throughout the book, Vonnegut discusses the shocking truth in human nature by illustrating the world of Billy Pilgrim, a PTSD victim who suffers from recurring alien abductions. Many people oppose this book being taught in schools due to its graphic content; however, it should continue to be taught because it provides students with background that they would otherwise not receive. Slaughterhouse Five should be taught so students will know about the devastating effects of war rather than the glorified versions they see on television, so they are more familiar with the direction that the world is headed in, and because students are never given the opportunity to read books with actual meaning due to the social constraints imposed upon ourselves.
Slaughterhouse Five should be taught in schools across America so students will have a better understanding of the effects of war. Throughout the novel, Vonnegut illustrates the physical and mental destruction of the war by retelling the events of World War II through the eyes of Billy Pilgrim. Modern kids are unaware of the impact war can have because they have not had first-hand experience of one. Kids believe that they know everything about war, when really, they only know about the glorified versions seen on movies. To them, war is a time of valor and heroism, when in reality, war is a time of suffering and of constant fear of death. Along with the fear of life and physical pain, veterans also have to deal with mental fallout, such as Billy’s. “Billy’s condition is, on one level, a symbol of shock, confusion, and dislocation, and desire for escape that result from the horrible experiences of war” (Cox). This condition is referred to as post traumatic stress disorder, and it is a direct result of war. Although not directly expressed, it can easily be inferred that Billy suffers from this due to the recurrence of alien abductions. Billy may have been held captive at Dresden for a year, but he was held captive for life in his head. Students would not be able to relate to the pain and suffering without having heard first hand experience about one; ergo, this novel should be taught so they know just how devastating war can be and so they might try and prevent future ones from occurring.
Slaughterhouse Five should also be taught in schools across America because it gives perspective to the direction that the world is headed in. Every day without us even knowing, the world becomes darker and darker. “Vonnegut’s anti-war fiction illustrates war machine and time machine that produce thoughtless machine-like humans… Vonnegut’s dark picture criticizes our contemporary world and the devastative direction in which we are headed” (Babaee). This novel comments on cybernetic nature by suggesting that we are more like intelligent machine than we are human. We claim to adopt free will to justify our decisions, when in reality we feel helpless while making them. “America has adopted the Tralfamadorian philosophy which justified apathy. We have lost our sense of individuality; we feel powerless, helpless, and impotent. We consider ourselves the ‘listless playthings of enormous forces’” (Vanderwerken). Americans justify the suppression of emotion because they feel that life is pre-determined, just as the Tralfamadorians did, and that they can’t follow their own path but merely the path that has already been paved for them. This mentality is disastrous. The ability to think for oneself is what differentiates humans from machine, but by thinking that one cannot control their own decisions, they surrender the cybernetic system. The machine-like system responsible for dystopia in America is already omnipresent, we just have to be conscious not to be trapped in it. Students are most likely unaware of this, therefore, they should read this novel so they are familiar with the human behaviors that may one day be the bane of our contemporary existence.
Lastly, Slaughterhouse Five should be taught in schools across America because students are never presented with the opportunities to read books with actual meaning in class. The books we read in school are said to have application in the real world when in reality they only speak of nonsense that will most likely not be remembered years down the road. “The curriculum is arranged so the student never reads about drugs, liquor, love, or lIfe. This leaves him with pets and mountains. He can walk into a class on physics or math and expect to learn something real. But in English and social studies he encounters a never-never land in which the books have little relationship to life at the corner or life behind the barn” (Veix). Schools claim to prepare us for life, but the books they have us read do not reflect that. Ergo, Slaughterhouse Five should be taught because it allows students to see the dark side of life they will be forced to face rather than the wonderlands they were raised on. Vonnegut addresses war and alcohol throughout the entirety of the novel, and kids need to know about harsh topics such as these before entering the real world. The books already implemented in the curriculum only skip the surface of these topics, resulting in kids lacking depth of knowledge in areas that may at one point be crucial to their wellbeing.
Slaughterhouse Five is a great novel that illustrates the issues of the contemporary world. Kids everywhere are entering the real world without essential knowledge that could easily be taught in a book as such. It should be taught in schools across America so students will be more familiar with the devastating effects of war, so they know about the direction that the world is headed in, and so they can read a book that has actual meaning. Perhaps if this novel was taught with more rigor, students would not struggle with adversity as much as those in the past, and perhaps war may come to a halt.
