This essay explores and analyses how Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse 5” is an anti-war novel. There are various instances throughout the novel which demonstrate that the author was trying to condemn the notion of war. Vonnegut was inspired via his experiences during the war, the protagonist of the novel, Billy Pilgrim, expresses Vonnegut’s perspective regarding the horrors of war. The main indications in the novel which denoted anti-war were Vonnegut’s unique literature techniques, humanism and author positioning. Throughout this essay, I will examine how Vonnegut effectively deploys his techniques in the novel and convinces readers.
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The incorporation of science fiction with the Tralfamadorians by Vonnegut operates as a further method to express his feelings against warfare. It was described in the novel that the Tralfamadorians are capable of observing a fourth dimension. Due to this special ability, they hold a completely different mentality in comparison to humans. The Tralfamadorians say “how only on earth is there talk of free will” (Slaughterhouse 5 pg.133). This represents the view of Vonnegut that humans’ beliefs of free will are causing the war. Hence the Tralfamadorian’s belief of fatalism aims to justify the irrationality of war by criticizing human’s thoughtless decisions on initiating wars. (Cacicedo 2005) The Tralfamadorians also stated that there will always be war on earth since humans are designed that way. This statement was intended by Vonnegut to dishonor war and label it in a negative way. In addition, the existence of the Tralfamadorians in this novel is another way Vonnegut thinks about the war. The hallucinations Billy experiences after the war tells the readers how his life has changed, and also shows how he is trying to erase his horrific memory of the war by escaping his reality and embracing the Tralfamadorian world and their philosophy on life. Therefore Vonnegut is deploying authorial voice technique to expose his views on philosophy towards the readers, this was achieved by contrasting the concepts of philosophy between human’s and Tralfamadorian’s.
The fire bombing of Dresden in Germany was an extremely influential event for Vonnegut. As Vonnegut recalls the incident in Dresden, he relates the event in a way that allows the reader to engage in his personal perspective of the incident. He encounters the Dresden experience with condolence and sadness rather than aggression, pain and resentfulness. Billy observes the sadistic and cruelty of the world when city of Dresden gets bombed. He feels the awkward misery over the attack due to his situation of being ambushed by his allies and he experiences and sees the suffering of his enemies. In this way, Vonnegut draws attention of the reader to the underlying theme of a man’s capacity of violence and cruelty. Billy also described aftermath of the attack by saying “Once a beautiful city looking like the surface of the moon”. Therefore by utilizing the voice of Billy, Vonnegut is trying to persuade the readers that any sort of massacre, even those of our enemies, should not to be considered with satisfaction or joy as we all are humans to be valued.
Another reason how this book promotes anti-war can be noticed by the title, “Children’s crusade”. This title represents the soldiers in the warfare, as “children” thus implying that they are naÃ¯ve and innocent. Another reason why Vonnegut portrayed the soldiers as children is to emphasize the fact that the wars are fought by the children, who are incapable of comprehending the cause of the war. Therefore Vonnegut attempts to convey his message that these “children” soldiers are being exploited by sadistic leaders. Vonnegut has chosen the word “children” as children have no duty in war thus the war should not be occurring. This also leads the reader to be sympathetic of the soldiers; they are depicted without any independent thought and do not have the motivation to take other people’s lives. Vonnegut is also trying to cast a negative light upon the instigators of war with this title. Thus the overall message of Slaughterhouse 5 is that war is not heroic or glorious and that government propaganda tries to blind people from the ugly truth of warfare. It can then be seen with these elements that Vonnegut is endorsing a negative perspective towards war.
The literary technique of irony is also employed to further uphold the anti-war theme by making light of a horrific scenes and misery from war. This use of black humor makes Vonnegut’s audience laugh inappropriately at instances of death and destruction which then leaves a significant impact upon the reader. Vonnegut does this to effectively convey his anti-war sentiment by manipulating his audience to feel guilty and ashamed. Another aim for this technique is to allow the readers to deeply reflect on the negative side of war. The main example of irony used in this novel by Vonnegut is would be the ending of the novel, when the bird says “poo too weet!” to Billy after there is a lengthy passage detailing a pile of rotting bodies. This signifies that the war is nonsensical and unnecessary just like what the bird has said to Billy. A further example of irony used in the novel is the highly unlikely instance where the trained infantry scouts are killed, however Billy and Ronald who are not trained, survive. Thus this is a technique creates a guilty conscience for the readers because war is inappropriate subject to be laughed at. This exploitation of the reader’s consciences towards the issue of war relates back to the anti-war sentiment that is evident throughout the novel.
Lastly, a prayer in the novel which goes as follows
“G-d grant me
The serenity to accept
The things I cannot change,
To change the things I can,
And wisdom always
To tell the difference.” (Slaughterhouse 5, pg. 137)
This prayer by Vonnegut epitomizes his message and demand towards the readers. Vonnegut is trying to tell the readers that some parts of life are inevitable and must be acknowledged, but there are numerous aspects in life which must be changed. Vonnegut argues that we must utilize our beyond abilities in order to learn and change. Thus the destiny of future can be adjusted by our act.
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The novel “Slaughterhouse 5” was produced by Vonnegut to expose his negative reflection towards war in order to persuade the readers. Another purpose of this novel is to prevent the occurrence of wars to come in the future. Vonnegut has achieved this by employing various methods in his writing, such as literature techniques, humanism and author positioning. The Vonnegut’s aim in creating this novel was to share his emotional experiences and to allow people to understand the grief he attained from war. This was accomplished by revealing the misery side of the war and proposing his philosophy. In conclusion, Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5 can be perceived in numerous ways. It can be recognized as science fiction novel, semi-autobiographical novel and unquestionably as an anti war book. Vonnegut successfully conveys his thoughts and message to the readers by effectively deploying his techniques to convince the readers.
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