Slaughter House Five Essay, Research Paper
Obscenity Was Wit
If this paper were going to be written like Slaughterhouse- Five, there would be two narratives, one personal, one impersonal. The structure would also be similar to Tralfamadorian books and Slaughterhouse- Five. I would present no beginning, no middle, and no end. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut,
“There isn’t any particular relationship between all the messages, except that the author has chosen them carefully, so that, when seen all at once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep. There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time.” (88)
Thus, I will state right now that Vonnegut’s marvelous moments of irony are neither surprising, nor deep. They are obvious and blatantly stated, and leave Vonnegut fans analyzing the entire novel searching for the slightest hint of irony. The real irony in Slaughterhouse-Five is much more scholarly, clever, and structured. The real irony in Slaughterhouse- Five took a lot more thought and time than simply making up stories about men
killed when they try and retrieve their wedding ring from an elevator shaft.
Billy Pilgrim’s life is structured in such a way where he floats from experience to experience (in no chronological order). He has the ability to become “unstuck in time”, which means that he can uncontrollably drift from one part of his life to another. Ironically, Slaughterhouse- Five is structurally organized in the same way Billy moves in time. It consists of sections and paragraphs strung together in no particular order. The entire story is not only written in the past tense, so the reader cannot identify where the author’s starting point is, but it is also written in a circular way- with every experience leading back to another. The entire novel is composed of Vonnegut’s usage of irony to combat irony.
The most often expressed ironical theme of the book, in my opinion, is that we, people, are “bugs in amber.” The phrase first appears when Billy is kidnapped by the Tralfamadorian flying saucer:
” Welcome aboard, Mr. Pilgrim,” said the loudspeaker. “Any questions?”
Billy licked his lips, thought a while, inquired at last: “Why me?”
“That is a very Earthling question to ask, Mr. Pilgrim. Why you? Why us
for that matter? Why anything? Because this moment simply is. Have you
ever seen bugs trapped in amber?’
“Yes.” Billy, in fact, had a paperweight in his office, which was a blob of polished amber with three ladybugs embedded in it.
“Well, here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why.” (76-77).
This extraterrestrial opinion can be interpreted as our being physically stuck in this world, that we don’t have any choice over what we, mankind as a whole, do and what we head for. The only thing we can do is think about everything, but we won’t affect anything. This idea appears many times throughout the novel. This is one of the examples, when Billy proposes marriage to Valencia, Billy didn’t want to marry ugly Valencia. She was one of the symptoms of his disease. He knew he was going crazy when he heard himself proposing marriage to her, when he begged her to take the diamond ring and be his companion for life, (107). This excerpt directly shows that Billy didn’t like Valencia very much and that he actually didn’t want to marry her. However, he was “stuck in amber”.
Or, for example, Billy knew the exact time when he would be killed, yet didn’t try to do anything about it. Anyway, he couldn’t have changed it.
The death bears an ironic comparison with mankind’s fate. The main thing
Vonnegut probably wanted people to think about has something to do with wars on Earth. Vonnegut says so in the part where Billy discusses the problems about wars with the Tralfamadorians (117). They tell him that everything is structured the way it is and that trying to prevent war on Earth is stupid. This means that there always will be wars on Earth, that we, people, are “designed” that way. There might be people striving for eternal peace, but those people must be very naive and probably don’t know humankind’s nature. We know that wars are bad and we would like to stop them, but we are “stuck in amber.” The physical irony? Billy Pilgrim has a paperweight of three ladybugs encased in amber on his desk at work.
Another obvious ironical theme of the book is that death is inevitable and that no matter who dies, life still goes on. The phrase “So it goes” recurs one hundred and six times: it appears everytime anybody dies in the novel, and sustains the circular quality of the book. It enables the book, and thus Vonnegut’s narration, to go on. It must have been hard writing a book about such an experience and it probably helped the author to look upon death through the eyes of Tralfamadorians,when a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in bad condition in the particular
moment, 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 the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is ‘So it goes,’ (27).
As you noticed, the book has different messages that Vonnegut conveys to his readers through various forms of irony; everybody may see something else as its main meaning. I think that Vonnegut wanted to tell us, the readers, that no matter what happens, we should retain our humanity. Through Billy’s various Tralfamadorian experiences, the reader is shown ironically, how insignificant human existence really is. Our race is really at the mercy of that Tralfamadorian flyer that can destroy Earth at the push of a button. We, the humans, should not let anybody or anything reign upon our personalities, be it a god, be it a politician or anybody else. We should be ourselves – human and humane beings, unfortunately, the only way we humans can understand this is through irony.
I looked through the Gideon Bible in my motel room for tales of great destruction. The sun was risen upon the Earth when Lot entered into Zo-ar, I read. Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and
fire from Lord out of Heaven; and He overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground.
So it goes.
Those were vile people in both those cities, as is well known. The world was better off without them. And Lot’s wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been.
But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human. So she was turned to a pillar of salt. So it goes. (21-22).