The Meaning of the Structure in Vonnegut’s Novel
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.
The Countercultural Discourse of Vonnegut’s Novel
Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five is, at first glance, nothing more than a science fiction tale of one man’s travels to another planet and his ability to view his life out of chronological order because of his power to time travel. There are too many similarities to historical facts, human philosophies, and Vonnegut’s own life for readers to believe that this novel about another world was created solely for entertainment, though. In looking at the deeper meaning behind this piece, we see that the physical setting is always Earth, and that the travels that Billy Pilgrim takes are simply hallucinations, created either from chemicals or Pilrgim’s head injuries. By understanding Vonnegut’s experiences with war and placing the publication of the novel during the late 1960’s, readers are able to see that the author is condemning not only the Vietnam War, but also the counterculture movement that ignored the problems of the war.
Vonnegut’s condemnation of war comes quickly in this piece, as the book begins with the author’s narration about the creation of the piece. In attempting to create a novel about his personal experiences in World War II, Vonnegut visits one of the men that was with him in Dresden, Bernard O’Hare. During their conversation, O’Hare’s wife, Mary, becomes upset because she believes that Vonnegut will glorify the thrill of victory over the enemy, furthering the romantic fascination the man has with war. She argues that they “were just babies then,” robbed of their innocence and forced to witness unnecessary violence that either haunted them or had been repressed so much that they forgot a great deal about the experience. The writer agrees with her view and pledges that the book will not celebrate the war.
Chapter Two begins the saga of Billy Pilgrim. Quickly, we are informed of the parallels between Vonnegut and Pilgrim, such as their identical ages and their imprisonment in Dresden. Pilgrim, though, has a special gift, given to him by the Tralfamadorians, which is the ability to travel throughout time. Here, the Tralfamadorians are supposed to represent a society following the ideals of the counterculture, who were given extrasensory powers by the drugs that they ingested. It is possible to hypothesize that Billy’s first encounter with the Tralfamadorians was a result of the half-full bottle of champagne that he drank at his daughter’s wedding. Whether or not the drink was spiked with a psychoactive substance is debatable, but Vonnegut does support this conclusion by incorporating the “Drink Me” phrase (73), reminiscent of a scene in from the movie Alice in Wonderland, created in 1951. Remember that during the late 1960’s, the story was used by the counterculture to illustrate the hypocrisy they felt that parents had, for parents taught the story which was laced with numerous drug references, yet taught children that drugs were bad (ex. “White Rabbit” by the Jefferson Airplane).
Pilgrim’s trip to Tralfamadore resembles a visit to a counterculture haven such as the Haight-Ashbury district. Just as Billy and Montana are put in a zoo, tours of San Francisco in the late 1960’s included the famous hippie haven, where tourists witnessed a culture that was entirely foreign to them. The Tralfamadorian guide that talks to Billy upon his arrival reminds readers of a leader like Ken Kesey, especially since he is referred to as a guide. This is the same term that is used when Kesey refuses to be the guide for Sandy’s unauthorized trip in the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. (EKAAT, 97) In addition to the similarity in wording, the Tralfamadorian philosophies also resemble those of the counterculture. Echoing Kesey’s sentiments at Berkeley, the guide tells Billy to close his eyes to the bad. He tells him that there is no such thing as free will, for one’s life is planned, thus there is no reason to try to stop it. Instead, one must go with the flow, experiencing whatever time period he is taken to as it occurs. Both good and bad experiences may be recalled, but the Tralfamadorian informs Billy that the trick is to “Ignore the awful times, and concentrate on the good ones.” (117)
Since the book is semi-autobiographical, one wonders whether Vonnegut experimented with any psychoactive substances and hallucinated this alternate reality. Regardless, the novel shows even if he did, both he and Billy do not agree with the Tralfamadorian’s helpless views. One of the first indicators is that Billy is taken against his will and placed in a cage. He is not given the option of returning to Earth and is only released after his captors grow bored of him. Another example of Billy’s refusal to accept Tralfamadorian beliefs is the long quotation found on the wall of his office (60), taken from the inscription on Montana’s locket, which serves both as a reminder of her and as Billy’s belief that some parts of the future can be changed if one has the courage to do so.
