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The Slaughterhouse Five Novel Versus Film English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 3828 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut is famous novel that have not only deep sense, but also forced people to think about their life and behavior. I want to prove the thesis that Slaughterhouse Five depicts man as naturally good, but the military’s code of amorality strips away natural compassion. I would like to use specific examples from the author’s life and they, in my opinion, will help me to be well-founded in my argumentation.

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I would like to begin my discussion of the chosen topic through the prehistory of this paper writing. I have read the book the Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut and then I saw the film that was produced by the plot of the book. It is necessary to say that both sources greatly influence on my perception of the material and both of them left their imprint on my perception. I could not say that I like the book more than the film or vice versa, because both of them have their specific inimitable characteristics that make them similar to each other and differ at the same time. I’m a person with creative imagination and reading the book I imagine some details in my own way differ from the way illustrated in the film. The book is full of descriptions and dialogues, full of writer’s emotions, it is a kind of real world, because reading the book I plunge into this reading with great pleasure, and it was the possibility to change my reality on main character’s reality full of sufferings, emotions and deep thoughts about surrounding reality. In the film I found also many interesting facts that show me some aspects from other position and I think that it was good addition to my own experience about t book. Therefore, basing on above stated prehistory I would like to ask your permission to compare and contrast the book with the film and through these differences and similarities is more argumentative in my discussion.

I would like to present some facts from Vonnegut’s life and the first one will have the next emotional character. In February 1945, Vonnegut witnessed the barbaric bombing of the city, which killed about 135,000 people. The experiences left an imprint on his life and work, made him a passionate campaigner against the war and his best novel was written under this reflection. The full title of the novel is the next: “Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death” and it was published in 1969, in the midst of social upheaval in American society caused by the war in Vietnam. Exactly in this period the country was appalled by news that American soldiers massacred civilians’ Vietnamese village of Mai-Lai. It was a period when the rebellious students seized the campus and took over the management of universities. In the State of New York passed a sign of protest that in future become legendary festival and had a title “Woodstock”. In addition, in this time of public frustration at the peak of the Vietnam War appeared Slaughterhouse-Five, a book that made Vonnegut a symbol of the so-called counterculture of the 60’s. Black humor and sharp social criticism helped the writer to create an alternate fantasy world for his characters, many of whom came from his own life. First of all it concerns time-traveling Billy Pilgrim, especially when he comes back in 1945, the third day after the destruction of Dresden. Surviving in Dresden, Vonnegut gave to his hero own words that had clearly expressed his attitude to violence and injustice. Vonnegut said the next phrase: “I told my sons that they had not participate in massacres, and when they heard about the slaughterhouse of the enemy, they would not take any joy or satisfaction.” We see that these words reflect not only pain about people’s destinies, but also big interest in people’s souls, because people with pure soul will never be happy when other people will suffer from the slaughterhouse of the enemy.

The novel, like many other books written by Vonnegut, was into a so-called list of “harmful” in the U.S., it seized from the libraries, and however, under the pretext they contain “obscenity”. This prompted the writer to engage actively in the fight against censorship. According to Loeb “If some people managed to get their aims in this country, they would not be able to freely disseminate ideas, – Vonnegut said in an interview. – I always thought one of the remarkable features of this country that I can say anything I want, and that any other person can say whatever he wants. Then we compare all possible views and come to some kind of opinion.” (Loeb, 1979)

I want to add to the previous information that many of his books became bestsellers, and some of them became the plot for the film. In 1972, appeared a film version, with the title Slaughterhouse-Five. In an interview with Film Comment in 1985, Vonnegut even called the film “perfect embodiment” of his story, which can be considered genuine assessment in light of his comments on other adaptations of his works.

Vonnegut wrote funny, saying in such a way about serious things, said the American writer Christopher Buckley. In his life he had experienced terrible tragedy: during the war, committed suicide took his mother’s life, then her sister died from cancer, two days before it a train accident killed her husband, her son suffered a nervous breakdown… Moreover, in 1984, prone to depression Vonnegut himself attempted to commit suicide. Yet he found the strength and courage to look at life with humor and irony, write in funny way about serious things that, according to some critics, brought Vonnegut and Mark Twain to one line, because Mark Twain also suffered from many tragedies, but had not lost the love to life.

