Slaughterhouse-Five and the Psychological Consequences of War

  • Length: 1382 words (3.9 double-spaced pages)
  • Rating: Excellent
Open Document

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Text Preview

More ↓

Continue reading...

Open Document

“How nice- to feel nothing, and still get full credit for being alive” (Vonnegut 181).
In Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five the main character Billy Pilgrim experiences few emotions during his time in World War II. His responses to people and events lack intensity or passion. Throughout the novel Billy describes his time travel to different moments in his life, including his experience with the creatures of Tralfamadore and the bombing of Dresden. He wishes to die during most of the novel and is unable to connect with almost anyone on Earth. The fictional planet Tralfamadore appears to be Billy’s only way of escaping the horrors of war, and acts as coping mechanism. Billy seems to be a soldier with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as he struggles to express feelings and live in his reality. At the beginning of the novel the narrator proposes his reason for writing the book is to explain what happened in the Dresden fire bombing, yet he focuses on Billy’s psyche more than the bombing itself. PTSD prevents Billy from living a healthy life, which shows readers that the war does not stop after the fighting is over and the aftermath is ongoing. Billy Pilgrim’s story portrays the bombing and war in a negative light to readers, as Vonnegut shows the damaging effects of war on an individual, such as misperception of time, disconnect from peers, and inability to feel strong emotions, to overall create a stronger message.
Billy Pilgrim time travels to various moments in his life at random, which suggests he has no power over his mind and the memories that haunt him. He “is spastic in time, (and) has no control over where he is going next” (Vonnegut 43), as he struggles to make sense of his past. Billy’s ability to remember events in an erratic sequence, mirrors the happenings of war. War is sudden, fast paced, and filled with unexpected twists and turns. Billy cannot forget what he experienced during his time as a soldier, and in turn his mind subconsciously imitates this hectic quality of war. This behavior proves that although the war is over, “psychologically, Billy has never fully left” (Vees-Gulani). For many soldiers, especially those who were prisoners of war (POW), it is inevitable that their mind will not be like it once was (Vees-Gulani).

Need Writing Help?

Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.

Check your paper »

