Understanding the Effects of War Slaughterhouse-Five

Slaughterhouse- Five is a novel written by Kurt Vonnegut. The original novel was published in March of 1969. Throughout Slaughterhouse-Five we see a weirdo who is the main character and his name is Billy Pilgrim. Billy Pilgrim is an awkward student of optometry who gets drafted to enter the military. He was soon sent to fight in Dresden against the Nazis, he was captured by a group of Nazis and became a prisoner of war. He somehow lands himself on everybody’s bad side. Billy Pilgrim finds himself unstuck in time. All throughout the book, we see Tralfamadore and many different flashbacks. Vonnegut shows many characteristics throughout his book, but the one that stands out the most is the sign of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), along with his unattainable way of describing the traumatizing features of the war, and the elements he uses constantly in Slaughterhouse-Five such as point of view, theme, and the genre.

Although Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder wasn’t recognized as a mental disorder in World War II, now we see that Billy Pilgrim is a victim of PTSD. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a psychiatric disorder that can be caused by experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event such as physical abuse, war, natural disaster, a terrorist attack, or a serious accident. Mustazza states in his eBook The psychological consequences of the experience of war can be readily analyzed using the criteria now established by psychiatrists to diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD has only been recognized as an independent psychiatric classification since its inclusion in the 1980 edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) (Mustazza 294). Thus, Mustazza is proving that Billy Pilgrims multiple traumatic events did lead up to him getting PTSD. An example of traumatic events in the book is when a siren went off, scared the hell out of him. He was expecting World War Three at any time. The siren was simply announcing high noon. It was housed in a cupola atop a firehouse across the street from Billy’s office (Vonnegut 73). The siren made him think back to the war and brought him to the idea of World War III. Another example of PTSD is when Billy was trying to find a place to sleep while being transported to the prisoner camp. Nobody wanted him near them because he would constantly yell and kick while he was sleeping. This means that Billy had to sleep standing up or not at all. The constant yelling and kicking are symptoms of PTSD, even though Billy wasn’t conscious of himself doing so; he was dreaming about the war and was having conscious reactions while unconscious.

We constantly see Billy Pilgrim go to Tralfamadore all throughout the book. One could see that Billy uses these fantasies involving Tralfamadorian aliens as a way to make amends with what is currently happening to him in his life, such as the shame and horror of his war experience. As soon as Billy arrives to the prisoner of war camp the Germans make him strip, so do the Tralfamadorians. The Germans also refuse to admit why they beat one prisoner and not the other, like how the Tralfamadorians refuse to tell why they have abducted Pilgrim. The Germans confine him to a slaughterhouse, and the Tralfamadorians confine him to a zoo. In his Tralfamadorian fantasy world, Billy can rewrite these painful events which are currently happening to him, like when Billy felt emasculated by the Germans. They commanded him to strip, and they forced him to put on a women’s coat, but Tralfamadorians had no way of knowing Billy’s body and face were not beautiful. They supposed that he was a splendid specimen. This had a pleasant effect on Billy, who began to enjoy his body for the first time (Vonnegut 144). He also describes himself as possessing a tremendous wang, incidentally you never know who’ll get one. (Vonnegut 169). He is desired by a 20-year-old porn star named Montana Wildhack, but on earth he is married to Valencia. Billy didn’t want to marry ugly Valencia. She was one of the symptoms of his disease. (Vonnegut 137). Kurt Vonnegut also uses the phrase so it goes constantly throughout the entire book. One that really stands out is the one about Sodom and Gomorrah. The sun was risen upon the earth when Lot entered into Zo-an, I read. Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire He overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities So it goes. (Vonnegut 27). Lot’s wife was told not to look back at the city, but she did it anyways. Vonnegut uses this quote because of the human qualities it has. It shows the fundamental aspect of what Vonnegut sees as human nature, or the human condition, in postmodernity (Tally 72). As humans we are often told not to do something, but we usually end up doing it anyways. Vonnegut uses so it goes after this because it’s really something we can’t explain, it just happens (Vonnegut).

Throughout Vonnegut’s novel, we see many different elements like the genre, theme, and point of view. At the very beginning and very ending of the book, we see the perspective of Kurt Vonnegut in first person omniscient point of view. This elaborate structure is enclosed within a wider framework: in the first and last chapters, the novelist himself appears, telling about his writing and about the events which led to his writing it (Holland 40). Vonnegut pulls to the attention that we are reading a novel; this is an unusual and bold choice because as readers we like to use books as a way to escape reality and forget that it’s just a book. The rest of the book is also mainly first-person point of view, but we often see thoughts and motives of many different characters. Vonnegut wanted the genre of this book to be anti-war. One might ask how can a novel be anti-war? This novel was written based on real life events that happened to Kurt Vonnegut. He volunteered for military service in 1943 and was sent by the army to study engineering at Carnegie Tech. He then transferred to the infantry and served as a scout during the allied invasion of Europe. He was captured by the Nazis and was in prison in Dresden when the allies bombed the city (Holland 5). So of course, Vonnegut would be against the thought of war because of the traumatizing events that he personally experienced. His main purpose to write this anti-war novel was to bring awareness of war’s actions and wrongdoings through his personal detail, like the phrase Poo-tee-weet. It’s a symbol of how Vonnegut feels about war. Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want anything ever again. Everything is supposed to very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds. And what did they say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like poo-tee-weet? (Vonnegut 24). Vonnegut’s main theme for this book is that one cannot vividly and correctly describe the traumatic effects of war. Like everyone, he is always a history book; all of the events exist, although some are just in his mind. However, he cannot read all of those events at the same time Like everyone, he cannot look at each moment at the same time, even though bits of each of them are meeting his mind’s eye (Tally 30). Tally writes this because it describes the entire book. With Billy being unstuck in time, he is constantly moving back and forth in time and it’s kind of hard to keep with, which is the whole point of the story.

In conclusion, Vonnegut wrote this anti-war novel as a way to bring awareness to war’s actions and wrong doings. We also constantly see throughout the entire book the way Pilgrim uses Tralfamador as a way to make sense with what is currently happening to him in that moment. We see the phrase so it goes constantly as a way to show that things just happen, and there is really nothing we can do about it. We also see many common symptoms that are related to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, like when he was kicking and talking in the train cart and nobody wanted him to sleep near him because of it. Overall, Vonnegut shows many different characteristics throughout his book, but the one that stands out the most was the sign of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), along with his unattainable way of describing the traumatizing features of the war, and the elements he uses constantly in Slaughterhouse-Five such as point of view, theme, and the genre.

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Understanding the Effects of War Slaughterhouse-Five. (2020, Mar 23). Retrieved October 28, 2021 , from

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