The Parallel Plot Lines in Slaughterhouse-Five

The Parallel Plot Lines in Slaughterhouse-Five

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The Parallel Plot Lines in Slaughterhouse-Five


Kurt Vonnegut is and will always in my eyes and in the eyes
of many others the writer who made the science-fiction genre safe
for not only mainstream appeal, but also critical acclaim and
intellectual contemplation. Even though Arthur C. Clarke's 2001:
A Space Odyssey and Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker series were
released in roughly the same timeframe as Kurt Vonnegut's
Slaughterhouse-Five, none has held the same aura of respect and
significance to the literary zeitgeist as Vonnegut's monumental
masterpiece. The respect Slaughterhouse-Five garnishes among
bookworms and the intellectual elite alike is no accident. Kurt
Vonnegut's universal acclaim and appeal surely comes in no small
part from his gift for connecting, almost unnoticiably, seemingly
unrelated objects and events to give them deeper meaning,
creating a phenomenon known within Jungian circles as
synchronicity. By making his novel so multi-layered by drawing
these comparisons, such as in being transported from a train car
into a POW camp to an extraterrestrial spaceship that hums like
a melodious owl, human beings being trapped within each moment in
time like an insect in amber, and the writer's own repetition of
his current project to a jokey old song, the writer gives us
a deeper insight into the real multi-layeredness of space and
time.

When Billy Pilgrim and his fellow POWs are transported out
of their train car and toward the POW camp, Vonnegut compares the
calm peeking-in and speech of the Axis power guards to the
behavior of an owl. The owl had been mentioned earlier in the
novel, more specifically in the persona of a clock hanging in
Billy's office, and is brought up again here to describe Billy's
antagonists: "The guards peeked in Billy's car owlishly, cooed
calmingly." By using the owl already mentioned in the novel as
a metaphor, Vonnegut makes an otherwise uncomfortable and tense
situation more familiar. The writer uses this metaphor again
while telling of the movement of the POWs out of the train car

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and into the camp unloading area: "They had never dealt with
Americans before, but they understood this general sort of
freight...[it] could be induced to flow slowly toward cooing and
light. It was nighttime. The only light outside came from
a single bulb which hung from a pole...All was quiet outside,
except for the guards, who cooed like doves." A similar situation
occurs later in the novel when Billy is abducted by the
Tralfamadorians. The spaceship hovers over Billy, the only sound
being made sounded like it might have been a from "melodious
owl." As the owl song of the saucer continues, Billy is enveloped
in a pulsating purple light and has no choice but to rise toward
it, not unlike the single light that Billy moved toward in the
German POW camp in World War 2. Vonnegut has given us two
undeniably different types of abductions and gives them similar
characteristics to give them a more meaningful cosmic
significance.

Billy Pilgrim is later trapped on the Tralfamadorian
space-ship, which may or may not exist in Billy's reality, but
undoubtedly exists within Billy's own mind. Vonnegut attempts to
explain to us, in the guise of the aliens communicating with
Billy Pilgrim, the reality of time. According to the aliens, Free
Will does not exist except within the human imagination. Our
destinies are out of our hands, and time is one continuous arc.
When Billy asks the simple question, "why me?" his response is
all at once troubling, revealing, mysterious, and hopeful: "Why
you? Why us for that matter? Why anything? Because this moment
simply is. Have you ever seen bugs trapped in amber?...Well, here
we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is
no why." Billy actually has a ladybug trapped in a sliver of
amber on his desk in his optometrist's office, bringing together
once again the cosmic significance of everyday objects, such as
fossilized insects or nocturnal owls. The fact that both the
fossilized insect and the owl appear in one form or another
within Billy's Illium office lends creedence to the possibility
that the alien abduction experienced by Billy existed only within
his own mind.

To further explain the mystery of time to Billy's
comparatively feeble mind, the Tralfamadorian alien compares all
time to a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, where each peak is
a moment in time and those with the ability of
fourth-dimensional travel can look at any of these peaks.
Vonnegut might be alluding to the possibilities of the power of
the human mind should we, as a race, evolve to the level of the
Tralfamadorians'.

Throughout the first chapter of Slaughterhouse-Five,
Vonnegut tells us how whenever he was asked what he was working
on, he responded, "a book about Dresden." He thinks of this
response as his endless curse, like the song that goes:

My name is Yon Yonson, I work in Wisconsin, I work in
a lumbermill there. The people I meet when I walk down
the street, They say, 'What is your name?' And I say
'My name is Yon Yonson, I work in Wisconson...(pg.3)'

And so on into infinity. Yon Yonson repeats and repeats the
same lines in that song. Since Yon Yonson is asked the same
question repeatedly, he is forced to give the same answer over
and over again. Likewise, Vonnegut believes that he will never be
able to shake the response he had been giving to everyone who
asked him what his current project is. He feared that he would be
doomed to repeat that he was working on a "book about Dresden" ad
infinitum, just as the fictional Yon Yonson would be cursed to
repeat his song forever. Apparently, the Yon Yonson song was
a well known joke in the mid-sixties, much like the Sheri Lewis
trademark "This is the song that never ends..." Vonnegut has
attempted to relate the song to his plight in order that the
reader might better understand his plight and need to finish the
"book about Dresden."

As stated before, the concept of synchronicity is a popular
one among followers of Jung and many postmodern underground
sci-fi groupies. Synchronicity is defined as a "resonance formed
between two events unrelated in time and space"
(http://www.xnet.com/~arkiver/synch/synch.shtml). Simply put,
synchronicity is the cosmic significance of correspondence
between unrelated occurances. Synchronicity connects Pink
Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon album to the film "The Wizard of
Oz". It connects the objects in Billy Pilgrim's office to the
events surrounding his two different abductions. It connects
a jokey song to Vonnegut's quest to complete his Dresden novel.
Synchronicity is an important staple of the science fiction
genre. Vonnegut proves his meddle as a science fiction writer,
and indeed as a writer proper, by using the concept of
synchronicity within his own work. He interweaves loose threads
and unrelated events and objects to give them meaning and to
relate them to reality, no matter how fanciful they may be. By
weaving the strings of various plotlines, namely the events
happening within Billy's reality and Billy's imagination and the
events occuring within the past, present, and future, Kurt
Vonnegut gives us insight into how a piece of science fiction
should make a person question the meaning of the everyday events
within his own reality.
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