The Insanity of War in Slaughterhouse Five
Regarding his views on war, Albert Einstein said in 1931, “[he] who joyfully marches to music in rank and file… has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him a spinal cord would surely suffice.” Slaughterhouse Five, written by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., is a satirical World War II novel. The novel focuses on Billy Pilgrim’s experiences. He develops schizophrenia during the war and consequently feels as if he lives in moments, opposed to chronologically, as well as claiming to be abducted by aliens living on the planet Tralfamadore. Through these moments Billy meets Edgar Derby and Ronald Weary, two major characters who suffer from the war, as well. Through its contrasting characters, Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five attempts to dissuade its audience from war by demonstrating its insanity.
Billy Pilgrim demonstrates the absurdity of war through his own insanity caused by his experiences in war. During his moments on Tralfamadore, Billy learns the philosophies of the Tralfamadorians. They see their lives as one large moment, knowing what has happened and what will happen, similar to Billy. When faced with the death of others, Billy “simply [shrugs] and [says] what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is ‘So it goes’” (Vonnegut 26). Billy’s apathy towards death is a coping mechanism for himself due to all the tragedies in war. This is meant to come across as disturbing to the audience because someone of regular mental health would be horrified. Billy Pilgrim believes he has knowledge of his own death, as well. He claims to have seen it several times; he is shot by a fellow soldier while giving a speech about his experiences (134). Billy feels threatened and untrusting towards oth...
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...ntitank buddies [fight] like hell until everyone [is] killed but Weary” (39). Weary dreams of this story because he enjoys violence and craves supremacy. Vonnegut uses Weary’s story to show war as evil and cruel. He leads the audience to loathe Weary for this idea and therefore loathe war for its similar values.
Vonnegut uses contrasting characters in Slaughterhouse Five to discourage his audience from war by signifying its absurdity. Billy Pilgrim, Edgar Derby, and Ronald Weary all show varying negative aspects of war through their own traits as well as events in their lives. Occurrences like extreme suffering caused by war, the injustice of war, and the cruelty of war reflect Vonnegut’s views. Vonnegut insists war is the wrong way to achieve power.
Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse Five. United States: The Random House Publishing Group,