I would like to think in this part of my paper why Slaughterhouse Five has succeeded in sphere where others have failed. First of all, success has a place thanks to both the source material been transferred to the screen. Although there are some discrepancies with the text, which lead to different results, but in general, the film is fine, it reproduced the content in a full degree, and literary images successfully converted into visual and audio elements, convincingly conveying the basic motifs of the novel.

Arguing to the thesis of this paper, it is necessary to pay attention on people’s characters and their internal emotional experience that sometimes exists in balance with “white” and “black” sides of their personality. It is really hard to experience reality depicted in the book when military’s code of amorality strips away natural compassion. We see that while the literary style of Vonnegut’s very clearly is presented in Slaughterhouse-Five, the novel as a whole differs from the majority of his works, because it gives an interesting interpretation of personal experiences of the Vonnegut during the World War II and, in particular, during the bombing of Dresden. The reader will notice that many of Vonnegut’s stories are written in the first person singular and Slaughterhouse-Five is not an exception, because the narrative in it is written in the first and the second person at the same time. Therefore, the novel tells not only about Dresden, but also about the process of writing a novel – we make it clear that the novel describes the events that have had a profound impact on formation of the personality of the author. The motives of cruelty, innocence, freedom of will, rebirth, survival time of war are raised in the novel, they periodically appear in other Vonnegut novels, as well as some of his heroes, who tend to symbolize certain ideas and have a great inner depth. Another striking feature is its predilection for the use of historical and literary sources, in addition, it was noted that the Vonnegut prefers to describe the dialogues. According to Bianculli “the form and narrative structure of Slaughterhouse-Five is as important in developing its themes as the novel’s substance. The writer is acutely aware of his own limitations and motivations writing the novel, as indicated by the first words of the novel. Vonnegut, in writing the story of a firebombed Dresden, is trying to convey both what happened and what really happened. Clearly this author does not believe in a formulaic approach to plot (beginning, middle, and end). He rejects this idea and many other standards of storytelling to create a new form of the novel, which fits his themes and unique humanistic perfectly.” (Bianculli, 1985)

These features of the literary style of Vonnegut are even more difficult in adaptation of his works. However, it is enough strangely, many of Vonnegut’s novels are full of cinematic plasticity. As the Film Comment: “Literary Dictionary of Vonnegut includes printed analogy to jump-cuts, mounting, fades and flashbacks. He was writing a series in itself creates a cinematic experience, he is setting the scene closely, comparing them with each other for maximum effect, and sometimes it even works on the nerves”. (Bianculli, 1985)

We understand that front page of Slaughterhouse Five tells us that this novel is written by American in the fourth generation, who during the war served as an American intelligence field, and that hitting a prisoner, has witnessed the bombing of Dresden … and could tell that story, because they survived. This novel is written in a telegraphic and schizophrenic style of the Trafamaldore planet, where the book has no beginning and no end, no tension of the plot, no moral, any causes or consequences – and it has only the points plotted in a charming casual order, which together give an unexpected and profound understanding of life. This is an unusual story about a man named Billy Pilgrim, who, like the author, survived the Dresden bombing, but he has also an uncontrollable ability to move in time. Billy is remarkable by the fact that part of his life he lived at the zoo on a distant planet Trafamaldore, which is populated by little green men, who can see in four dimensions. The novel is written without following the chronological order – in line with the philosophy of Trafamaldore’s habitants and the fact that “Billy hung up from time to time”. The focus of Slaughterhouse-Five is on the deep impact that it is time for Billy growing up, different events and interaction with others.

