“Slaughter House-Five” Response Essay
Kurt Vonnegut, the author of the award-winning novel, Slaughter House-Five, published in 1969, is now one of my most favorite writers. Vonnegut writes like he is having a conversation with the reader. He includes humor that has me laughing out loud to myself. Such writing has dragged me into the tragic, yet hilarious novel, Slaughter House-Five. Only Vonnegut can create a story that is filled both with sorrow and comedy.
In this novel, Billy Pilgrim is an American soldier who becomes a P.O.W. under the force of German troops. The author writes about Billy to give the reader a feeling of knowing him personally. Billy is a quiet, clumsy man who joins the war even though he should never get close to a battlefield that involves the firing of life-threatening weapons. I mean the guy doesn’t even carry any form of weapon into what became the biggest war of all time!
The tale takes place in a few areas; Dresden, Ilium, and planet Tralfamadore. Much of the story’s setting is in Germany during WWII. In Germany, Billy spends a lot of time in the city of Dresden where he is held captive. Dresden is a beautiful city where Billy had to perform labor in a syrup factory. He lived in a nasty slaughterhouse for pigs. Later in the story, while Billy is living in Dresden, English and American planes bomb the city. Billy miraculously survives the firebombing and gets back to the States in one piece.
Billy has some kind of mental condition or … power, so to speak, which allows him to travel in time. He often travels to a distant planet called tralfamadore, where he is basically a zoo animal for the tralfamadorians entertainment. Billy was abducted by the tralfamadorians on the night of his daughter’s wedding.
Ilium, New York is the city in which Billy lives in for the majority of his life. He goes to optometry school there, he meets his wife Valencia there. After the war, he continued to live in this run down area they call Ilium. During his middle-aged life in Ilium he writes about tralfamadore. He even gets on the radio to tell everyone about how the tralfamadorians lived and his experiences with them. Soon after, Barbara, Billy’s daughter threatens to put Billy in a home due to his “insanity.”
Throughout the novel, Vonnegut writes in a way that really opens up Billy’s character and true personality to the reader. He includes a recurring theme of freewill that Billy experiences. It seems to me that Vonnegut wrote this novel about Billy because of the choices he had to make. Billy didn’t make a lot of choices in this novel considering that he was a P.O.W. However, when he was able to make choices, it was a sure sign of his character and freewill. After the war, while Billy is in practice as an optometrist, he tells a boy of his adventures, “Billy told him matter-of-factly about his adventures on Tralfamadore” (172). It was his decision to tell others about his journey to a distant planet. Even if it was going to scare his patients away.
It was Billy’s freewill that helped him marry an unlikely woman. In chapter 5, Billy and his wife, Valencia, have a conversation that begins with her crying, she reveals her happiness because “I never thought anybody would marry me” (153).
Billy goes on to tell her that he likes her the way she is and wouldn’t want her to change. Vonnegut’s use of characterization sends a message of freewill to the reader. At first it seemed like it was Billy’s fate to fight and die in the war like any soldier would. In the end, Vonnegut shows his readers that people do still have freewill and that since this is an anti-war book, that maybe people don’t have to fight wars. He does this simply by characterizing Billy as an example of freewill in mankind.
Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-five, or, The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with
Death. New York: The Dial Press, 2005. Print