Essay on Slaughterhouse-Five: Futile Search for Meaning

Essay on Slaughterhouse-Five: Futile Search for Meaning

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Critics often suggest that Kurt Vonnegut’s novels represent a man’s desperate, yet, futile search for meaning in a senseless existence.  Vonnegut’s novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, displays this theme.  Kurt Vonnegut uses a narrator, which is different from the main character.  He uses this technique for several reasons.

            Kurt Vonnegut introduces Slaughterhouse Five in the first person.  In the second chapter, however, this narrator changes to a mere bystander.  Vonnegut does this for a specific reason.  He wants the reader to realize that the narrator and Billy Pilgrim, the main character, are two different people.  In order to do this, Vonnegut places the narrator in the text, on several occasions.  “An American near Billy wailed that [Billy] had excreted everything but his brains...That was I.  That was me.”  This statement clearly illustrates that the narrator and Billy are not the same person.  The narrator was the

 American disgusted by Billy.  Vonnegut places the narrator in the novel in subtle ways.  While describing the German prisoner trains, he merely states, “I was there.”  By not referring to Billy as I, Billy is immediately an individual person.  I is the narrator, while Billy is Billy.  Their single connection is that they were both in the war. 

            Kurt Vonnegut places his experiences and his views in the text.  He begins the book by stating, “All this happened, more or less.  The war parts, anyway, are pretty much true...I’ve changed all of the names.”  Viewing war as a sen...


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...t or the future.  With this information, Billy begins to learn about the future.  “I,  Billy Pilgrim will die, have died, and will always die on February thirteenth, 1976.”  Billy is in fact right with this prediction.  Realizing everything is planned out, Billy ends his search for meaning.  He understands that he can do nothing to stop the senseless acts, which take place.  Like the Tralfamadores, he must try to concentrate on the good moments and not on the bad ones.  He could do nothing to stop them or to change them. 

            Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five suggests that a man cannot change his fate.  Any attempts to change the past or the future are meaningless.  Therefore, there is nothing to search for, and the search for meaning is futile.

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