- Term Papers and Free Essays

Critical Essay Of Slaughterhouse Five

Essay by   •  September 6, 2010  •  1,588 Words (7 Pages)  •  2,995 Views

Essay Preview: Critical Essay Of Slaughterhouse Five

Report this essay
Page 1 of 7

Slaughterhouse Five

Kurt Vonnegut

Critics of Kurt Vonnegut's are unable to agree on what the main theme of his novel Slaughterhouse Five may be. Although Vonnegut's novels are satirical, ironical, and extremely wise, they have almost no plot structure, so it is hard to find a constant theme. From the many people that the main character Billy Pilgrim meets, and the places that he takes us, readers are able to discern that Vonnegut is trying to send the message that there will always be death, there will always be war, and humans have no control over their own lives.

Most of the book is the narrative from Billy Pilgrim a unique character who has the ability to become "unstuck in time", which means that he can uncontrollably drift from one part of his life to another "and the trips aren't nessicarilly fun". The whole books is organized in the same way Billy moves in time. In consists of numerous sections and paragraphs strung together in no chronological order, seemingly at random. The whole narration is written in the past tense, so that the reader cannot identify where the author's starting point is. This aspect of the book is almost identical with the Tralfamadorian type of book:

"There isn't any particular relationship between all the messages, except that the author has chosen them carefully, so that,when seen all at once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising

and deep. There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time."

I agree with Mark Vit when he says that the most often expressed theme of the book is that we, as people, are "bugs in amber". The phrase first appears when Billy is kidnapped by the Tralfamacorian flying saucer:

"Welcome aboard, Mr. Pilgrim." said the loudspeaker. 'Any questions,?'

Billy licked his lips, thought a while, inquired at least: 'Why me?'

That is a very Earthling question to ask, Mr. Pilgrim. Why you? Why us for that matter? Why anything? Because this moment simply is. Have you ever seen bugs trapped in amber?'

'Yes.' Billy, in fact, had a paperweight in his office which was a blob of polished amber with three lady bugs embedded in it.

'Well, here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why.'

Vit interprets the passage as humans being physically stuck in this world, that we don't have any choice over what we, mankind as a whole, do and what we head for. The only thing we can do is think about everything, but we won't affect anything. This idea appears many times throughout the novel. This is one of the examples, when Billy proposes marriage to Valencia:

Billy didn't want to marry ugly Valencia. She was one of the symptoms of his disease. He knew he was going crazy when he heard himself proposing marriage to her, when he begged her so take the diamond ring and be his companion for life.

This excerpt directly shows that Billy didn't like Valencia very much and that he actually didn't want to marry her. However, he was "stuck in amber". Or, for example, Billy knew the exact time when he would be killed, yet didn\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'t' try to do anything about it. He couldn't have changed it anyway.

Wayne Thompson thinks that Slaughterhouse Five was to show meaning in the absurd. The events in Dresden really are really only the outer layer, hiding a deeper meaning. In the books first chapter, Vonnegut shares a conversation that happened when he informed a friend that he was writing a book about the war:

"Is it an antiwar book?"

"Yes" I said. "I guess"

"You know what i say to people when I hear that they are writing an anti-war book?...I say 'why don't you write an anti glacier book instead?'"

What he meant was that there would always be wars, that they were as easy to stop as glaciers...and that even if wars didn't keep coming like glaciers, there would still be plain old death.

Thompson cites this passage as being critical to understanding the novel. Yes, war is terrible because innocents die for no good reason. Yes, it's a shame that Edgar Derby was executed for swiping a teapot. But people die everyday, and they will continue to die, no matter how many anti-war novels are written; besides, is there really a good reason to die? Our existence is finite;death is the only constant. Most people only contemplate this after one of two things has happened. They're either old and close to death, or they have witnessed something terrible, like massive senseless death.

After Billy visits Tralfamidore, he seems to fully accept the absurdity of life. He believes that existence is not finite, that we exist in all times, for all time and, given that, there is no reason to fear death. His purpose is to exist, and that is all he has ever done and will ever do. Existence is a Sisyphean tank, an infinite recycling of things already done.

Thompson believes that the books meaning lies deeper than the fact that "war is bad." Pilgrim refuses to accept the idea that there are absurd things in life, because if death can be so senseless then what does that say about life itself? The absurd life is essentially one without meaning and that often ends with



Download as:   txt (8.9 Kb)   pdf (107.7 Kb)   docx (12.4 Kb)  
Continue for 6 more pages »
Only available on
Citation Generator

(2010, 09). Critical Essay Of Slaughterhouse Five. Retrieved 09, 2010, from

"Critical Essay Of Slaughterhouse Five" 09 2010. 2010. 09 2010 <>.

"Critical Essay Of Slaughterhouse Five.", 09 2010. Web. 09 2010. <>.

"Critical Essay Of Slaughterhouse Five." 09, 2010. Accessed 09, 2010.