Comic and Tragic Elements in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five

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Comic and Tragic Elements in Slaughterhouse Five

Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., is the tale of a World War II soldier, Billy Pilgrim. His wartime experiences and their effects lead him to the ultimate conclusion that war is unexplainable. To portray this effectively, Vonnegut presents the story in two dimensions: historical and science-fiction. The irrationality of war is emphasized in each dimension by contrasts in its comic and tragic elements. The historical seriousness of the Battle of the Bulge and the bombing of Dresden are contrasted by many ironies and dark humor; the fantastical, science-fiction-type place of Tralfamadore is, in truth, an outlet for Vonnegut to show his incredibly serious fatalistic views. The surprising variations of the seriousness and light-heartedness allow Vonnegut to show effectively that war is absurd.

The most important historical plot strand of Slaughterhouse-Five is Billy Pilgrim's war experience which occurs during the last six months of World War II. This plot strand follows Billy through the Battle of the Bulge and his presence as a POW during the bombing of Dresden, Germany. Vonnegut contrasts these documented milestones with incredible amounts of dramatic irony and dark humor. This provides the plot with not only comic relief, but examples of absurdities which parallel the message of the insanity of war. Billy, standing at a lanky six-foot two, is introduced in the middle of a Luxembourg forest during the Battle of the Bulge. He, along with two infantry scouts and an antitank gunner named Roland Weary, have been separated from their platoon and are alone in enemy territory. In contrast to the two scouts, who are quiet and swiftly moving through the fo...

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...mbolized fatalism and the Garden of Eden.

Vonnegut gives a compelling account of the horrors of war using intricate, clever story-telling techniques, bringing together the extremes between truth (historical facts) and science fiction (futuristic imagination). He uses the extraordinary technique of combining the dark humor of Billy's views of World War II with the serious message from the figment of madness of Tralfamadore to show the inexplicable occurrences of war and its repercussions. This ingenious combination leads to a unique tale that is timeless and interesting, that brings the story of Dresden, of Tralfamadore, and of Billy Pilgrim, into the public eye.

Works and Sources Cited

Merrill, Robert. ed. Critical Essays on Kurt Vonnegut. Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1990.

Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five. New York: Dell Publishing, 1968.

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