Slaughterhouse 5 Report Essay, Research Paper
Slaughterhouse-Five, written by Kurt Vonnegut, is the story of the life of Billy Pilgrim, a man who, among other things, lived through the Dresden firebombing during World War II and was abducted by aliens. The novel is told as a non-chronological group of events that make up Billy’s life. The exposition of Slaughterhouse-Five describes Billy as an easy-going man. He never raises his voice as a result of his experiences on Tralfamadore, the alien planet. He is an optometrist born and raised in Ilium, New York. He is married to Valencia, a very loving woman who is devoted to Billy, as shown by her losing weight once they get married in order to look good for Billy.
The narrative hook comes when, at age 22, Billy joins an infantry regiment that is fighting in Luxembourg. During the Battle of the Bulge, the German army destroys this regiment. Billy and three other men, Roland Weary and two unnamed scouts, are left wandering behind German lines. After three days of meandering through Germany, Billy and Roland are separated from the two scouts. The two scouts are shot and killed after being found by the Germans, while Billy and Roland are taken as prisoners of war.
The rising action begins when Billy, as well as many other American prisoners, is loaded into a train heading for eastern Germany. Roland is also on this train, though on a different car. In this car, Roland meets a man named Paul Lazzaro. Paul is a violent and spiteful man. He threatens to have his enemies shot by hired gunman sometime after the war.
Paul and Roland become friends on this train. After a little over a week of transportation, Roland dies of gangrene. Before his death, he tells Paul that the cause for his capture and subsequent death is Billy. Paul vows to the dying man that he will hire a gunman to kill Billy Pilgrim.
Finally, Billy and the rest of the prisoners arrive in Dresden, Germany. Billy is housed in building number five, which had previously been used as a slaughterhouse.
The climax comes when, in this slaughterhouse, Billy witnesses the Dresden firebombing in February of 1945. This bombing killed approximately 135,000 people. Billy is one of the few survivors of the bombing. The falling action begins when Billy is honorably discharged from the army after arriving home in America.
About 25 years later, Billy is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. These aliens are friendly and have a different way of seeing things than humans do. Instead of seeing things in terms of time, they see things as they have happened, are happening, and will happen; they have no concept of time.
Billy leaves the aliens with the ability to travel through time, although not at will. He randomly skips to different events in his life. For this reason, the book is told as non-chronological events, as Billy sees his life. Also, the aliens teach Billy that he cannot change the way things are. For this reason, Billy is a mellow person who does not worry about the events of his life.
Soon after his time on Tralfamadore, Billy is on a plane traveling to an optometry convention in Canada. This plane crashes on Sugarbush Mountain, killing all but two people. One of the survivors is Billy. He is taken to a Vermont hospital in order to recuperate. Valencia, Billy’s wife, is in a minor car accident on the way to see Billy in the hospital. Unknowingly, Valencia drives away from this accident without her exhaust system. Without this, she is exposed to poisonous carbon monoxide and, as a result, dies immediately after arriving at the hospital.
The resolution is in 1976, when Paul Lazzaro carries out his promise by having a gunman shoot and kill Billy. Although Billy would be considered dead by humans, his experiences on Tralfamadore leave him revisiting the events of his life for all eternity.
“Well, here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of this moment.” (Page 97)
The above metaphor shows how the aliens of Tralfamadore view life. Instead of seeing things as events on a timeline, they see all events as one; they have no concept of time. There is no past, no future, and no present in their eyes. Instead, all events simply exist. As Billy writes, “The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just the way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance.” (Page 34) They are able to see that “all moments, past, present, and future always have existed, always will exist.”
This passage compares Billy’s conversation with the aliens, as well as all events, to bugs trapped in amber. Bugs that are caught in amber remain in the amber forever. Nothing ever changes while they are locked in this protective shield. Similarly, the aliens see events as “trapped” in time; they cannot be changed. All of life’s events exist for all eternity. Because of this way of seeing things, they believe in living out happy moments while trying to avoid and forget the sadder ones. Since they cannot change these upsetting times, they try to live around them. In Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut preaches that this is the best way to live out one’s life, as events cannot be changed.