The creation of the world is done solely as a condemnation of counterculture values, as it emphasizes the hopelessness of their views. By repeatedly using the phrase “So it goes” following any bad situation, Vonnegut mocks those who simply accept or ignore the bad experiences that life brings us. His use of the phrase so frequently annoys the reader, especially in a situation such as the inevitable destruction of Tralfamadore.(117) In addition, the destruction of the planet emphasizes that society can not survive if it is unwilling to change.
In following typical structure for science fiction pieces, Vonnegut makes the aliens the misguided race and uses them to illustrate the views that he disputes. In a technique that I have seen used in other science fiction pieces, such as film Planet of the Apes, the aliens are really our current civilization if societal trends continue. His preoccupation with the Children’s Crusade, an event that occurred 750 years earlier, shows that society has not taken the courage to change its violent ways. The author sees the counterculture philosophy of shirking responsibility and going with the flow to be even more detrimental, since society is already showing its inability to change based upon history. In addition, by showing that the world was ended by experimentation with new fuels, much as the United States and Russia had been experimenting with atomic weapons at the same time as the book’s publication, Vonnegut expresses his urgency for societal change. In this respect, since the Tralfamadorians represent a human civilization enveloped in counterculture ideals, the novel is Vonnegut’s plea to society to take notice of what is happening and change it by ending war before mankind destroys itself.
How War Leads to Destruction in Slaughterhouse-five by Kurt Vonnegut
“Peace is a road to happiness and the future. War is a road to destruction and death.” – Debasish Mridha. It is well known the conflict between different nations or states, demolishes your own nation, affecting the development of the economy, takes away the life from innocent individuals. Billy Pilgrim as a soldier in World War II has gone through War and has experienced similar events that have led to affecting his entire life significantly. In this novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut Billy had no answers, he was shaken from this devastating event. In addition, the central topic will be towards and the bombing of Dresden and how “War Leads to Destruction”.
Throughout this book, Billy Pilgrim is shown travelling to the Dresden bombing, back to his birthplace and to the planet Tradlafamdor in an inconsistent order. Firstly, the innocent community and residents of Dresden were harmed in the bombing, Billy stated that Dresden looked like the surface of the moon, “Dresden was like the moon now, nothing but minerals. The stones were hot. Everybody else in the neighbourhood was dead”. This was due to the destruction the allied forces had caused by the bomb and taken many lives of unwanted and guiltless human beings that were not supposed to be taken. In addition, prisoners of war from many lands came together to help with the digging of dead bodies, as quoted “Began the first corpse mine in Dresden”. Billy and other war prisoners helped to clean up the remains of Dresden and more than 25,000 people who died there, Billy observes the sadistic and cruelty of the globe once the city gets bombed. To add more, it was said in the book that the “bodies were liquefied, and the stink was like mustard and roses gas”. This quotation really makes me smell how the actual scene would smell.
Also, Billy encounters the Dresden bombing with acknowledgment and unhappiness instead of aggression, pain. Never in this novel was Billy seen to be in pain or aggressive with anything. Also, “135,000 people died as the result of an air attack with conventional weapons.” If Hundreds of thousands of faultless people died, imagine how many people got injured during this horrific event, just like Billy and how it is a significant event that has impacted his life ever since. However, This connects to the theme “War Leads to Destruction” because Dresden was left demolished, many faultless individuals lost their lives and left the city was left unavailable to recover affecting deep into their economy. One of the book’s most popular lines is ‘So it goes,’ stated whenever a biotic thing died. It makes him able to forgive anyone, and he never appears to become angry throughout the novel and proves himself as acceptive and deeply passive. The quotation “So it goes,” was stated by Tralfamadorians whenever they saw a corpse, they were described as “they were two feet high, and green, and shaped like plumber’s friends”. To them, death is simply a foul condition at a specific moment in one’s existence. Billy Pilgrim currently views death in identical means, I think this is because Billy learned from them when the aliens took him to Tralfamador to exhibit him in a zoo. “I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is ‘So it goes’”. This quotation proves that Billy has learnt “So it goes” from the Tralfamadorians. This statement was mostly on every other page, popped up a lot. This proves that there were a lot of killings, and destruction moments which clearly links to the thesis “War leads to Destruction”. The destruction has left a deep cut in Billy’s head. “Father, Father, Father- said Barbara, What are we going to do with you? Are you going to force us to put you where your mother is?”. Billy’s own daughter Barabara was tired of his craziness, everyone was. So she was warning him to be put where his mother was, in an old people’s home called Pine Knoll. Barabara even states that her father Billy is crazy about his stuff, “It’s all just crazy”. “He has seen his birth and death many times, he says and pays random visits to all the events in between.” When the world is quite enough for birds to be heard, Billy knows that the war is over, and peace has returned. That is when he hears a bird “One bird said to Billy Pilgrim, ‘Poo-tee-weet?’”.
