After reading through one of Vonnegut’s finest masterpieces, Slaughterhouse-Five, I can safely conclude that this was one of the most unconventional novels I have ever read. Yet, even with all its timeline jumps and inner monologue, Vonnegut wrote this novel in such a simple manner that it remained easy to follow. In fact, it seems that the comment included on the back of Slaughterhouse-five summarizes his style perfectly. Splendid art a funny book at which you are not permitted to laugh, a sad book without tears.(-Life). This comment initially left me confused, yet intrigued. How can a novel, filled with so much raw emotion, leave a said reader feeling more empty than fulfilled? Vonnegut achieved this through dreams, as well as reality.
Vonnegut opens this novel with his own narration and thoughts. We get to know him as a person, how his brain works and what type of war novel this really is. For Slaughterhouse-Five, is hardly even a war novel at all. It is rather, a look past the glorifying commercials, past the medals and heroes. These brave men that went off to war were nothing more than children ready to die. An experience such as this one, cannot simply be explained. For when we are in such terrible conditions, we’d rather dream we were somewhere else. This is where Billy Pilgrim is introduced.
Billy, the main character, is our guide throughout this novel. As the story goes along we not only learn about how he was the laughing stock of the war, but about his deepest darkest thoughts and beliefs. Billy no longer has a set separation between dreams, reality, present, or past. He has become unstuck in time. This, believe it or not, is the theme of the novel. Humans can only have three different mindsets: past, present, and imaginary. For we cannot know what the future holds, future does not exist. All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist (Vonnegut). With this mindset, death became unimpactful. Every dead character: Roland Weary, Valencia, Edgar Derby. We took their passing with a grain of salt. Because to Billy, death does not exist. They will always be there, nothing is ever truly gone.
Just like Billy’s beliefs, the timeline of the novel plays out in a sort of limbo. When circumstances become overly morbid, we then step into Billy as a little boy. Then forward on to his anniversary. Even all the way out into space in Tralfamadore, away from everything and everyone. There’s no concept of time, no fault in war. Sequences such as these blur the lines in this novel between fiction and reality. For instance, the character Kilgore Trout, is served more as Vonnegut’s alter ego than a living breathing character. Montana Wildhack is nothing more than Billy’s fantasy on Tralfamadore. Suddenly the tragedy of Dresden is nothing more than a strange dream sequence to Billy. Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt. (Vonnegut).
Though as readers we somehow become accustomed to Billy’s perception of the world, the world itself proves to go against him. After the war, the bombing, the plane crash, his wife’s death, and so on. Billy talks less and time travels more, for he is beyond the concept of time. Though he believes his findings would greatly impact how humans perceive time as a whole, his daughter Barbara sees him as nothing more than a nutcase who can’t take care of himself. How nice to feel nothing, and still get credit for being alive. (Vonnegut). As the novel closes, we reflect on all the corpses we have witnessed. People Billy came across who were once living and breathing, now unnamed charred bodies. We get time to reflect on how this novel has impacted us, yet we’re left with nothing. For the only magic we come across is in our fantasy of stretched truth. So it goes. (Vonnegut).
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