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"Slaughterhouse-Five and the Psychological Consequences of War." 20 May 2018
Title Length Color Rating  
Essay on The Catastrophe of War in Slaughterhouse Five - The Catastrophe of War in Slaughterhouse-Five      Russian Prime Minister Joseph Stalin once said, “A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.” The impersonalization of war and death that he shares is an realistic characterization of war; originally intending to improve the lives of people, yet inevitably leading to the destruction of human life. Author Kurt Vonnegut endorses this view in his novel Slaughterhouse-Five; he shows that war can never be justified as long as innocent life is lost....   [tags: War Slaughterhouse Essays Papers]
:: 5 Works Cited
1931 words
(5.5 pages)
Term Papers [preview]
Essay on Why Slaughterhouse-Five Is an Anti-War Novel - Slaughterhouse-Five displays many themes. However, there is a dispute as to whether the book is an anti-war novel or not. Slaughterhouse-Five, the character Kurt Vonnegut explains to Mary O’Hare, is intended to be an anti-war novel, and he says that it shall also be called The Children’s Crusade because of the effect it had on young men who fought in the war. Slaughterhouse-Five is an anti-war novel because Vonnegut, the character, says it is in the first chapter, because it depicts the terrible long-term effects the war has on Billy, and because it exposes war's devastating practices....   [tags: slaughterhouse five, anti war, kurt vunnegut] 659 words
(1.9 pages)
Better Essays [preview]
The Disastrous Consequences of a Nuclear War Essay - Carl Sagan (1934 – 1996), an American-born renowned astronomer, defined and explained the phenomenon of Nuclear Winter for the first time in 1983. In the article Nuclear Winter, based on the scientific paper “Global Atmospheric Consequences of Nuclear War”, Sagan explained and analyzed an unanticipated consequence, a drastic drop in world’s temperature, of a nuclear war. In a historical context, potential use of nuclear warheads in Cold War (1947-1991) influenced the writer to highlight the consequences of a nuclear war....   [tags: War]
:: 3 Works Cited
1360 words
(3.9 pages)
Strong Essays [preview]
Kurt Vonnegut’s Experience of Time Travel, War, and Death in Slaughterhouse-Five - Slaughterhouse-Five is a stirring science-fiction book, which contains many interesting themes such as, space and time travel, philosophy on death, war, and aliens. In the novel Slaughterhouse-Five, The main character, Billy Pilgrim, is not in the first chapter. The author of this book, Kurt Vonnegut is the main character in this chapter (Harris). This book is written in a rather random order because Billy Pilgrim lived his life that way. In the novel Slaughterhouse-Five, the author’s imagination helps him get through reality by giving him the illusion that he is traveling through time and cannot die (Westbrook)....   [tags: Slaughterhouse-Five Essays]
:: 11 Works Cited
2392 words
(6.8 pages)
Good Essays [preview]
War in Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut and Catch-22 by Joseph Heller - Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut and Catch-22 by Joseph Heller both have a striking resemblance in the themes of anti-war and of free will. Both don’t come into full force right in the beginning but eventually become more evident. Both novels focus on one character throughout the entire novel, and each protagonist is affected by all the events around them. It changes their perspective and how they view life as a whole. Both Billy in Slaughterhouse Five and Yossarian in Catch -22, dislike war and are known as anti-war heroes....   [tags: slaughterhouse-five, kurt vonnegut]
:: 2 Works Cited
1089 words
(3.1 pages)
Strong Essays [preview]
Coping with War: A Comparison Between Slaughterhouse Five and A Farewell to Arms - Earnest Hemmingway once said "Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime." (Ernest Hemingway: A Literary Reference) War is a gruesome and tragic thing and affects people differently. Both Vonnegut and Hemmingway discus this idea in their novels A Farewell to Arms and Slaughterhouse Five. Both of the novels deal not only with war stories but other genres, be it a science fiction story in Vonnegut’s case or a love story in Hemingway’s. Despite all the similarities there are also very big differences in the depiction of war and the way the two characters cope with their shocking and different experiences....   [tags: Slaughterhouse Five, Literary Analysis]
:: 5 Works Cited
1622 words
(4.6 pages)
Strong Essays [preview]
Analysis of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five Essay - Analysis of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five Section One- Introduction Slaughterhouse-Five, written by Kurt Vonnegut Junior, was published in 1968 after twenty-three years of internal anguish. The novel was a "progressive work" after Vonnegut returned from World War II. Why did it take twenty-three years for Kurt Vonnegut to write this novel. The answer lies within the book and within the man himself. Kurt Vonnegut served in the Armed Forces during World War II and was captured during The Battle of the Bulge....   [tags: Slaughterhouse-Five Essays] 2383 words
(6.8 pages)
Strong Essays [preview]
Slaughterhouse-Five Essay: Three Themes of Slaughterhouse-Five - The Three Themes of Slaughterhouse-Five Kurt Vonnegut did a great job in writing an irresistible reading novel in which one is not permitted to laugh, and yet still be a sad book without tears. Slaughterhouse-five was copyrighted in 1969 and is a book about the 1945 firebombing in Dresden which had killed 135,000 people. The main character is Billy Pilgrim, a very young infantry scout who is captured in the Battle of the Bulge and quartered to a slaughterhouse where he and other soldiers are held....   [tags: Slaughterhouse-Five Essays] 938 words
(2.7 pages)
Better Essays [preview]
The Theme of Time in Slaughterhouse-Five Essay - The Theme of Time in Slaughterhouse-Five Many writers in history have written science fiction novels and had great success with them, but only a few have been as enduring over time as Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five. Slaughterhouse-Five is a personal novel which draws upon Vonnegut's experience's as a scout in World War Two, his capture and becoming a prisoner of war, and his witnessing of the fire bombing of Dresden in February of 1945 (the greatest man-caused massacre in history). The novel is about the life and times of a World War Two veteran named Billy Pilgrim....   [tags: Slaughterhouse-Five Essays]
:: 5 Works Cited
1071 words
(3.1 pages)
Strong Essays [preview]
The Themes of Slaughterhouse-Five Essay - The Themes of Slaughterhouse-Five The moral of "Slaughterhouse-Five" is whatever you want it to be. That is the beauty of the book. However, in his typically dark, sarcastic way, Kurt Vonnegut gives us several possible themes to explore. One of the themes relates to the way in which Mr. Vonnegut presents the human life span. Through his writing, Mr. Vonnegut poses an ancient question: Are we masters of our destiny, or are we simply pawns of fate. The medium through which Mr. Vonnegut presents this riddle is death....   [tags: Slaughterhouse-Five Essays]
:: 3 Works Cited
910 words
(2.6 pages)
Strong Essays [preview]

