Slaughterhouse Five Report Essay, Research Paper
In this first chapter, we see that the book is based on real events. Vonnegut, like the narrator, is a veteran of World War II, an earlier prisoner of war, and a witness to a great massacre.
Vonnegut shares with us that he can t write about the horror of Dresden. There is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre, but he feels that he has to say something. The book shows the author’s struggle to find a way to write about what he saw so that it neither makes it seem good or bad. We keep this in the back of our minds as we read about Billy Pilgrim’s life.
The author is a character in the narrative. He is Kurt Vonnegut, the former POW, and he speaks of the many times he has tried and failed to write this book. It is Kurt Vonnegut, too, who says the first, “So it goes” after relating that the mother of his taxi driver during his visit to Dresden in 1967 was incinerated in the Dresden attack. “So it goes” is repeated after every death. It becomes a slogan. ralfamadorian philosophy (something you will find out about later). But because the phrase is first uttered by Vonnegut, writing as Vonnegut, each “So it goes” seems to come directly from the author.
Chapter One also hints that time will be an important thing to follow. The author was going around and around in circles trying to create a timeline. He felt like he was stuck inside a children’s song that repeats itself again, and again, and again The children s song s last line is also the first. Only when the author begins to think about time, about returning over and over to the events of someone s life, about moments existing for eternity in no particular order , is he able to break through twenty years of writer s block, and write Slaughterhouse Five.
The constant skipping around in time can be confusing to the reader because we are used to linear narrative. The way you feel reading the narrative is like to the way Billy Pilgrim feels as he skips uncontrollably through his life. There is little suspense in the novel. The outline of Billy’s life is given right off the bat. What is more important is the fact and experience of Billy’s, of his dazed wandering through the events of his life.
How are we to understand Billy’s time travel? Should we believe it? Is this science fiction? Or a true story? Should we trust his sensible daughter, who thinks that her father is losing his marbles? After all, Billy first comes unstuck at a moment when he is ready to die. He is exhausted, clueless, and lost behind enemy lines. He has no idea what is happening or what has happened. People keep shooting at him, pushing him around. Under these conditions his understanding of time is permanently altered and his mind becomes (temporally) unhinged.
Human dignity in a life marked by death and mass murder is important to Slaughterhouse Five. In the first stages of his war experience, Billy Pilgrim is a man without dignity.
Chapter Four introduces the Tralfamadorian concept of time, a concept that will be explained in Chapter Five. This is what Billy Pilgrim is given to understand: that people, Tralfamadorians, and everything else are like bugs in amber. They are locked into their fate. Why me? is a useless question .
The fact that we are locked into our fate: Billy’s death is determined years before it happens when Roland Weary meets Paul Lazzaro. Though Billy is starved, sick, and half-dead, we know that he will not die in the boxcar, the prison camp, or even in the city of Dresden; where nearly everyone else is killed. He will in fact die because one pathetic, and friendless human being, Paul Lazzaro, who feels like avenging the death of another pathetic, and friendless human being, Roland Weary.
One of the books many jokes about war occurs early in this chapter. Billy sits down to watch a war movie, and due to his time difficulties, watches it backwards. Planes fly backwards, magically quelling flames, drawing their bombs into steel containers, and sucking them back up into their bellies. Guns on the ground suck metal from the pilots, crew, and planes. Weapons are shipped backed to factories, where they are carefully disassembled down into their minerals. The minerals are shipped to specialists all over the world who “hide them cleverly” in the ground, “so they never hurt anybody ever.” And in Billy’s mind Hitler becomes a baby and all of humanity works toward creating two perfect people named Adam and Eve.
The Tralfamadorian concept of time is a revelation to someone who has come unstuck from his own lifeline. Billy realizes that he has access to a new perspective on life, pain, suffering, death, and joy. If there is no free will, if each moment is planned so that it can only happen the way they are supposed to happen, then, it makes sense to accept things as they come . The “so it goes” attitude, comes from visiting all the moments of one’s life countless times. Death is no longer as permanent than any other moment. Billy finds some comfort in this, and takes the Tralfamadorian advice to look at the nice moments as much as possible.
