SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE

by Beth Newman, http://neovox.cortland.edu

Posted in on Thursday, May 20

There are some authors and books that people will always want to read because the media builds them up as great. For a long time I've wanted to read something, anything, by Kurt Vonnegut. It might have started when my best friend told me about reading Cat's Cradle or from hearing the many references to his work in the media. Through the years I never had the chance, or often just forgot, to pick up one of his books and read and understand why he was considered one of the greats. This semester, while registering for classes, I was choosing between two classes: Intro to Fiction and Science Fiction. I looked up the required reading for both and what I saw made my decision for me; Intro to Fiction was reading Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and Science Fiction was reading Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. I instantly registered for Sci-Fi and haven't regretted my decision yet.

Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children's Crusade a Duty-Dance with Death by Kurt Vonnegut a fourth-generation German-American now living in easy circumstances on Cape Cod [and smoking too much], who, as an American infantry scout hors de combat, as a prisoner of war, witnessed the fire-bombing of Dresden, Germany, "The Florence of the Elbe," a long time ago, and survived to tell the tale. This is a novel of somewhat in the telegraphic schizophrenic manner of tales of the planet Tralfamadore, where the flying saucers come from. Peace. That is the full title of the book that is presented on third page of the book. When I first saw this I almost laughed but then, for the first time, actually got an idea of what was in store for me in the next 275 pages. Before we were told to read the book, my professor handed us a piece of paper which was an excerpt from another one of Vonnegut's books, Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction. It contained a list of 8 rules for writing a short story that wrote. These were the rules:

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
4. Every sentence must do one of two things--reveal character or advance the action.
5. Start as close to the end as possible.
6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them--in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Vonnegut began Slaughterhouse-Five with rule eight. He gives the readers of his book a lot of information about the rest of the book right away. He mentions that he has changed the names but that, more or less, all of the incidents in this book happened. This book is classified as semi-autobiographical, which makes sense since he did write it about his time in Germany during the second World War, but then there is the life of Billy Pilgrim and how he has become "unstuck" in time.

Billy Pilgrim can be viewed as the main character of this book even though it is semi-autobiographical of Vonnegut's life. Pilgrim was abducted by Tralfamadorians in 1967 and learned about their concept of time, but first became unstuck in 1944. He has no control over his time traveling and his trips aren't always fun. He goes from going "to sleep a senile widower and [awakes] on his wedding day. Walked through a door in 1955 and come out another one in 1941. He has gone back through that door to find himself in 1963. He has seen his birth and death many times, he says, and pays random visits to all the evens in between."

Throughout the novel it is unclear whether Pilgrim is actually time traveling or crazy. There is no clear answer to this question however. This book follows Billy through his many escapades through his life and when he revisits them. Vonnegut classifies this book as an anti-war novel and that thought it more or less conveyed with the detailed description from his time during the bombing of Dresden, Germany. There are, not running jokes, but running...things throughout the book that appeal to people like me. In the beginning of the book there is a two sentence paragraph that states, "And what do the birds say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like 'poo-tee-weet'?" That line is referenced again at least twice in the book, the last one being the very last line of the book, possibly signifying that this entire book was a massacre.

I really enjoyed this book and how different it was too read. It doesn't follow the traditional style of writing but rather goes with a more experimental and schizophrenic style. I now understand more of the references I have heard in the media made towards this book and am happier for it. I recommend this book to other, seeing as it is a classic, and totally look forward to reading more of Mr. Vonnegut's work.

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://neovox.cortland.edu/mt/mt-tb.cgi/752

Comments