What is Vonnegut’s main purpose in writing Slaughterhouse Five and how effectively does he achieve it?
1968, the year of changes and destruction allowed Vonnegut to reflect upon his war days. Looking back on your wrong doings show that you have regretted on things you have done in the past. Vonnegut expresses this sympathy to Lot’s wife. Lot’s wife looked back as the city of Sodom was being burned by the Gods. She was told by the angels not to look back and as a result she was turned into a pillar of Salt. [A1]Vonnegut believes that even though his novel was a failure, the years he spent trying to write about his experience of the outcome of Dresden. Even if the results would lead to a disaster, Vonnegut wants his readers to not give up their humanity thus the relevance of Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt for looking back. Cause really, people should not be looking back on their past and to simply move forward. However for Vonnegut to come to terms with his Dresden experience he has to look back, write this novel and finally would he be able to move on. Kurt Vonnegut born in Indianapolis, Indiana, wrote articles during his undergraduate years at Cornell regarding issues such as opposing America being part of World War II. However due to Pearl Harbour, Vonnegut joined the U.S. Army in January 1943. Due to his action, it led to his mother’s suicide the following year. Having been placed in the German prison camp, Vonnegut personally witnessed the Dresden Firebombing in February 1945. That experience itself allowed Vonnegut to look back and created Slaughterhouse Five. Billy Pilgrim, the novel’s protagonist character, who is able to travel to certain part of his life uncontrollably. The novel describes Billy’s experience during the Dresden firebombing and his struggles in life before and after the war.
From Slaughterhouse Five, we grasp the feeling that Vonnegut does not view war to be an enterprise of glory and heroism, but an “uncontrolled catastrophe for all” . In Vonnegut’s eyes, he does not see the Germans as enemies but as victims like all the others. He struggles to write about warthe massacre because it is too horrific that he cannot bring himself to write about it. Like he stated earlier in the first chapter, “there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre.[A2]” This is the only answer Vonnegut can come up with in response to the idea of War. Hence he created a character such as Billy who is alienated and distances himself from everyday lifestyle. Billy’s mind may be the only peaceful element within the novel has he becomes ‘unstuck’ in time as he watches his war life pass by like watching those war movies on television, except backwards.
Vonnegut expresses his disdain towards war as he “told [his] sons that they are not under any circumstances to take part in massacres… also told them to not work for companies which make massacre machinery,” Here we see Vonnegut’s only response regarding what he thinks of the notion of war. as to where his stance is. It also shows the fact that Vonnegut has been affected by the war and would not like anyone to experience what he went through. The novel itself is conveyed in madness. The senseless bombing in Dresden was the exact representation of madness. Vonnegut compares his book to an ‘anti-glacier’ book as he believes that war is hard to prevent like glaciers are impossible to be stopped. [A3]
Slaughterhouse Five is known to be an anti-war novel as Vonnegut name the book “The Children’s Crusade”[A4], after a discussion with O’Hare’s wife, Mary. The novel being published in 1969 during the Vietnam War, caused controversy as the novel challenged the idea of militarism and war as well as the entire idea of destruction caused by man made machineries. “It is so short and jumbled and jangled, Sam, because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre… And what do the birds say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like “Poo-tee-weet?”” Vonnegut describes the novel to be all ‘jumbled and jangled’ as when writing about a massacre, nothing good can be said about it except the sound of a bird tweeting. Vonnegut is conveying that a massacre is never good, and massacres are created during the war.
The bird symbolises the silence after a massacre as saying ‘Poo-tee-weet’ seems to be the only appropriate thing to you say, because no words or action could possibly describe the terror of the Dresden firebombing. [A5]The bird sitting outside of Billy’s window at the end of the novel shows that even in the end, there is no answer to show the awful a bombing could be. Some critics believe that the birdsong “merely serves as a simple communication demonstrating that life still exists in a devastated world.” Life after the war exists thus explains Billy’s notion of travelling through time. The war is just one point of Billy’s life that has affected him to how live a normal life after the war. The fact that Vonnegut tells us the first and last lines of the book reflects the way Billy has become unstuck in time.
