Essay on Slaughterhouse Five, By Kurt Vonnegut

Essay on Slaughterhouse Five, By Kurt Vonnegut

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Kurt Vonnegut has built a universe for Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse-Five where Billy’s cruel, unforgiving reality is contrasted by a philosophical utopia where he has learned to operate without the pains of being human. Within this self-described ‘telegraphic’ and ‘schizophrenic’ novel, Vonnegut manages to swing the reader halfway across the galaxy to a planet inhabited by a plunger-like race called the Tralfamadorians, take them into the harrowing depths of a POW camp, and show you a man who is increasingly coming undone at the seams after having lived with the psychological terrors of the Dresden bombing. He accomplishes all of this while only leaving the reader with a slight case of jet lag and hopefully a new perspective on the American lifestyle.
Slaughterhouse-Five is widely considered Vonnegut’s biggest accomplishment and most important piece of work. He may have had a few things to say about these assertions though. Vonnegut claims in the first chapter that his novel is a ‘failure’ and has been written by a ‘pillar of salt’. It is this witty, often times dark humor that is oftentimes used to project Vonnegut 's delivery of critiques, pessimism, and human compassion. In Slaughterhouse-Five what starts out in chapter 2 as a dissonant narrative style, eventually takes form as an intricately interwoven patchwork of telegraphs. This telegraphic style allows Vonnegut to take an untraditional approach to his critique of determinism and effectively communicate the psychological effects of war. This telegraphic style is also used to put narrative distance between Vonnegut and Billy, allowing the author to accurately tell the story of the Dresden bombings, as well as contrast diametrically opposing concepts and imagery to extr...


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...oses to highlight the aspects of warfare that assimilate humans into apathetic machines. Perhaps Vonnegut’s deepest fear is that Americans will eventually become living metaphors to Kilgore Trout’s robot in Gutless Wonder. With the exponential growth and use of technology in modern American society and warfare it’s not an absurd notion that we are crossing the threshold Vonnegut may have been warning against. I believe Slaughterhouse-Five is not just a pessimistic statement of humanity and the destruction that we bring upon each other, but a magnificent rallying cry for Americans to wake up. That we are more than just machines being operated by cosmic forces. We must as humans hold ourselves and others accountable for their actions and show compassion towards one another. We are all marching in the fools parade and we indeed are not as he said, “bug trapped in amber.”

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