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Slaughter House Five

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Reed Adams

on 23 January 2014

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Transcript of Slaughter House Five

“ Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.”
The main idea of this book is the idea of traveling through time. Not being able to control when or where he goes as he experiences his life events out of order and repeatedly. Traveling to the cellar of a slaughterhouse in Dresden, to his marriage with his wife and daughter in Ilium, New York to a zoo on the planet Tralfamadore.

Slaughterhouse Five is the story of a man named Billy Pilgrim and how he lives his life "unstuck in time". He travels back and forth in time, visiting his birth, death, all the moments in between repeatedly and out of order. In between, Billy Pilgrim's life is given to us out of order and in small fragments. Billy is a fairly awkward young man, although he does exceptionally well in high school as he enrols in night classes at the Ilium School of Optometry and later on drafted into the army during WWII. Billy is thrown into the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium and is immediately taken prisoner behind German lines. Just before his capture, he experiences his first incident of time-shifting. He sees the entirety of his life, from beginning to end, in one sweep. Billy and the other American POWs are temporarily shipped to a camp full of dying Russians and a few pampered British officers. The Americans then are moved to Dresden, a beautiful German city that has no major industries and no significant military presence. No one expects anything to ever happen to Dresden . But in the span of one night in February of 1945, Dresden is bombed until almost nothing is left. 130,000 people die. As a witness to the destruction, Billy confronts fundamental questions about the meanings of life and death. Traumatized by the events in Dresden, Billy can provide no answers. Although his life as an optometrist, a husband, and a father is materially fulfilling, he is unable to find peace of mind because of the trauma he suffered in Dresden. On the night of his daughter's wedding, Billy (as he claims) is kidnapped by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. The Tralfamadorians exist in the fourth dimension, and consequently they have a completely different view of time. They capture him and hold him captive for many months. Using a time warp, they return him to earth almost immediately after the moment that he left, so no one notices that he has been missing for months. He says nothing about the events until he suffers head injuries in a plane crash. His wife dies almost immediately after the crash. After he goes home, he runs off to New York and goes on a radio talk show to talk about his alien abduction experiences and the Tralfamadorian concept of time. His daughter Barbara, just twenty-one years old, suddenly motherless and with a father who appears to be mentally unbalanced, takes care of Billy but feels a great deal of resentment and frustration. Billy is really receptive to the Tralfamadorian way of looking at things, because he has been disconnected from time since 1944. He has seen his own birth and death many, many times, so he is uniquely qualified to believe that each independent moment is its own complete world. After all, this is both how Billy experiences time and how the novel is told, scene by scene in tiny chunks of narrative that only make sense when you look at them all at once.
Billy Pilgrim
Style/Literary Devices
Slaughter House Five
By Kurt Vonnegut
Acceptance and Truth
"So it goes,"
Acceptance is present throughout the book with the sentence “So it goes” repeated whenever a character dies or a big situation occurs. Billy Pilgrim is the type of character that accepts everything that happens to him, he forgives easily and never seems to become angry. As he travels through different periods of time he never questions why this happens and simply goes on.

Death and War
Part of Billy's horrifying experience is based on death and war. The battle of Dresden that he experiences while in the cellar and the deaths that he witnesses are all part of his curse of being stuck in time.
There is an idea stated that Billy may be hallucinating about his experiences with the Tralfamadorians as a way to escape a world destroyed by war . As a result of the war, Billy becomes a traumatized man and fails to cope with his life.

"So it goes"
"Billy is spastic in time, has no control
over where he is going next, and the trips aren't necessarily fun. He is in a constant stage of stage fright, he says, because he never knows what part of his life he is going to have to act in next. (2.1.5)
"If what Billy Pilgrim learned from
the Tralfamadorians is true, that we will all live forever, no matter how dead we may sometimes seem to be" (chapter 10)
A fatalistic optometrist ensconced in a dull, safe marriage, in Ilium, New York. He randomly travels in time and is abducted by aliens from planet Tralfamadore, who see everything in the fourth dimension. In World War II he was a Prisoner of War in Dresden, which has a lasting effect on his post-war life. His time travel occurs at desperate times in his life; he re-lives events oh his past and future, and becomes fatalistic because he has seen when, how, and why he will die.