The novel represents the idea of a person who had just been through a traumatising war experience. Billy can be argued to be Vonnegut within the novel. [A6]After the war he struggles between reality and fantasy; the Tralfamadorians. He believes to be ‘unstuck in time’ and able to travel through different period of his life. “Billy is spastic in time, has no control over where he is going next, and the trips aren’t necessarily fun.” The fact that Billy is able to travel through time but has no control over where he goes next, illustrated the lost feeling Billy felt after the war. Here Vonnegut uses a post-modernism technique of a juxtaposed structured storyline. Not only does the storyline goes from A to Z, but it would start in the middle of Billy’s life, then jump to when he was a boy, and the next jump would be the day Billy is assassinated by a hit man. The fact that Vonnegut uses this technique shows that even the traditional way of writing a novel is not able to convey the “complexity of the experience and reality[A7]” This then ties in with the idea of the ‘Children’s Crusade’ and the schizophrenic manner of the Tralfamadore.
It is said that after experiencing the Dresden bombing, Billy’s way of “coping with the death and destruction”  was the creation of the Tralfamadorians. It represents the feelings Billy felt, the confusion and his view on life. “”If I hadn’t spent so much time studying Earthlings, said the Tralfamadore, “I wouldn’t have any idea what was meant by ‘free will’…Only on Earth is there any talk of free will.”” Vonnegut tries to make the readers understand how it felt like to have just come out of war. The confusion he felt and the lost feeing. In writing this way, Vonnegut is trying to confront his readers the reality of war, how absurd and horrific its reality is. The novel is written to centralise on Billy’s war experiences and his life in such a juxtaposed structured, it illustrates his dislocation and alienation he felt after the war. The passage not only shows that the Tralfamadorians have a “deterministic view”  and that every moment is beyond their control, it’s just that they lack the awareness of the possibility of free will. Here Vonnegut tries to imply the idea of inevitability. How things happen without a logical reason as to why it does. [A8]
The style that Slaughterhouse Five is written very much different to most common novels that other authors uses. The use of post-modernism technique is used such as the repetition of “So it goes” which is used at any relevance of death, making all death whether it is natural, accidental, or intentional to be appearing equal death. The concept was materialized by the Tralfamadorians as their view on death is simply an idea of a person being at a bad state at that particular moment yet alive in other moments of their lives. Also, the fact that the phrase is repeated numerous of times throughout the novel represents the tally of death, hence the tragic inevitability of death. Billy himself “has seen his own death many times” yet he does nothing about it shows that death is inevitable. The idea of death displayed in the novel is “devoid of sadness of blame”  yet it embraces the inevitability of it. Therefore in the novel, Vonnegut displays death to be a small part that everyone would eventually experience in life.
(PROOFREAD!!) The novel has two narrations, a personal narrator and an impersonal narrator.Some critics believe that “Vonnegut’s narration can be seen as both third person and first person.” The personal narrator would be Vonnegut’s voice, where he talks of his story and his personal experience during the war. The impersonal narrator would be of Billy’s where itIt describes a story of a man who fought in World War Two and a survivor of the Dresden firebombing. The entire first chapter is all spoken through Vonnegut’s voice describing his persuasion of producing a book on Dresden. He also appears again in the last chapter, to tell the readers the he, Kurt Vonnegut is the author of this novel. Vonnegut clearly does not want the novel to be one of the stereotypical heroic war stories.[A9] ; “I give you my word of honor: there won’t be a part for Frank Sinatra or John Wayne.” Within each chapter, Vonnegut speaks his own voice about his experience of the war. It can be seen that Vonnegut’s life and convictions is closely connected to the fiction however Vonnegut backs away when the connection has been established, and he lets Billy take over the narration. Throughout the novel, Vonnegut likes to be a character within the novel, “There was a drunk on the other end. Bill could almost smell his breath-mustard gas and roses.” The fact that Vonnegut enters in the story, reminds the readers that the novel is still a story and semi-biographical. This enables Vonnegut to be able to commentate and critic on his own novel, which reminds us that he is there and we are reading a necessarily fictionalized account. In addition, Vonnegut’s appearances throughout the novel highlight the larger reality of Billy’s struggled life.