Once again everything is quite enough for birds to be heard, as quoted on page 19 in chapter one, “It is so short and jumbled and jangled, Sam, because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead, never say anything or want anything ever again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds. And what do the birds say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like “Poo-tee-weet?”. To add more, the author had foreshadowed how the book was going to end when Billy quoted “It ends like this: Poo-tee weet?”. This quotation explains how at the ends of every massacre, you are able to hear the sound of birds tweaking. This ties into the theme “War leads to Destruction” because war has to end someday, and that day is filled with peace and silence To conclude, now without a doubt it is known that “War Leads to Destruction”.
Representation Of Toxic American Masculinity In Slaughterhouse-Five By Kurt Vonnegut
‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ is a science fiction novel written by Kurt Vonnegut. The author of this novel wrote about the bombing in Dresden during the World War II. The author of this novel witnessed as American Prisoner of War and he was able to survive by hiding in slaughterhouse. This novel has two narratives, first narrative specifies the Billy meeting with Roland weary and their capture by the Germans, their transfer to the POW camp and then to Dresden city. In the second narrative of novel, Billy Pilgrim travels through time, from his war experience to young age and from young age to his post-war experience and alien kidnapping. After reading the novel it is possible to analyze the characters of Bertram Copeland Rumfoord, Wild Bob, and Roland Weary as characters which represent the toxic American masculinity.
At the first, Bertram Copeland Rumfoord is a 70 years old Harvard professor. As he is older at age, but he is very energetic from his physical strength. “He had been honeymooning with his fifth wife when he broke his leg. Her name was Lily. Lily was twenty-three”. That phrases from the story clears the strength and masculinity of that man Rumerfoord. He has broken his leg in skiing accident in Vermont at the same time when the Billy has his plane crash. Both of them get injured and they are sharing same room in the hospital. Rumfoord worked on the history of the United States Army Corps in Second World War force and he is remarkably fascinated in investigating the raid in Dresden. When the Rumfoord and Billy are in hospital, Rumfoord cannot believes that Billy was actually there, and he thoughts Billy is just a useless waste of space. He considers the Billy as vegetable who is repeating what he has hears. The most crucial thing about the Rumfoord is that he is kind of superman: a respected Harvard Professor, author and an athletic who cannot deem that anyone could be pitiful as Billy who could have nothing to contribute to the world. At the end, he determines that Billy was possibly at the Dresden; still he had no interest to talk Billy about his experiences. He has mindset that bombing in Dresden was necessary even the Billy has said that was not required and he is repeating his opinion about the bombing repeatedly. He is overly suspicious about the bleeding hearts imitating that the air forces have done wrong thing by causing so many civilian deaths. He wants to celebrate the Dresden Bombing as “a howling success”.