One of the more obvious metaphors in the novel is in the title itself, Slaughter House Five. The fire bombings of Dresden were a very devastating attack upon Germany. During the bombings, Billy had to take refuge in a slaughter house to avoid being killed. As you all know, slaughter houses are where animals are killed. Knowing this, the slaughter house is a metaphor of Dresden itself. Over 22000 defenseless and innocent people died in the bombings. The same can be said about animals that are killed in slaughter house; there is no way for them to fight back or defend themselves. They must simply accept their fate and wait for the inevitable.

Another metaphor in the novel is the aliens resembling the Nazis during the war. When Billy is trapped in the aliens’ exhibit, he is stripped of his freedom, choices and is forced to abide by their rules and laws. The Nazi’s had very strict laws that, if they were to win the war, they would impose on everyone under their control. This is identical to what actually did happen to Billy at the hands of the aliens.

Kilgore Trout is a science fiction author whose stories bear a significant resemblance to Billy's descriptions of Tralfamadore. Trout writes many, many books, but no one besides Billy and Eliot Rosewater, another veteran, have ever heard of him. He is known to have great ideas but is a terrible writer.
An example of symbolism in the novel is with the horses that are pulling Billy and his friends’ wagon in Dresden. It is brought to Billy’s attention that the horses are in terrible pain, almost driven crazy by it. Billy unexpectedly weeps at the realization of their pain. This is likely because Billy finds a link between himself and horses. The horses have no way of understanding the destruction around them, nor the orders being given to them. With no way of protesting their treatment, they obediently keep walking through the ruins of Dresden even though every step on the sharp rocks damages their hooves. Like Billy himself, the animals are innocent victims of great suffering without ever understanding why.
The narrator is Kurt Vonnegut. He talks from the first person perspective about the experience of writing this very novel, and he mentions lots of details about his own life that match Vonnegut's own biography.

A lot of the imagery in Slaughterhouse-Five repeats across sections and in different contexts. For example, the narrator describes his own breath when he is drunk as "mustard gas and roses", which is what his dog, Sandy, specifically does not smell like. This is also the odor of the corpses at Dresden a couple days after the firebombing, which Billy Pilgrim discovers as he digs through the rubble of the city in Chapter 10. This repetition of description serves to connect the "Billy Pilgrim" portion of the novel with the narrator's own personal memories and experiences.
Other examples of repetition of imagery include descriptions of characters "nestled like spoons": Billy and the hobo/private in the prison boxcar, Billy and his wife Valencia, and the American soldiers on the floor of the shed in the British compound all nestle like spoons as they sleep.
There is also Billy's "ivory and blue" bare feet as he walks barefoot through his Ilium, New York home, the "blue and ivory claw" of his cold hand clinging to the vent in his boxcar on the way to a German POW center, and the "blue and ivory" feet of the dead hobo lying outside the train that will take Billy to Dresden.
The repetition of these phrases – mustard gas and roses, nestled like spoons, and blue and ivory – demonstrates that no part of this story is isolated from any other. Each section, as brief as it may be, fits into a larger consideration of wartime and its aftermath.

What particularly struck me was his matter-of-fact tone. He is incredibly desensitized by the things he saw in the war, which he deliberately incorporates into his writing style. His recognition of his detachment from the emotions that go along with death is what makes Slaughter House-Five such an amazing book.

Each time Vonnegut speaks about the death of a person he knew, he brushes it under the rug with the phrase, "So it goes." In the second chapter, the pattern begins. The repetition of these words, in my opinion, is a phrase that helps him to evade the pent up emotions deep down. I also think that it is an attempt at Vonnegut trying to show the courageous soldier side of him.

