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Transcript of Slaughterhouse-Five
Slaughterhouse-Five is, at its heart, an anti-war novel. Taking place during WWII, the novel documents the US bombing of the German city, Dresden.
uses time-travel and symbolism to demonstrate war's lasting effects and damage.
"So it goes."
Vonnegut repeats the phrase, "So it goes," after every mention of death, whether in the second chapter when Vonnegut writes, "Everybody was killed but Billy. So it goes," or in chapter five when he says, "The water was dead. So it goes."
Billy Pilgrim has come
unstuck in time."
The first sentence of the
novel's second chapter sets up Vonnegut's use of time-travel throughout.
Chapter one of the novel is written in first person (Vonnegut giving his own voice, opinion, and experiences) in addition to at certain points in the book, saying things like "That was I.That was me. That was the author of this book," (160). The rest of the novel is told in third person, subjective POV. The first chapter outlines Vonnegut's time before writing the book and as he wrote it; the chapter is referenced many times throughout the novel (i.e. "'It's the Children's Crusade,'" (135).)
In the first chapter, Vonnegut says Dresden reminds him of 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's your name?'
And I say,
My name is Yon Yonson,
I work in Wisconsin..."
"And so on into infinity."
Dresden reminds Vonnegut of "Yon Yonson" for a reason related to his use of the phrase "So it goes." Yon Yonson keeps going in a circle "and so on into infinity," (4). Dresden, and war in general, is just history repeating itself, in a circle, "and so on into infinity." "So it goes," after every death demonstrates how utterly usual death is, whether in war or not. Death, like history, repeats itself.
Vonnegut's use of time travel as a literary device is important to the novel for many reasons including aiding in thematic explanation (Tralfamadore) and offering a view of "the depth of many marvelous moments seen all at one time," (112). Time travel opens the door for the novel is meant to be read as a Tralfamadorian (an alien race that abducted Billy Pilgrim) novel -- as "many marvelous moments." There is "no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no causes, no effects" -- forcing the novel to be look at as one massive work, one statement built from many anecdotes.
Billy spend his time on Tralfamadore in a zoo where he was on display, naked, in a glass dome with Montana Wildhack, an "Earthling" movie star. His stay at the zoo represents the exploitation of soldiers and veterans.
The phrase "So it goes," also stems from the Tralfamadorian belief that a dead person is only "in bad condition in that particular moment, but the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments," (34). Therefore, whenever somebody dies the Tralfamadorians, and Billy Pilgrim, say "So it goes." More importantly, Tralfamadorians see time as something non-linear, similar to the way Slaughterhouse-Five was written.
"His bare feet were blue and ivory."
Vonnegut repeatedly uses the description of "blue and ivory" feet, whether on corpses or Billy Pilgrim when he's cold in his basement. This repetition demonstrates how war turns all of its soldiers and then some into walking (or not) corpses.
Additionally, Vonnegut's beautifully tragic description of the bombing of Dresden at the end of WWII clearly support the theme of war's everlasting damage. When the Englishman at the camp says, "'You needn't worry about bombs, by the way. Dresden is an open city. It is undefended, and contains no war industries or troop concentrations of any importance,'" Vonnegut stresses Dresden's lack of military importance -- making it more of a civilian target and therefore making the bombing much more tragic and gruesome. Vonnegut's use of dramatic irony in this statement also helps to demonstrate the tragedy -- nobody was expecting the bombing. US soldiers were fine being sent there because it was a city with apparently no military importance.
"The Children's Crusade"
Lastly, in chapter five Edgar Derby mentions how the wars were fought by babies -- referencing directly back to chapter one. Derby describes the war as "The Children's Crusade," another referral to chapter one. To otherwise convey the youth of soldiers during the war, Vonnegut makes Billy Pilgrim seem very immature, not knowing "who Jerry was" among other examples of immaturity. Billy Pilgrim is just a baby fighting in a great war -- so are many other soldiers.
Billy Pilgrim's last name is important for two main reasons: "Pilgrim" means traveler, referring to Billy's travels through time. Specifically, a pilgrim travels for a religious purpose very often, referring to Billy's transfer to Europe during the war to replace a valet to a preacher who died. So it goes.