In acknowledgement of these facts I want to quote Merrill who said that “Time, incidentally, plays an important role in Slaughterhouse-Five. Its protagonist, Vonnegut’s alter-ego Billy Pilgrim, makes his own unheroic pilgrimage through time. At certain intervals, he becomes “unstuck” in time. He travels back and forth randomly through his own life and cavorts with the Tralfalmadorians, his new traveling companions. Tralfalmadore is a distant planet whose occupants hold much different ideas about time, life, and death than Earthlings. When Vonnegut juxtaposes realistic events and fictional space traveling aliens, though, it isn’t simple digression. Vonnegut uses the Trafalmadorian view of life to point out certain things in our own notions of it. When a Trafalmadorian sees a dead being, and says “So it goes,” it makes us question our own ideas about life and death. In that respect, Vonnegut’s work questions our own preconceived notions of war and death more closely than a closely realistic book like Red Badge of Courage, which incidentally is mentioned in Slaughterhouse-Five.” (Merrill, 1990) Monica Loeb writes that the novel illustrates how the human soul responds to cruelty and seeks the way to recover after a collision with it. This occurs as a literary as well as on a personal level, the author, we can say that as Vonnegut’s and Billy’s first “retreat into the personal realm [the war], and then gradually take on a prophetic mission.”

Comparing film with the book we could say that despite the fact that Billy in the novel learns something new from each person or a stranger, all characters in one or another way have an influence on him, the movie does not hit Kilgore Trout and Vonnegut himself, who appears in his novel as a statistician. These omissions are reasonable, given the properties of the media – in the film these characters embody it would be difficult. Ultimately, the presence of the novel’s idea of Vonnegut’s Trout draws a line on the role of the writer in society. Trout is also a projection of the author, his books offer Billy (and the reader) new perspective on their own existence, humanity, and a critical attitude towards society.

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Vonnegut impartial and detached describes the life of Billy in chapters 2-9, and also tells us about their own experiences related to the creation of the novel in chapters 1 and 10, explaining the first person of his essence. These introductory and concluding chapters also give a novel volume, bringing it close to reality, and allowing each reader to extrapolate the war and travel Billy in space and time on their own experiences. This goal, in particular, is references to the assassination of President Kennedy and the Vietnam War. Vonnegut finished his novel in just two days after Kennedy was assassinated, however, he believed that readers need to be recalled about this fact. The idea that Billy Pilgrim is a man, like everyone else, not quite revealed in the film. In addition, four times the narrator refers to his involvement in the events described in chapters 2-9. He once said that someone called Dresden the country Oz. “It was me. Personally, I “- once the author added. This is the only four episodes, which was reflected in the film, but on screen the word “Oz” says Billy, as in the movie is not the person from whom the story is, there is only a camera and a typewriter that appears at the beginning.

Although the use of voice-over the screen would allow to achieve interesting results, George Roy decided that on behalf of the author in his film will serve operator. Although this transformation, the overall impression created by Vonnegut, has been lost, the director managed should to convey the essence. In fact, at times the film surpasses the original by the impact that the viewer jumps through time and space. The film begins with a scene that is not directly present in the novel. Matured Billy typing a letter to local newspaper publisher, in which he explains everything that happened to him. This scene serves as an introduction to the film, and printed words (to which the camera draws our attention) play the role of the narrator in the first chapter (not replacing, other, the presence of Vonnegut as the author) and, to some extent, the role of an impersonal narrator of the second chapter, in which Vonnegut describes to us the whole story. Sound of typewriter Billy looks like an echo given to the empty house, and then the viewer can feel the first time, which means situation of “disconnect from time to time”. Throughout the film the camera brings us to the things which seem to act on behalf of the narrator, and this may be something to see through innocent eyes of Billy, or something is happening somewhere else.

Often the transitions that were used in the film were taken directly from the book, but the film is original and transitions. One good example of such harmonious transition, showing Billy jumps in time, is includes in the episode in which Billy covered his head with a blanket on a train, which takes him to the prison camp. The camera shows us a picture from Billy’s position and it allows us to percept surrounding reality trough his eyes; and when he again lifts the blanket, then the frame is no longer the guy who tells Billy that he has survived in trouble and cleaner (so happened that shortly he still died), and instead, we see Billy’s mother. We see her just one second, as Billy once again covered his head, partly because she has spent so much effort to give his life … and Billy that life does not like.