Billy Pilgrim, the main character of Slaughterhouse-Five, is mild-mannered throughout his life, no matter how rough things get, as a result of his time spent on the planet Tralfamadore. The Tralfamadorians live their lives without ever questioning why things happen. When Billy asks the aliens why he had been selected to visit the distant planet, they replied “That is a very earthling question to ask, Mr. Pilgrim. Why you? Why us for that matter? Why anything?” Because this moment simply is.” (Page 97) They live their lives strongly believing in the concept of predestination. As a result, Billy lives his life in this manner as well. These aliens also live their lives with no concept of time. Instead, all events of their lives simply happen. They see time “as you might see a stretch of the Rocky Mountains.” (Page 109) As a result of these ways of living, the aliens have no worries. They believe that nothing they do can change the events that take place and therefore accept things the way they are. When Billy leaves the planet, he is given the gift of time travel, whether he desires it or not. He goes through all the events of his life in random order. While experiencing the incidents of his life, Billy has no worries or doubts, as he knows how these events will play out in the end. Because of his indifference to life’s hardships, he is compared to the baby Jesus who does not cry. Similarly, Billy sheds no tears over the events of his life because he knows they are a result of fate. Billy does not worry over his life during his time in Germany during World War II, even during the bombing of Dresden. Instead, he learns to ignore the hard times and only think of the pleasant ones.
The majority of the novel Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, takes place in Germany during the 1940s. During this time period, World War II was taking place. As a result, Billy is a soldier fighting for his country. During the Battle of the Bulge, Billy is taken as a prisoner of war by the Germans and transported to Dresden. During his as a prisoner, he witnesses the bombing of Dresden that killed 135,000 people. Billy is one of the few survivors. This event is the climax point of Billy’s life. Another important environment in which Billy spends time in is on the planet Tralfamadore. The beings of this planet live their lives knowing that everything is predetermined. This results from having no concept of time. For them, “All time is all time. It does not change.” (Page 109) As a result, when Billy leaves this planet, he too sees that all of the events of his life are due to fate and cannot be changed. As a result, he is a more content and easy-going person. Without the environments of World War II and Tralfamadore, Billy’s life would be dramatically different.
The underlying theme of Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, is that people should try to remember the happy moments of their lives while ignoring the sadder ones. In addition, these melancholy moments can not be changed; they are a product of fate. Billy learns this valuable lesson as a result of his time spent on Tralfamadore. The aliens see the events of their lives as no more than happenings. They “can look at all the different moments just the way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains.” (Page 34) Because of this freedom from time, the Tralfamadorians try to ignore the dismal times of their lives and concentrate on the joyous ones. This is also brought out in their literature. Their books have “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.” (Page 112) The aliens also cannot change the way events turn out. They are not even able to save the universe when one of their own accidentally presses a button that ends life as we know it.
The aliens teach Billy to look at the wonderful times of his life and not the dreary ones. They say “there isn’t anything we can do about them, so we simply don’t look at them.” (Page 150) One way Billy shows his ability to get around the sad moments of his life is that when people die, he simply says “so it goes” and does not think of the pain the loss of a loved one can cause. Also, Billy does not cry or show any form of negative emotion. Even throughout World War II, Billy sheds no tears. Once Billy sees that events are never truly gone, he is able to lead a more contented life. If everyone lived their life in such a manner, happiness could be brought out, even through the hardest times, through our memories.
On a 4-star rating system, I would give Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, a 31/2. I liked Kurt Vonnegut’s style of writing. The way he touched back on everything and reused lines brought out the best in the novel. For example, the common line “so it goes” that is sprinkled throughout the book seems to make the story more complete. This book is one of the best ones I have read all year. It is certainly far better than any books we have read as a class and is probably the best I have read on my own. I feel that the novel brings out an important theme, that could make people more content with themselves. The only element of the novel I did not like was how it was organized. The events of Billy’s life were thrown together seemingly at random. This made the novel difficult to follow at times. However, although this style made the book difficult to read, I can see that it helped build on the novel’s theme. The idea of the Tralfamadorians seeing events as nonlinear was brought out in the style of Slaughterhouse-Five. This book seems like it would be better after reading it for a second time. I would recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys science fiction as well as trace amounts of historical events.