A passage that perfectly shows Vonnegut's feigned aloofness about the war is in his repetition of other nonchalant words and phrases, such as "theoretically." "An umpire appeared. There were umpires everywhere, men who said who was winning or losing and theoretical battle, who was alive and who was dead. The umpire had comical news. The congregation had been theoretically spotted from the air by a theoretical enemy. They were all theoretically dead now. The theoretical corpses laughed and ate a hearty noontime meal" (page 31). The sarcasm seen here shows that Vonnegut sees a great deal of stupidity in the unnecessary deaths that war incurs, but it also shows that he feels it would weaken him to come out and say so.

As I continued reading Slaughter House-Five, I saw more and more indications that Vonnegut sees war as inhumane and merciless, but I didn't know whether to say that it is regardless of his involvement in the war, or because he was actually in a war. He puts on an unaffected disguise, which shows that the aftermath of war can often mean detachment from emotions, but at the same time, he is writing an entire book on war. To me, this indicates that he must have been tremendously affected. I believe that making the death and destruction he witnessed less important is a method of repressing his fear of war.

The setting in Slaughterhouse five is spread out from the early 1920’s to Billy’s death in 1976. Out of all those years, the author gives the reader a detailed explanation of Billy’s war experiences from the tail end of World War Two, 1944-1945. The author does spend some time describing Billy’s life in general, from his childhood till his death. The reader will quickly notice that the author is only doing that to give the reader a better understanding of the character and his experiences. From 1944-1945, the main character Billy served for the army, mainly in Germany. Billy did spend some time in Luxembourg while being part of the army and while Billy was in Luxembourg, this is where he was captured after the Battle of the Bulge. Billy’s childhood, teenage years, and adulthood took place in Ilium, New York. Finally, Billy also time traveled to the planet Tralfamadore where he would strangely live there in a zoo with all the animals.
Jesus and the Cross of Crucifixion:
In the novel Slaughterhouse Five, two symbols that stuck out for me were Jesus and the cross used in his crucifixion. These two symbols were used repeatedly throughout Billy Pilgrim’s life. The author even demonstrated these symbols in his writing style, in other words, the way he wrote the novel. If you understand the Bible, you would know that pilgrims are people who go on many trips to various sacred locations for religious reasons. Oddly enough, Billy’s last name is Pilgrim and in the war, he served as a chaplain’s assistant. During the war, he technically acted like a pilgrim because he traveled to many locations while having a religious role. At one point in the novel, Billy found a novel that was written by an author named Kilgore Trout in a bookstore that referred to Jesus and Jesus’s father, a carpenter. Back then; carpenters were invited by a Roman soldier to create a device to kill a rabble-rouser. Basically, Jesus and his dad built the cross that was used to crucify Jesus according to the novel written by Trout. In this situation, Jesus plays the role and symbolizes a pilgrim, which means he also symbolizes Billy because they both are capable of acting as a messenger between the divine and human worlds. The cross used for the crucifixion symbolizes the harsh death Jesus had and that Jesus himself predicted his own death. This correlates with Billy because he too knows that his own death is coming.
Kilgore Trout
Author: Kurt Vonnegurt Jr.
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. was born on November 11, 1922 in Indianapolis, Indiana, a city he would later use in his novels as a symbol of American values. Kurt Sr. was one of the most prominent architects in the city, and his wife, Edith, the daughter of a wealthy Indianapolis brewer. Kurt Jr. was the youngest of their three children, along with middle child Alice and first-born Bernard. The fortunes of the family changed dramatically during the Depression when Kurt Sr. saw his architectural business disappear. He had to sell the family home and take Kurt Jr. out of private school, the Orchard School, where, in kindergarten, Kurt had met Jane Cox, who eventually became his wife. This radical change in economic circumstances caused Kurt Sr. virtually to give up on life and his wife Edith to become addicted to alcohol and prescription drugs. Kurt Jr.’s lifelong pessimism clearly had its roots in his parents’ despairing response to being blindsided by the Depression.
Kurt Vonnegut died on April 11, 2007 after a fall on the steps of his New York brownstone. He was mourned the world over as one of the great American writers of the second half of the 20th Century. f
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