The Tralfamadorian novel discussed at the beginning of the chapter is a model for Slaughterhouse Five. A Tralfamadorian novel contains brief messages that describe events, scenes, and situations. The only thing the same about the messages is that the author has carefully chosen them so that, when seen simultaneously, they form an image of life. There is no linear narrative, no beginning, middle, climax, or end, no suspense, no moral, no reason.
The Tralfmadorian book makes us question Billy’s experiences on the strange planet. Tralfmadore could be something Billy imagines. While at the veterans’ sanitarium, Billy reads Kilgore Trout so mush that he feels he is losing his grip on reality. He’s already unable to live in the present and he is unable to control his movements backwards and forwards through time. Science fiction helps him, and helps Rosewater (his new friend), too. The narrator says that the two were trying to “reinvent themselves and reinvent their universe.” The Tralfamadorians explain how the whole thing works, and act as a model for coping in a four dimensional universe. But people who invent new understandings of time are not always sane. In his own mind, Billy is at rest.
In Einstein’s physics,an object is described by four coordinates: the three spatial and one time. If you want to say where something is, you have to also say when it is. The same is true if you want to say what something is. Things change over time. To really describe an object, you would have to describe it at every moment. The kinds of descriptions we give are just snapshots that describe an object as it looks at only one point in time. An object is actually all of the snapshots through the object s history and its future.
You could also say the same thing about a person. The Tralfamadorians, (who see in four dimensions), look at all of an object and all of a person. We cannot. But Billy Pilgrim’s time tripping lets him see what they are like. The author doesn’t really give any character description. Instead, we get small descriptions of Billy Pilgrims from different moments in time. You try to see what he looks like by putting all of the little pieces of descriptions of him from the past, present, and future.
Billy’s future is a little unrealistic. The author describes things more than usual when talking about Billy in 1976. You don t really trust the details about Billy’s assassination. Slaughterhouse Five is, after all, an Earthling’s version of a Tralfamadorian tale, and it is therefore guided by limits of human point of views and human doubt.
Before describing Derby’s rejection of the American Nazi’s persuation, the narrator says that there are almost no characters in this story. Most of the people are sick and weak, or controlled by other forces. The narrator reminds us that this is one of the products of war: that people cease to be individuals capable of asserting themselves . For most of his life, Billy is a human who is controlled by greater forces. But things change on Tralfamadore and after the plane crash. On Tralfamadore, Billy gains the ability to understand time. He changes his whole way of understanding the universe. This causes him to save his sanity and positive look on life. And after the crash, he realizes that he has a mission to spread his knowledge about time. He sees himself as a messenger, who has learned the truth about time and gained the ability to show tragedy, catastrophe, and death. He has also found dignity in the Tralfamadorians. If things happen the way they do just because that moment is structured that way, then people should never have anything to be embarrassed about.
The bird asks a question. And there is no answer. Just like the narrator warned us in the first chapter: there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Bird talk probably makes as much sense as anyone’s talk. But, the author has tried to say something intelligent. He has also tried to make something beautiful from a massacre .
The problem of dignity returns. Dignity is something everyone wants. Vonnegut wants to know if there will ever again be enough to go around. Billy Pilgrim has finally got it, but it has come at a high price. He has had to travel to Tralfamadore to get it, and he has had to change his whole understanding of the world.
The book ends in Dresden. This is the place where Billy and Vonnegut keep returning. The story ends describing springtime green: green shoots and new leaves and birds, but there is also a green wagon shaped like a coffin. Spring shows life, but the coffin does not go away.
In Chapter 8, at the time of his anniversary party, Billy has lived a boaring life in Ilium. He feels he has no secrets from himself, but the sight of the barbershop quartet proves this feeling as an illusion. The expressions on the en’s faces make him sick. He has powerful secrets, they have to do with the horror of Dresden, and the moment when the four guards stood screaming at the moonscape but no sound came from their mouths. The Tralfamadorians only show the good moments of one’s life. But Billy Pilgrim has no control over his time traveling. Just like we don t always have control over our memories. Billy’s message in not comforting. If good moments last forever, so does the fire bombing of Dresden. Somewhere, Billy Pilgrim’s moment of joy, dozing in the green cart beneath the spring sun, still exists. But somewhere, 130,000 civilians are still being burned. And somewhere, war prisoners will be opening new ‘corpse mines’ and removing the bodies forever. These events are not erased by time.