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. Throughout Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut explores the theme of free will in order to illustrate the absurdity of war. Vonnegut conveys this through setting, characters, structure, and style.
Vonnegut uses setting to convey the terrors of war by juxtaposing the hell-like Dresden with the heavenly Trafalmador. After the firebombing of Dresden, when the soldiers emerge out of a slaughterhouse, they find the entire city desolate and destroyed. As the soldiers wander out of the slaughterhouse, Vonnegut writes, “One thing was clear: Absolutely everybody in the city was supposed to be dead, regardless of what they were, and that anybody that moved represented a flaw in the design. There were to be no moon men at all. 135,000 civilians are killed in the raid, almost twice the number who would later die at Hiroshima” (Vonnegut 180). While in Dresden, the soldiers were surrounded by death, and even rode in a “coffin-shaped green wagon” (Vonnegut 194) through the ruins. The Dresden firebombing also exemplifies the absurdity of war because Dresden was an open city with no military significance, yet the Allies decided to bomb it anyways. In contrast with Dresden, while held captive on the far-off planet of Tralfamador, Billy Pilgrim lives an ideal life, in which he is sleeping with a beautiful movie star. Also, the Tralfamadorian view on free will releases Billy from any guilt he felt about the war. When describing wars, one Tralfamadorian claims, “There isn’t anything we can do about them, so we simply don’t look at them. We ignore them. We spend eternity looking at pleasant moments-like today at the zoo” (Vonnegut 117). While on Tralfamador, Billy lives in a dream world in which he only looks at pleasant moments and forgets about all of the horrible events of his life. Vonnegut uses the blissful Tralfamador in order to contrast and accentuate the ho...
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...selves of the idea that war is inevitable. Structurally, he uses a non-chronological organization in order to parallel the disorderly nature of war. Also, Vonnegut narrates the story in order to come to terms with his own war history. Finally, he utilizes a straightforward style and black humor in order to express the irrationality of war. Vonnegut’s beliefs are fairly easy to pull from his works; what is unique about him is that he took social protest to new heights. His work had a definite and lasting impact on the world's perception of war, and forced readers to question the justification behind the actions of themselves and their nations.
Works Cited Page
Cox, F. Brett. “Criticism: Essay.” Novels for Students. Ed. Diane Telgen and Kevin Hile.
Vol 2. Detroit: Gale, 1998. 270-272.
Harris, Charles B. “Criticism:Essay.” Novels for Students. Ed. Diane Telgen and Kevin
Hile. Vol 2. Detroit: Gale, 1998. 272-274.
Reed, Peter J. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. New York: Warner, 1972.
“Slaughterhouse-Five.” Novels for Students. Ed. Diane Telgen and Kevin Hile. Vol. 2.
Detroit:Gale, 1998. 258-277.
Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five. New York: Dell, 1969.
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