Secondly, Wild Bob is American infantry colonel who loses his entire regiment in the World War II. Wild Bob meets Billy as a prisoner of the war. He is extremely sick, suffering from double pneumonia because of that disease he imagines Billy as member of his regiment and gives him a moving speech. He asked Billy about his outfit by saying “You are from the Four-fifty-First?” and Billy replied “Four-fifty-First what”. When the Billy replied to his question that he belongs to “infantry regiment”, he quoted out tearfully “It’s me boys! It’s Wild Bob!”. That are the words that he always to hear from his troops. This phrases from the novel examines that Wild bob wants to be Good leader and he has good leadership skills. Some of his words becomes refrain repeated in the novel, these words are “’If you’re ever in Cody, Wyoming, just ask for Wild Bob!’ I was there”. Something is terrible about the pointiness of Wild Bob in this novel as he is speaking his dying words to a boy who does not belong to his own regiment. His death in novel resembles that the big issues of the World War II- Nazis, fascism and anti-Semitism that have passed by the certain solders. Eventually, Roland Weary is eighteen years old American Solider and his childhood is unhappy that he has spent mostly in Pittsburgh. He meets Billy in Europe before being captured by the Germans. He is obsessed with becoming a great hero and he also obsesses over violence. When the Billy is in danger, Weary hopes that by saving Billy from danger he could gain his desired heroic status. Roland is mean, dominated with feeling of sufferings and unconfident about his unpopularity throughout his life, “He had been unpopular in Pittsburgh and always being ditched in Pittsburgh by people who did not want with him”. Roland weary is antisocial and bullying solider from his character. When two scouts lose their patience and leaves Billy and Weary behind, he blames Billy for this happening. Even when the Germans comes to them, Weary has pointed out his gun on the Billy. These traits in the novel shows the cruelness and meanness of his character. The Germans themselves are confused about that how one American ha pointed out his gun on other American in German Territory. Since his childhood, he has crazy, sexy and murderous relationship with the people and people usually beats him for his nature. Roland weary seems the war as an adventure and becomes happy because he did not want to alone anymore. Roland is forced to give his boots to the Nazi solider that he has wear for the war and makeshift clogs are given in return. That clogs cut his feet and he get gangrene (infection) and eventually he dies because of this infection. Before his death he asks someone kills to Billy because he blames for his situation, while Billy pitiful for his situation and feels sorry for him. Roland weary cruelness, dumbness and nastiness has shown clearly in the novel.
In conclusion, the characters of the novel Slaughterhouse-five, Bertram Copeland Rumfoord, Wild Bob, and Roland Weary has well represented the toxic American Masculinity. The character Copeland is older at age still more energetic and have young girlfriend, Bob wants to be good leader among his troops and Weary is so cruel, mean and wants heroism. The novel suspects the readers to figure out whatever is truth and what’s is science fiction that makes this writing more attentive to them.
Literary Analysis of Slaughterhouse-five by Kurt Vonnegut
In Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut explains his own encounters as prisoner of war from the Germans. The novel illustrates Vonnegut’s efforts to adjust with his individual war encounters. For instance, like Vonnegut, the protagonist Billy Pilgrim, is taken hostage by the Germans and shipped to Dresden, where he witnesses the demolition of the city by the American firebombers.
Slaughterhouse-Five, is written mainly from the point of view of the protagonist Billy Pilgrim, and is introduced through the omniscient narration of the author. The novel’s structure is nonlinear and is frequently exchanges between different time periods. Although the author attempted a linear narrative, Vonnegut believed the only sufficient way to narrate the story was to shift around through different time periods. In the novel Slaughterhouse-Five the author, Kurt Vonnegut, touches on many themes, such as the destruction of war, the unhappiness of alienation, and the question of free will, within the novel’s unique structure.
Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five, deals with numerous different messages, but most of all, it’s a novel about the catastrophe of war. The author believes that war is not a mission for glory, but is a disaster, and anyone who seeks glory in war is a fool. Despite the fact that World War II is considered by most as a justified conflict that defeated Nazi Germany, Vonnegut views the hardships from victims on all sides. For example, the author describes an “American soldier executed by the Germans for looting to the 135,000 German civilians killed in the Dresden firebombing”. This conveys how the writer isn’t biased, and realizes how war has an effect on everyone involved. The terrors of war are so dramatic and traumatizing that “Vonnegut doubts his ability to write about them”. Within the first chapter of the novel, Vonnegut mentions that Slaughterhouse-Five is “so short and jumbled and jangled, because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre”. The only answer to the destruction of war, is a deep isolation and withdraw from others. Alienation may be interpreted as, being incapable of socializing with other individuals and with society. In that case, Billy is an extremely isolated individual. Billy Pilgrim is unable to bond with other individuals, because Billy is living from one minute of his life to another. Instead of living life day to day. This prevents Billy from constructing the constant set of exposure with others, which would have aided him into forming relationships with other individuals. The protagonist is a very alienated individual because of the horrific experiences during his imprisonment by the Germans. Although the protagonist position is accurate in a way of being a fictional time machine, however, Billy is legitimately passing through different time periods. This is also an example of a metaphor in that being isolated and alienated comes from the effects of war. The catastrophe of war is a major key source on why Billy Pilgrim is so isolated from society.
