Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut | Teen Ink

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

October 26, 2014
By everlost PLATINUM, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
everlost PLATINUM, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
34 articles 0 photos 16 comments

Favorite Quote:
"When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace." -Jimi Hendrix

Slaughterhouse Five is an American post-war novel written by Kurt Vonnegut. In the book, it becomes clear that the author is trying to convey his disdain for the war. Often calling it the childrens crusade, he wastes no time telling you that this is an anti-war book. This book was well written and effectively showed the negative impacts war can have on returning veterans. As a WWII veteran, Vonnegut is able to provide insight to what really takes place in a war and not just what we are usually told.
“Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time” is how our story begins. Giving fragmented pieces of parts of Pilgrim’s life, we are told his general story. After he is drafted for WWII, he becomes lost and wanders the new German boundary lines. He is captured, along with Ronald Weary, and placed into a group of other POWs. After walking for several days, the group is placed in Schlachthof-fünf, or slaughterhouse five, in Dresden. On some date, Dresden is firebombed. In a group of lone survivors, Billy is eventually rescued after the war ends and returns to America. His adventures are far from over though, as not long after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. This is when Billy Pilgrim becomes “unstuck in time.” Billy Pilgrim died, dies, and always will die February 13th, 1976. However, unlike many people in response to their death, he is at peace with this.
I think this book is an incredibly important piece from its time, as it provides a rare glimpse into what’s really going on in the war. This book doesn’t sugarcoat death either, as it says “so it goes,” after every mention of death. This results in the phrase being repeated an estimated 102 times. Vonnegut refers to the novel as another anti war book, but I think it’s a whole lot more than that. When Harrison Starr, a briefly mentioned movie maker said he might as well write a book about glaciers, he was right. Vonnegut explains this right after, saying “what he meant, of course, was that there would always be war, that they were as easy to stop as glaciers.” However, Starr was incorrect when he said the book was a waste of time. On the contrary, it’s great use of time, and has an excellent turn-out. He opened people’s eyes to “the children’s crusade,” and pointed out how some people “made war look stylish and reasonable, and fun.” Vonnegut was able to use this novel as a clever way to convey a message he so desperately wanted to get out: war is destructive, and doesn’t solve anything.
As the book progresses, it becomes more and more clear and there is no definite pattern to where in Billy Pilgrim’s life the reader will be taken to next. You begin to understand his “constant state of stage fright” he talks about, because both he and the reader never know what part of his life he will have to perform in next. Vonnegut refers to time as something constant, something that always is, always has, and always will happen. He reflects on time in one of the first pages, saying “I asked myself about the present, how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep.” This ideal coincides with the novel’s theme of predestiny, and how self will is imaginary. Perhaps Vonnegut wrote this as a way to rationalize the tragedy of what he and Billy Pilgrim experienced in the bombing of Dresden. If everything relies on fate and fate alone, then there was nothing either of them could have done to prevent it, and maybe that thought would bring them both peace.
Kurt Vonnegut was a troubled man who was even more deeply troubled by witnessing the devastations of WWII. With his satirical voice, dark humor, and beautifully eerie imagery, Vonnegut is able to paint a unique picture of an eyewitness account to something not many people had heard of: the indiscriminate area bombing of Dresden, Germany, in 1945. He not only brought peace to himself and Billy Pilgrim by doing so, but also attention to the tens of thousands of victims of an all too easily forgotten tragedy. I can only hope that when Vonnegut passed away, he gained the feeling that “everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt,” that he hoped would come with death. So it goes.


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