Related Searches

In Susanne Vees-Gulani’s critique of Slaughterhouse-Five, she finds Billy’s thought process of time similar to those with PTSD. POW with the condition are still “psychologically remaining bound in the timelessness of the prison" (qtd. Vees-Gulani), as it was a part of their life for so long. Vonnegut features a soldier that is scarred with symptoms like these to highlight the damaging aspects of war, and make the topic of the novel bigger than just the story of Dresden. The problems that Billy and other soldiers experience do not stop at one. As Billy jumps from various points of time in his life he also loses sense of reality in the process, and eventually the memories turn into fantasies.
Billy often blurs the line of what is real and what is a figment of his imagination. He refers to the science fiction planet of Tralfamadore as an actual place so much that the reader has difficulty deciding what to believe. This planet acts as an escape for Billy and a way to cope with the war. Towards the end of the novel, the reader learns this planet and Billy’s experience there is identical to the plot of Kilgore Trout’s science fiction novel. Billy has taken something familiar, so in turn he “controls his anxiety (and) nothing can surprise or scare him” (Vees-Gulani). The story of the Tralfamadorians also helps Billy makes sense of his life and all the deaths around him. Billy finds “the most important thing (he) learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die” (Vonnegut 49). These creatures think it is unnecessary to cry when someone passes because he or she is still “living” in the past. By making the Tralfamadorians’ views this way, Billy makes his actions and emotions seem normal. Billy did not cry when his own wife passed away. In the war he “often saw things worth crying about” (Vonnegut 183), but did not react to them. After the bombing Billy is confronted by a couple who notices the poor condition of the horses the Americans own. Billy walks over to look at the horses and begins to sob, even though he “hadn’t cried about anything else in the war” (Vonnegut 333). This response shows how unstable Billy’s emotions can be and his difficulty in voicing them at appropriate times.
By following the Tralfamdorian’s belief system of death Billy also justifies how comfortable with his own death he is (Vees-Gulani). In war, death is inevitable, but rarely do people consider how death affects those still living. Rather than focusing on those who died in World War II, Vonnegut chooses to talk about the way soldiers can develop a twisted perception of what death is, which makes readers realize war does not just take lives, but distorts minds.
Billy’s disorder affects him both internally and socially. Vonnegut makes Billy a character who has difficulty interacting or relating to the humans around him. In an interview Vonnegut mentions that his family and friends “simply cannot read (him)” (Vonnegut, Interview). Through Billy Vonnegut displays this same feeling of separation he, as well as other soldiers, experience. Billy does not show any emotional attachment or strong bond to those in his life, including his wife and fellow soldiers. While walking behind the German lines in World War II, Billy urges the others to go on without him. The soldiers are confused as to why he wishes to die, but Billy just communicates that he is “O.K” (Vonnegut 84) and they should continue on. Many books and movies paint soldiers to be men who stick together, but Vonnegut makes Billy feel like the other men cannot understand him. Billy’s relationship with his wife, Valencia, consists of monotone interactions, void of any passion or love. Valencia cares for Billy and cannot believe he chose her. She tells him “I never thought anybody would marry me” (Vonnegut 206). Billy’s only reply is “um” (206). The “diminished responsiveness to the world around him” (Vees-Gulani) is a symptom of PTSD and prevents Billy from developing or maintaining relationships. Billy will spend the rest of his life never having anyone to turn to or connect with, reinforcing the fact that the struggle of soldiers does not end after battle.
Others who read Vonnegut’s novel may find the main topic of the book is the Dresden fire bombing, and Billy’s character is simply an interesting side story. Vonnegut decides to talk about Dresden at the beginning and end of the book, which are the first and last things the reader sees. In the first chapter the narrator describes “how tempting Dresden has been to write about” (Vonnegut 9). This reflection does not mention any sort of problem with PTSD or express an alternative motive for creating the novel. But, the way the narrator describes his struggle to write the novel resembles the same way Billy fails to fully let out his thoughts and feelings. The narrator can’t express what happened the way he feels is best, and therefore reveals his own trauma caused by the war.
Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five is an anti-war novel that steers from the typical historic account of an event. It is based on the bombing of Dresden, but most of the story is set in places outside of the war zone. By doing this, Vonnegut makes readers consider that war affects soldiers even when they’re out of uniform. Billy Pilgrim represents the soldiers who feel lost and detached from society. Vonnegut has had much success after the war, but his main character is not as fortunate. Vonnegut notes that he is the exception, and wants the public to see that he was the “only person (who) benefited” from the war (Vonnegut, Interview). Billy is the soldier in World War II that doesn’t have a voice because he or she can’t express it. Characteristics like this one, make Billy seem inhuman, therefore representing the ability of war to dehumanize a person and change them forever.

Return to