According to Merrill we should add that “Slaughterhouse-Five is also wonderful because of its constant use of descriptive imagery, whether it pertains to war, animals, sounds or smells.” (Merrill, 1990) When I was reading the book, I imagine every event with big amount of details and it was possible only due to the talent of its author who made such the way of imagination possible. In the continuation of the quotation we should mention that “the film handles the visual imagery well; Billy really does look like a clown bopping up and down in his fur-collared impressario’s coat and silver boots, but other imagery would be hard to duplicate. After all, how does one show that Weary’s face is like a “toad in a fishbowl”? Moreover, while the film usually retains Vonnegut’s colorful descriptive imagery, there are times when the film does not even come close.” (Merrill, 1990) I like many episodes in the book and also in the film and I was interested in train description, because it was described like real or even animate creature that has its own life and properties like any alive organism. Merrill stataed that “for example, the train in the novel is likened to a “single organism which ate and drank and excreted through its ventilators. It talked or sometimes yelled through its ventilators, too. In went water and loaves of black bread … and out came shit and piss and language”. The train in the movie is just that – a train. The olfactory imagery is not noticeable in the movie, but the auditory imagery is translated successfully for the most part. In the novel, “sound is used to reinforce the negative effect already established by the war imagery,” as Monica Loeb points out. In the movie however, few direct links to passages in the book exist; nevertheless, the net effect of the ambiguity of the sounds used in the film serves the same purpose as the negative loud sounds in the novel – they both make Billy relate sounds of harmless, innocent things to war. In the film there are many transitions facilitated by sounds. This is accomplished through the forced similarities between typing sounds, gun shots, applause, screams, bombs, an airplane crash, tanks, electric shock treatments, and trains.” (Merrill, 1990)

I was really impressed by one idea that was taken from the book. I understood that the man – is the only animal that can get through the work of a purely animal state: its normal state is that which corresponds to its consciousness and must be created by him. World around us is full of cruelty and the degree of cruelty of this flow depends on the socio-economic living conditions determined by the nature of social formation. In the modern scientific and technological revolution, this “cruelty” has reached enough high level and result, inter alia, to a certain disruption of natural foundations for an effective life of the individual, emotional crisis, the major manifestations of which are stress, emotional disharmony, alienation and feelings of immaturity, leading to deterioration of health and disease.

According to Loeb “… in spite of its important role played in modern life issues of its social organization, its institutions, laws and treaties, with all the power of technology is not created by man they ultimately determine the fate of mankind.” (Loeb. 1979) And there is no and will not save a person, until the people themselves do not change their habits, manners and behavior. I think that people do not have time to adapt their own culture in accordance with those changes, which themselves contribute to this world, and the sources of this crisis lie inside, not outside of human beings, considered as an individual and as a team. And all of these problems must come primarily from the change of the person, his inner being.

We could conclude from previous statement that the main obstacle between man and the future, to which he seeks, is the man itself. The crisis of human, in my opinion, is not rooted in human nature itself, it is not some inherent property or its ineradicable flaw, no, this is more a crisis of civilization or culture, which is a cause of deep gap between thinking and human behavior, on the one hand, and changing the real world – on the other. And this crisis – with all its depth and danger – you can still overcome. Nevertheless, in order to overcome this crisis, we must at first understand the causes, depending on the person and his consciousness.

One of the main ideas of Slaughterhouse-Five is that all people are “insect in amber” – despite the fact that they froze it in a physical sense, they still retain the ability to imagine. In fact, the whole novel could be reduced to this single idea, the only glimmer of optimism in the bleak picture of the world. In the novel, frequently repeating the word “insect in amber”, as well as an abundance of present description of closed spaces – from the caves to the wagon train, the zoo and even a mother’s womb, where the “red lights and splashing”. These confined spaces emphasize once again that Billy is physically “frozen in amber”. The film does not refer to the “insect in amber”, but staff achieves a related effect, which is almost always visible to the ceiling, which also creates a sense of closure. As in the novel, these “caves” may be perceived as something unpleasant and terrible, for someone they can be a symbol of death, and for someone they can be symbols of survival and security.

Analysing the novel from different sides I understood that people are greatly affected by surrounding reality ad even naturally good people under the influence of the military’s code of amorality strips away natural compassion. Thus, I want to say that the thesis of this paper was proved and also there were presented many interesting facts that allow us once more think about our life and compare or contrast events presented in the book or film with our reality. I strongly believe that such literature, like the Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut are necessary for our contemporary society and, moreover, such books should be read by youth, who are forming their attitude to the world. In my opinion, thinking and reading about cruelty we study the way to avoid it in our life and how to stay naturally good despite all hardships and difficulties on our long haul.


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