The novel Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut is a narrative about a man named Billy Pilgrim. Billy participates in World War II and the novel follows his life and focuses on his reaction to the war and his travels to an extraterrestrial planet called Tralfamadore. Many speculate that this book reflects Vonnegut’s feelings about war and have drawn parallels between Vonnegut and Billy Pilgrim. Kurt Vonnegut has the characters read various texts throughout Slaughterhouse Five to emphasize his feelings about war.
Midway through the book, Billy awakes to his friend Edgar Derby reading The Red Badge of Courage (Vonnegut 105). This is a book about a young teenager named Henry Fleming who enlists in the Union Army during the American Civil War to fulfill his desire to attain glory. Derby is one of the older men fighting with Billy and he is not trying to gain anything from the war- he is simply there to fight for his country. Derby however is a high school teacher and some of his older students most likely enlisted for World War II, “right at the end of childhood” (Vonnegut 14). The young men who enlisted were not old enough to understand the consequences of war and too scared to fight effectively. As Mary O’Hare, who influences the narrator to name his book The Children’s Crusade, say early in the book, “you were just babies then” (Vonnegut 14). Vonnegut believes children cannot be expected to fight, they don’t know the consequences of war. He believes war makes kids grow up too soon and that they should enjoy their childhood before being exposed to the evils of battle. Vonnegut has Edgar Derby read The Red Badge of Courage to express his opinion on ...
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...a pillar of salt” perhaps because he says that people are not supposed to look back and that he did but he would no longer (Vonnegut 22). This destruction of a person to salt represents the effect of war on a person’s humanity. Vonnegut believes war has this effect on both soldiers such as Billy and the narrator and civilians such as Lot’s wife. By having the narrator read this particular story in Gideon’s Bible, Vonnegut can validate his opinions about war by recognizing that wars repeat themselves whether they are religious or political, ancient or modern.
Slaughterhouse Five discusses the effect of war on youth, soldiers, and civilians through Vonnegut’s perspective. This lens was brought in by Vonnegut by having the characters in the narrator’s and Billy Pilgrim’s narratives read various texts that expressed Vonnegut’s opinions on war and its destructive nature.
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