Like Vonnegut, who speaks in his own voice in several places to confirm that much of the novel is based on his wartime experiences, Billy Pilgrim lives through the firebombing of Dresden during World War II. From the beginning of the book, war is presented as both comically and horrifyingly absurd. Billy and his comrades, American and German, are ludicrously inept as soldiers. As the subtitle of the novel indicates, they are children on a gamelike crusade, manipulated by inscrutable forces.
Yet the game is deadly: The destruction of Dresden, a city of no strategic importance, populated only by Germans too old or weak to fight and prisoners of war such as Billy, is senseless but inevitable. Because of the shock of this event, Billy becomes a perpetual prisoner of war, returning again and again in his mind to this scene. Vonnegut’s message is especially powerful as he reminds the reader that the destruction of Dresden is no isolated occurrence: Slaughterhouse-Five was written during the Vietnam War era and alludes frequently to a new generation of Billy Pilgrims and Children’s Crusades.
More than simply a war novel--or, more precisely an antiwar novel--Slaughterhouse-Five is a captivating science fiction story. Scenes from World War II alternate with Billy’s life on exhibition in a kind of zoo on the distant planet Tralfamadore. What little solace or pleasure Billy experiences comes at the hands of the Tralfamadorians, whose calmly fatalistic philosophy seems wise when compared to normal human stupidity and irrationality.
Vonnegut’s style is disjointed and the novel is composed of short vignettes and fragments rather than a fully developed sequential narrative, but this style is purposely unsettling and helps Vonnegut accomplish several key objectives. Billy Pilgrim’s time traveling, his habit of jumping quickly from present to past to future as if they were all simultaneously existing moments, makes him seem odd, even crazy, at first glance. But as the novel progresses, the reader acknowledges more and more that this is the natural way the human mind works. Everyone daydreams, remembers, and fantasizes, and these activities become especially important when a person lives in a world that is highly in need of such imaginative remaking.
Giannone, Richard. Vonnegut: A Preface to His Novels. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1977. Astute reading of Slaughterhouse-Five, marking the biblical references and Vonnegut’s personal testimony. Devotes similar attention to other novels by Vonnegut.
Klinkowitz, Jerome. Kurt Vonnegut. New York: Methuen, 1982. Explains Slaughterhouse-Five as one of Vonnegut’s “personal” novels, as opposed to the earlier ones that adhere to the stricter forms of science fiction. Draws correlations among the Vonnegut novels.
Klinkowitz, Jerome. Slaughterhouse-Five: Reforming the Novel and the World. Boston: Twayne, 1990. A complete study of the novel. Criticism is taken from sources that reviewed Slaughterhouse-Five when it was published. Numerous passages of Slaughterhouse-Five are explained in depth, as well as Vonnegut’s philosophy as it was seen by the reviewers of his time.
Mayo, Clark. Kurt Vonnegut: The Gospel from Outer Space (or, Yes We Have No Nirvanas). San Bernardino, Calif.: Borgo Press, 1977. A short book with considerable insights into Slaughterhouse-Five and other novels by Vonnegut. The wit, sarcasm, and style of Vonnegut is prominent in the writing of this text.
Schatt, Stanley. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Boston: Twayne, 1976. Explores the construction, plot, and structure of Slaughterhouse-Five and considers Vonnegut’s sense of aesthetic distance from the work. Chapters include the contribution of Slaughterhouse-Five to the genre of science fiction and the Tralfamadorian philosophy.
Essay on Slaughterhouse Five
1256 Words6 Pages
Billy Pilgrim is born in 1922 and grows up in Ilium, New York. A funny-looking, weak youth, he does well in high school, then he enrolls in night classes at the Ilium School of Optometry, and is soon drafted into the army. He serves as a chaplain's assistant, is sent into the Battle of the Bulge, and almost gets taken prisoner by the Germans. Just before being captured he first becomes unstuck in time. He sees the entirety of his life in one sweep. Billy is transported with other privates to the beautiful city of Dresden. There the prisoners are made to work for their keep. They are kept in a former slaughterhouse. Billy and his fellow POWs survive in an airtight meat locker. They emerge to find a moonscape of…show more content…
Another is peacetime America, where Billy prospers as an optometrist and pillar of society in Ilium, New York. The last is the planet Tralfamadore, where Billy and his fantasy lover Montana Wildhack are exhibited in a zoo. Each setting corresponds to a different period in Billy Pilgrim’s life, and the story jumps from one setting to another as Billy travels back and forth in time.
The main characters are: Billy Pilgrim is a World War II veteran, a POW survivor of the firebombing of Dresden, a prospering optometrist, a husband, and a father, Billy Pilgrim believes he has "come unstuck in time." Kurt Vonnegut is the author and narrator of the book and in the first chapter reveals that he himself was on the ground as a prisoner of war during the firebombing of Dresden. Roland Weary is a stupid, cruel soldier taken prisoner by the Germans along with Billy. Weary dies of gangrene in a cattle car as the prisoners are being transported from the lines to prison camps. Paul Lazzaro is a soldier in the war and the man responsible for Billy's death. Edgar Derby is a former schoolteacher who is also taken prisoner and sent to Dresden. Derby is sentenced to die by a firing squad for taking a teapot.
Eliot Rosewater occupies the bed near Billy in the nonviolent ward of an asylum after Billy has a post-war breakdown. Kilgore Trout is the bitter, unappreciated author of clever science fiction novels, which never sell