The slaughterhouse-five is an anti-war novel published in 1969 by author Kurt Vonnegut. Kurt Vonnegut wrote this book after he survived the bombing in Dresden when he was a prisoner of war. Slaughterhouse-five is a text whose universal message is clear: that war must be avoided at all costs. It is dehumanizing and destructive. It is based on the personal experiences of the author.
Idea of the novel
The major theme of this book is the destructiveness of war. Centering on the infamous bombing in Dresden, and following our main protagonist, Billy Pilgrims’ journey through time. We witness and come close to relating to his almost mythic journey of our own fractured lives. The search for the meaning of everything we fear the most is brought to life in the pages of this text.
It is a successful blend of tragedy and comic relief. The main character becomes stuck in a loop. For sure, war is bitter and chaotic. This book portrays a mixture of wartime memoir and sci-fi. Occasionally it is harrowing, other times, it is funny and other times thought-provoking.
Detailed plot of the book
Our main protagonist, enrolls and is accepted into the army in World War 2. He is tutored in chaplaincy as a chaplains assistant, and all goes well until his father is killed in a hunting accident. Shortly after, Billy is drafted to the infantry in Luxemburg and sent to war in Belgium. Here, he subsequently undergoes his first time-shifting event. Soon after that, he is captured by Germans.
He is transported to a Prisoner of War site in a foreign Germany, where he suffers a breakdown. He is given a shot of opioid medication that gets him time-shifting again. He and other captured Americans then migrate to a scenic and aesthetically pleasing city of Dresden that has not been affected by the war.
While working for his keep, allied forces bomb Dresden. One hundred thirty thousand people asphyxiate. Billy and some other men survive locked in a sealed locker used to store meat. The men are then obligated to dig up corpses from the debris of rock. Soon after, allied troops take the city of Dresden. This marks the end of Billys’ influence in the war.
Billy returns to New York, where he returns to school and completes his studies in optometry. He marries Valencia Merble. She is the daughter of the optometry school founder. He gets yet another nervous breakdown and checks himself into a mental facility to receive shock treatments. He meets another patient who introduces him to the world of fiction writing.
After recovering, his well to do father-in-law arranges to give him a well-off start. Billy, together with his wife Valencia, raise two children in a life of wealth. During this eighth wedding anniversary, a barbershop quartet triggers Billy into another nervous breakdown. He realizes it is a memory of his time in the war.
Soon after his daughter gets married, he is taken by Aliens called Tralfamadorians. They resemble upside-down plungers. They take Billy to their country Tralfamadore where they force him to mate with another human. A movie star named Montana Wildhack. Who, unfortunately, was also kidnapped, the same as Billy. They are observed and studied like a pair of specimen curiosities. The tralfamadorians experience time differently and have a fourth dimension. To them, when someone dies, they are only dead in that particular dimension, but alive in others.
Upon Billys return to earth, he does not reveal any of his experiences. However, bad luck befalls him when his plane crashes, leaving only him alive. While in hospital, his wife dies in a car crash while she is going to see him. His daughter places him in hospice care back home in New York.
His time-tripping adventures have foretold him that this is the right time to inform humanity and the world about his experiences. He tries by writing letters and sneaking off to go on radio talks. He then makes a recording on tape that details his death. He predicts it will occur after the Chinese bomb America. He believes that after his death, he will skip to another point of his existence.
Problems of the text
The book has no structure or a perceivable arrangement of thought. It has ideas all jumbled up. The assertion of it being an anti-war novel is mixed up in the random and confusing organization of the ideas. It also suggests that after the war, a soldier’s life is in pieces, ruined, and has no clear direction. This is seen in the sad case of Billy’s pilgrim.
The book makes a mockery of Christianity. It uses depictions of Christ and the crucifix in a satirical nature to try and de-emphasize the importance of religion. The author successfully establishes, in the book, that Christianity and religion as a whole are only supporters and promoters of suffering and pain. The book has ruffled a few feathers who want it banned because of its anti-religious fatalisms.
Description of main characters
Billy Pilgrim. Main character. World War 2 veteran. He believes he has “come unstuck in time” because of his fragmented time-shifting experiences.
Valencia Merble. Billy’s wife who loves him dearly. They have two children and a well-appointed home.
Tralfamadorians. Aliens who kidnap Billy and are shaped like toilet plungers. Their views on death and time influence Billys own outlook.
Bernard O’Hare. A wartime friend of Billy who contributes to the research of Billy’s book.
Roland Weary. A cruel but stupid soldier who is taken prisoner along with other prisoners of war. He saves Billy’s life because he wants to seem heroic.
Wild bob. An army colonel who has lost his mind.
Paul Lazzaro. The man is responsible for Billy’s death. Billy knows and has accepted his death. He chooses to believe the Tralfamadorian’s concept of non-linear time.
Edgar Derby. Another prisoner of war who is sentenced to death because he stole a teapot.
Eliot Rosewater. A person with a mental health condition who introduces Billy to the world of writing novels. Kilgore Trout is an author who writes books.
Kilgore Trout. An unappreciated author of several novels that have an effect on Billy. He is the authors’ alter ego.
This text tries to depict simple communication to demonstrate that life still exists in a devastated world. Life’s most devastating enemy in the aftermath of war. We are constantly reminded of the unnecessary loss that accompanies war.