, Research Paper
In the books Slaughterhouse-Five and Mother Night, the author, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. presents the reader with two entirely different plots and story lines. The underlying theme for both books however, is the same; stop mindless war, stop mindless genocide of the human race, stop hatred for one another.
These zealous antiwar sentiments stem from Vonnegut’s personal experiences during World War II. An American ground soldier, Vonnegut was captured and held in the German city of Dresden. During his captivity, the Allied forces fire bombed Dresden, killing 135,000 inhabitants, destroying hospitals, schools, apartment buildings. After the bombing, Vonnegut was assigned the dreadful task of removing and cremating corpses that were rotting throughout city. Recollecting this horrific experience, Vonnegut used his books as a vehicle for emotional truth, namely, hatred for war and murder. The pain of that day was so huge that Vonnegut could not write about it or make reference to it in his books until Slaughterhouse-Five, published in 1969.
The conviction of an antiwar book emerges more evidently in Slaughterhouse-Five. The main character, Billy Pilgrim (Vonnnegut himself), a soldier for the Allies during World War II and just like Vonnegut, is captured by the Nazis and held captive in Dresden where he witnesses the same tragedy as Vonnegut did. Pilgrim, however, comes out of the war a crazed lunatic. He has the hallucination that aliens (tralfamadores) abduct him and make him a exhibit in zoo. He greatly admires these trafalmadores because they have no sense of time, the see things from beginning to end, and therefore have the power of seeing destiny and of time travel. According to Pilgrim, they grant him the power to travel through time and seeing all events from beginning to end. Pilgrim asks them, “Why me?”, they answer to prove their power of seeing things as a whole, “Why you, why anything, there is no why.” Vonnegut uses these trafalmadores as the utopian, ideal society; for they have no wars, because they know how they will end. Vonnegut presents the human race a standard for what the human world should be like. In his last and perhaps most desperate attempt for the human race to reform, Vonnegut pleads, “Robert Kennedy was shot two night before. So it goes. And Martin Luther King Jr. was shot a month before. So it goes. And from Vietnam, the government provides daily body counts created by military science.” Vonnegut implores with the human race; stop war, stop murder, stop hate.
There are many ideologies and social criticisms in Mother Night, therefore the antiwar ideology is not as prevalent and not as easy to see as in Slaughterhouse-Five. In Mother Night, Howard Campbell Jr., the main character, is the main Nazi propagandist during World War II, he is also an American spy. He is being detained in an Israeli jail in 1961 awaiting trial for war crimes. Although he was an American spy, only 3 men knew that, and two of them are dead. When revealed a registered spy, Campbell is liberated by Israeli police. Yet Campbell does not believe in his innocence. His propagandist statements and ideas resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of Jews, just because he was a spy, how come he is not responsible for the deaths that he caused. He also condemns himself because he succumbed to the excitement of war and patriotism to become a spy for the Americans. His actions give the gluttonous war the power and hate that it needed. Campbell commits suicide for “crimes against himself.” He views himself as a criminal and further, he sees himself as the type of agent that keeps war possible and feasible. Vonnegut gives Campbell a conscience after the rest of society’s lacks one. Campbell feels guilt for contributions to war and to murder, and in the end he is exonerated simply because he was a spy, which it in of itself is not a commendable action. Although there are many themes in Mother Night, in the end, Vonnegut again protests war and asks how can it occur in such a civilized society, or is it civilized at all.
At first glance Slaughterhouse-Five and Mother Night appear to be two books with a huge disparity between them. Seemingly, the only thing the two books have in common is that they are based on events that occurred during World War II. This coincidence is nothing of the sort, Vonnegut utilized the greatest war of them all, the most bloodiest, vicious and inhumane which he was a part to protest all wars. Vonnegut writes social satire and his books tackle many complicated and even obscure societal shortcomings, yet the main grievance underlying these two books connects them; war is worst human action and event because it involves murder, hate, destruction, everything that our society is supposed to condemn. Yet it welcomes war and all its grotesque faults.