Slaughterhouse 5 Themes Essay Research Paper The

Slaughterhouse 5 Themes Essay, Research Paper The Themes of Slaughterhouse-Five The first theme of Slaughterhouse-Five, and perhaps the most obvious, is the war and its contrast with love, beauty,

Slaughterhouse 5 Themes Essay, Research Paper

The Themes of Slaughterhouse-Five

The first theme of Slaughterhouse-Five, and perhaps the

most obvious, is the war and its contrast with love, beauty,

humanity, innocence etc. Slaughterhouse-Five, like Vonnegut’s

previous books, manages to tell us that war is bad for us and

that it would be better for us to love one another. To find the

war’s contrast with love is quite difficult, because the book

doesn’t talk about any couple that was cruelly torn apart by the

war (Billy didn’t seem to love his wife very much, for example.)

V onnegut expresses it very lightly, uses the word “love” very

rarely, yet effectively. He tries to look for love and beauty in

things that seemingly are neither lovely nor beautiful. For

example, when Billy was captured by the group of Germans, he

didn’t see them as a cruel enemy, but as normal, innocent people.

“Billy looked up at the face that went with the clogs. It was the

face of a blond angel, of a fifteen-year-old boy. The boy was as

beautiful as Eve.” (Vonnegut 1969 p.53).

An interesting contrast in Vonnegut’s books is the one

between men and women. Male characters are often engaging in

fights and wars, and females try to prevent them from it. The

woman characters are often mentally strong, have strong will, and

are very humane and loving. A good example is Vonnegut’s dialogue

in the first chapter, when he talks with his old friend O’Hare in

front of O’Hare’s wife:

Then she turned to me, let me see how angry she

was, and that the anger was for me. She had been talking

to herself, so what she said was a fragment of a much

larger conversation. ‘You were just babies then!’ she

said.

‘What?’ I said.

‘You were just babies in the war–like the ones

upstairs!’

I nodded that this was true. We had been foolish

virgins in the war, right at the end of childhood.

‘But you’re not going to write it that way, are

you.’ This wasn’t a question. It was an accusation.

‘I – I don’t know,’ I said.

‘Well, I know,’ she said. ‘You’ll pretend you

were men instead of babies, and you’ll be played in the

movies by Frank Sinatra and John Wayne or some of those

other glamorous, war-loving, dirty old men. And war will

look just wonderful, so we’ll have a lot more of them.

And they’ll be fought by babies like the babies

upstairs.’

So then I understood. It was war that made her so

angry. She didn’t want her babies or anybody else’s

babies killed in wars. And she thought wars were partly

encouraged by books and movies. (ibid p. 14-15)

Another place where Vonnegut expresses the previously mentioned

qualities of women is the part where Billy becomes “slightly

unstuck in time” and watches the war movie backwards:

When the bombers got back to their base, the

steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped

back to the United States of America, where factories

were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders,

separating the dangerous contents into minerals.

Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. (ibid

p.74-75).

In reality, of course, the women were building the weapons

instead of dismantling them.

The most often expressed 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

lady-bugs embedded in it.

‘Well, here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the

amber of this moment. There is no why.’ (ibid p.76-77).

This rather 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 mary 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, (ibid p.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 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 pro blems

about wars with the Tralfamadorians (p.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.”

This point of view also might explain why there are no

villains or heroes in Vonnegut’s books. According to Ernest W.

Ranly, all the characters are “Comic, pathetic pieces, juggled

about by some inexplicable faith, like puppets,” (Riley 1974

p.454). If there is no-one to take the blame for the bad

happenings in the book, it can only mean that the villain is God

Himself (”or Herself or Itself or Whatever” – from Vonnegut’s

Hocus Pocus, 1990). God Almighty had to be the one who put us

into the amber, who had created us the way we are.

There are almost no characters in this story, and

almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the

people in it are so sick and so much the listless

playthings of enormous forces, (Vonnegut 1969 p.164).

Another theme of the novel is that there is no such thing

as a soldier. There is only a man, but never a soldier. A soldier

is not a human being any more. Vonnegut expresses this most

obviously in this extract from the time when Billy was imprisoned

in Dresden:

When the three fools found the communal kitchen,

whose main job was to make lunch for workers in the

slaughterhouse, everybody had gone home but one woman

who had been waiting for them impatiently. She was a war

widow. So it goes. She had her hat and coat on. She

wanted to go home, too, even though there wasn’t anybody

there. Her white gloves were laid out side by side on

the zinc counter top.

She had two big cans of soup for the Americans.

It was simmering over low fires on the gas range. She

had stacks of loaves of black bread, too.

She asked Gluck if he wasn’t awfully young to be

in the army. He admitted that he was.

She asked Edgar Derby if he wasn’t awfully old to

be in the army. He said he was.

She asked Billy Pilgrim what he was supposed to

be. Billy said he didn’t know. He was just trying to

keep warm.

‘All the real soldiers are dead,’ she said. It

was true. So it goes, (Vonnegut 1969 p.159).

Stanley Schatt said: “Vonnegut opposes any institution, be it

scientific, religious, or political, that dehumanizes man and

considers him a mere number and not a human being,” (Riley 1973

p.348) and I think that this attitude shows up in many other

books by Kurt Vonnegut (Player Piano, Hocus Pocus etc.)

Another obvious 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,’ (ibid p.27).

The Main Message of the novel

As you noticed, the book has different messages; 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. We 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.

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 greaw 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, (Vonnegut 1969 p.21-22).

References:

Brifonski and Mendelson (Editors); Contemporary Literary Criticism vol.8

Detroit: 1978; Gale Research Co

Riley, Carolyn (Editor); Contemporary Literary Criticism vol.1

Detroit: 1973; Gale Research Co

Riley, Carolyn and Barbara Harte (Editors); Contemporary Literary Criticism vol.2

Detroit: 1974; Gale Research Co

Vonnegut, Kurt Jr.; Slaughterhouse-Five; or Children’s Crusade, A Duty Dance with Death

New York: 1971; Dell Publishing

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