Possibly the closest friendship the protagonist has in Slaughterhouse-Five is with Kilgore Trout. Mr. Trout is an isolated individual as well, and wrote novels about people experiencing time travel. Which led Billy to relate his problems with him. Kurt Vonnegut introduces the idea of free will through the Tralfamadorians. One of the main important messages of Slaughterhouse-Five is the mention of free will. This idea is expressed from the traditions of the Tralfamadorians, for them “time is not a linear progression of events, but a constant condition”. The Tralfamadorians have a feeling that all periods of time have already happened. The author describes that “All beings exist in each moment of time like bugs in amber” a statement that not a thing can change. The Tralfamadorians can exchange from different time periods, like the protagonist. The Tralfamadorians don’t believe death is very meaning or impactful. They believe that when someone dies, they’re alive in the past since they can travel back in time. The Tralfamadorians answer to someone’s passing is “so it goes” which is “a phrase Vonnegut writes at every point in the novel where death is mentioned”. The aliens recommend that the protagonist should “concentrate on the happy moments of life, and to ignore the unhappy ones”. The Tralfamadorians advise Billy this because they believe that you cannot change the time. That Billy should accept his fate, and that he is defenseless to change it.
One of the most distinguished concepts about Slaughterhouse-Five is its unusual structure. Slaughterhouse-Five’s main character, Billy Pilgrim, has experienced a major airplane accident, and is “unstuck in time”. At any moment during his life, Billy travels through different time periods of his life. That Slaughterhouse-Five, is a “masterpiece of storytelling technique, a blend of first person and limited-omniscient narratives in which the author easily manipulates four levels of time and full of characters at once”. Vonnegut, as both the storyteller, and author is able to describe his own opinions and reflections through the structure of the novel. He writes about his own experiences when “he relates the saga of an American soldier captured during the Battle of the Bulge, and the imprisoned by the Germans in Dresden”. The unusual structure is represented through the protagonist alienating himself from society. Billy Pilgrim’s experiences of war are mostly told in a chronological order. However these experiences are constantly being broken by the protagonist traveling to different moment of his life. In this case, the structure features the similarity of Billy Pilgrim’s prisoner experiences to his life, and the deep isolation the protagonist feels after Dresden.
Slaughterhouse-Five relates to many different themes. With the destruction of war, Vonnegut experiences a massacre. The author has witnessed the death of many innocent people. Kurt Vonnegut doesn’t just feel for one side of the war, but for everyone because he realizes that war is a disaster for everyone involved. He believes that war isn’t a mission for fame, but is a disaster for everyone. The author experiences the same exact things Billy Pilgrim had. Kurt Vonnegut was “captured by the Germans in the Battle of Bulge” just like the protagonist did. Kurt Vonnegut describes how Slaughterhouse-Five, is his anti-war novel. To convey that war has a major effect on people. Which would cause people isolate themselves from society. Which is another main message in the novel. The protagonist is a very alienated individual because of the horrific experiences during his imprisonment by the Germans. Which causes Billy Pilgrim to travel to different moments of his life. Traveling in time damages his ability to build relationships with other individuals. The protagonist travels in time to prevent him from remembering the destruction of Dresden. The Tralfamadorians believe that time cannot be changed. The aliens try to persuade Billy to only focus on the good times because there is nothing to do about the bad ones. Kurt Vonnegut describes how there is no such thing as free will. That all periods of time have already happened, and that your fate is destined. All of these messages are all tied into the novel’s unique structure. The experiences of the war are told in a chronological order, however, these experiences are constantly being interrupted by Billy traveling through different parts of his life. The first chapter of the novel is told by the author. He expresses how he came up with the idea of writing this anti-war novel. Although the rest of the novel is told by Billy Pilgrim. Through this, Vonnegut writes his own opinions and ideas through the structure of the novel. Traveling through different moments in the structure has caused Billy to not have built relationships with others. This has caused him to feel isolated and neglected from society.
The novel Slaughterhouse-Five, covers many different themes. However, the main ones are the catastrophe of war, the sadness of being isolated, and realization of no free will, which all ties into the novel’s unique structure.
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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