IntroductionKurtVonnegut Jr. is one of the most famous writers of postmodernism. His writing ishailed as easily approachable but profound – simple structures dealing withserious questions about the society while blurring the lines between aspects ofthe real world and science fiction. (Farrell 3) Slaughterhouse-Five is, perhaps, Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
‘s most famouswork as well as one of the most famous postmodernist works, and it deals withthe remnants in the society of what was one of the most harrowing events of the20th century. It is partially also meant to be autobiographical, asthe writer intends to portray the Bombing of Dresden as he saw when he was aprisoner of war, too. This essay aims to examine in which ways Kurt VonnegutJr. reflects on World War II and what kind of sentiments are represented in thebook. BillyPilgrimThefocal point of Slaughterhouse-Five isBilly Pilgrim whose life the reader gets to see in fragments as Billy travelsthough time, a consequence of being abducted by aliens from Tralfamadore.
Tralfamadorians teach Billy about their beliefs, which heavily rely onpredetermination and examining all events as a singular point in time,happening “all at one time”. (Vonnegut ##) Thisin turn shapes a bigger portion of Billy’s insights and plenty of them taketime throughout the novel to fully develop into a picture that explains Billy’sbackground.Nihilismand fatalism dominate in Billy’s point of view as he is portrayed as a relativelyhelpless person who does not seem to live his life, but his life rather seemsto just kind of happen around him, which includes becoming “unstuck in time”seemingly at random.
Vonnegut does seem to offer a possible explanation for theelements of time travelling, and Billy’s existentialist way of coping: “…theywere trying to re-invent themselves and their universe. Science fiction was abig help.” (##) This is said as Billy and EliotRosewater are being treated at a mental health veteran’s hospital and Rosewaterintroduces Billy to the works of a science fiction writer, Kilgore Trout, whoseems to be a continuous influence on the episodes Billy experiences whiletravelling through time.
Contemporarypsychologists suggest Billy’s case of travelling through time can beinterpreted as PTSD episodes, which are influenced in part by the Kilgore Troutnovels he has read but does not fully remember. (FFFF)This can also account for Billy’s resigned attitude towards life, a copingmechanism where he is only able to sustain if he takes everything that happensas something that must have happened. “So it goes” is by far the most usedphrase in the novel, noted each time death is mentioned, regardless if it iswar related, if it was a group of people, a person or even horses. It happensas if to confirm the thought that death is just what happens and there is notmuch one can do about it. It is taken out of a Tralfamadorian philosophy Billysays he has learnt – “dead person is in bad condition in that particularmoment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments.
Now,when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what theTralfamadorians say about dead people, which is ‘So it goes.'” (Vonnegut ##)Itseems then, that through Billy, Vonnegut is trying to rationalise a battle withthe aftermaths of war. He seems to be exploring what lengths a person might goto, emotionally and mentally, to be able to face both with the past and withlife afterwards. Billy has developed a sort of a detachment from the outsideworld, despite finishing school, being successful at his job, marrying andhaving children.
However, once he is “unstuck in time” he is not much more thanan observer of his life who becoming more and more transfixed with Tralfamadorianviews, to the point where he wants to make other people aware of them, perhapsbecause they have helped him tackle life after he wound up in the veteran’smental hospital after the war. OtherCharacters’ PerspectivesThefirst character that gives a blunt view on the war in the novel is Mary O’Hare,the wife of Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s fellow veteran who has also lived through theBombing of Dresden.
Vonnegut visits his friend and talks about writing a bookon Dresden, which seems to unsettle his friend’s wife. “…then I understood. Itwas war that made her so angry. She didn’t want her babies or anybody else’sbabies killed in wars. And she thought wars were partly encouraged by books andmovies.
” He echoes her sentiment and promises to her: “I’ll call it ‘TheChildren’s Crusade.'”, and true to his promise, that is the subtitle of thebook. (Vonnegut 18) Throughthe character of Billy Pilgrim’s wife, Valencia, as she asks Billy about thewar as they watch a glamorous yacht go past them on their wedding night,Vonnegut tries to in a very general manner comment on the other side of the femaleperspective on war somewhat begrudgingly, but sticking to his conviction thatthe image of war as a noble cause should be destroyed. He writes: “When thebeautiful people were past, Valencia questioned her funny-looking husband aboutwar. It was a simple-minded thing for a female Earthling to do, to associatesex and glamor with war.
” (68)Vonnegutalso supplies views on the war in the war scenes where he through, for example RolandWeary, tries to portray a man who has a heavily glamourised and romanticisedvision of the war in his mind, not unlike those Mary O’Hare fears, only to havehis strength and determination torn apart by the devastating consequences ofthe war.Themost strikingly different insight Vonnegut provides in the story is from BertramCopeland Rumfoord, with whom Billy shared a hospital room after his airplaneaccident. Rumfoord is a historian who is trying to do research on Dresden whoalthough he does acknowledge the devastation in Dresden, also says, as him andBilly share the following exchange: “”It had to be done,” Rumfoord toldBilly, speaking of the destruction of Dresden. “I know,” said Billy. “That’s war.” “I know.
I’m not complaining.” “It must have been hell on the ground.” “It was,” said Billy Pilgrim. “Pity the men who had to do it.”” (Vonnegut 104)Vonnegutis echoing what many historians and people alike did and do use to lessen the destructionthat happens in war when it is against the enemy. It is to justify it as a necessaryside effect of war.
Even more so,Rumfoord specifically also pays mind to the people carrying out the air raidsas well, while only giving the people on the ground a passing thought. KurtVonnegut’s InsightsThroughthe technique of metafiction, Vonnegut is able to be present and to voice histhoughts throughout the book – mostly in the beginning where he dedicates thefirst chapter to his own story about trying to write the novel and in the end. DresdenThroughoutthe entire novel, Vonnegut cannot escape the dreading thought that the Bombingof Dresden is not something that is known or talked about, given the multitudeof the event. A later revision of the numbers provided in the book however putsthe death toll of the Dresden bombings anywhere from about 18,000 to 25,000,significantly less than the estimates at the time of Vonnegut’s writing of thebook. (Beevor 810)