Slaughterhouse Five consists of many different genres; Science Fiction, History, Autobiography, Polemic, Comedy and Tragedy. With these genres Vonnegut uses them to create a sense about his whole experience. Vonnegut began his writing career as a sci-fi writer, with strong awareness of the history of Science fiction. The Science Fiction used within the book is seen when Billy time travels, and meets aliens such as the Tralfamadorians. By allowing the outer space aliens to question our life on earth, the readers are also able to reflect upon the questions. Kilgore Trout can be seen to represent Vonnegut in the real world, an author who is bound to live in poverty because his literary genre is considered inferior to real literature. The use of the mixed genre in the novel, allowed Vonnegut to express his personal views in regards to war in general, bring in the “comedic sense to illustrate the tragic experience of war.”
Throughout the novel, Vonnegut uses black humor at a situation that is considered too violent, grim or tragic to be laughed about. “Seen backwards by Billy, the story went like this: American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took off backwards from an airfield in England…” the naivety in Billy’s mind to see everything going backwards just shows how horrific the war was. He is able to reverse the entire history backwards therefore resulting to bombs being lifted from the grounds, and people who were killed comes back to life. The use of black humor is not only to show how tragic war was, but to also illustrate the unimaginable and absurdity of the entire idea and how it was impossible to talk of the war without making it tragic. This also relates back to the idea of “military industrial complex” where Vonnegut expressed his thoughts to his sons in regarding being involved with the military or any companies producing ‘massacre machineries’. It suggests that things could be different, that human action and involvement is required at all stages in the process of war making.
Billy believes that even though there is always despair in life, there is always a bright side to everything. Billy believes that he is like the “the bug trapped in amber stone” unable to defy fate or destiny and that we have our entire life laid out for us. There is nothing more we can do about it. It is simply that we, the human beings are physically stuck in our world, and we do not have the choice we think we have. However we are able to ponder about it yet it effects no changes. In chapter nine, we see a locket from Montana Wildhack, Billy’s mate when he was trapped with the Tralfamadorians, “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.” An element of belief, the idea that everything is balance and that everything has already been structured. The novel eventually leads to an acceptance in life, [A10]like Billy, like the Tralfamadorians. The quote “brings to light the central conflict of Billy’s attempt to live a Tralfamadorian life in a human world.” That things, life or events cannot be controlled. This idea tells us that although Vonnegut Billy may be against the idea of destruction and war, there are things out there that cannot be changed. Although complete acceptance can be a problem, Vonnegut Billy has come to a certain acceptance in life in regards to the massacre and life in general.. [A11]
Vonnegut’s main purpose in writing Slaughterhouse Five was to allow his readers to ponder about the real issue at hand, War on Earth. By using the Tralfamadorians has, a disguise for Vonnegut to question society, war, government and even life; the readers have a different aspect in viewing the book and life. The Tralfamadorians says that everything is structured, and that there is no way to prevent war happening on earth. That is why we are ‘stuck in amber'[A12]. The notion of being ‘stuck’ implies the limit we as human beings have in our freedom. I do believe that we may just be stuck as life is generally inevitable, things cannot be controlled, that our fate may have just been laid out for us. Vonnegut may have expressed this notion so that we as the readers tackle the idea of creating our own fate, our way of living life, to be independent and think on our own two feet. He may very well believe that we are all just stuck in amber, and things happen for a reason. Even though they may not be justified nor reasonable, certain things are unavoidable and we should simply learn to accept it. Also that even though war can not be prevented, but to note treat it lightly or view it as a heroic image, as nothing to do with death would appear glorified.
Vonnegut expresses the death numerous of times throughout the novel; ‘so it goes’ which reflects how there is always someone out there dying due to any kind of death. He stressed the volume of destruction he has witnessed. And nothing can be said about a massacre except for a quiet sound of a bird ‘poo-tee-weeting’. We all have a sense of free will within us; we have the right to choose. We should live every moment as though we might not be awake for tomorrow. To cherish the simplest thing in life and never to take things for granted. We only get to live once, unlike Billy Pilgrim who is able to travel through time. I personally believe that Vonnegut may be conveying a message that asks of us to retain our humanity, to not allow anyone or anything control our personalities.