Zulaikha, January 31, 2013 (view all comments by Zulaikha)
This was my first, and to date, only Vonnegut experience. I read this in my junior year of high school, tacked onto the end of the year. Mostly as an indulgence to my english teacher who was obsessed with Vonnegut and squeezing it in at the end of the year to have people to fanboy and geek out with after they'd read it. Then I read it and figured out why he was so obsessed. I have to say, this book yanked me firmly into modern literature. (At the time I was deep into my love for 18th and 19th century prose style. Didn't really get over that. Just paused it for a time.) After Vonnegut, I read a slew of men from around his time period. I really credit this book with making me branch out a whole lot more.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No (1 of 2 readers found this comment helpful)
jackiezinger, January 2, 2013 (view all comments by jackiezinger)
What an incredible book. It's just the right amount of "write," both smart and witty and composed of beautiful prose, but, at the same time, containing a reachable, understandable story. It's a book anyone can read but not a book everyone will READ, though, because it has a beautiful, complex message that will rattle around in your skull for days after finishing it. I can't begin to explain how much this book means to me in its powerful anti-war message and ommentary on life in the context of time (or, rather, time in the context of life). Vonnegut is a genius.
"Here we are, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why."
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No (2 of 4 readers found this comment helpful)
afrady781, May 4, 2010 (view all comments by afrady781)
In Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five (the Children’s Crusade), there is a successful balance between hidden symbols, the search for life’s answers, and the destructiveness and the impacts of war. This book is different from anything I have ever read. It is so unusual in its plot and purpose that it’s a step above most things I have read. It starts off introducing the main character Billy Pilgrim and his ability to travel through time. We learn that he has been traveling through time for years upon years, an ability similar to that of the Tralfamadorians. The Tralfamadorians are the aliens that will one day abduct Pilgrim to take them to their planet to live in on display inside their zoo. The Tralfamadorians see the world differently than humans, and they are able to teach Pilgrim about their sight of the world. Although the novel is constantly traveling through time, much of it takes place as Pilgrim is a prisoner of war in World War II. One of the main events of Pilgrim’s life being his survival of the bombing of Dresden.
Author Kurt Vonnegut has effectively written an anti-war novel with a fantastic plot. Vonnegut has direct ties to WWII where he was actually a prisoner of war in the bombing of Dresden. He has taken his own personal experience and applied it to Billy Pilgrim’s life. Vonnegut’s literature, Slaughterhouse-Five included, seem to follow the same guidelines. This novel attempts to cope with a world filled with tragic disparities – a part of human life. He gives his own possible answers for the way the world works and why terrible things happen to everyone.
Tralfamadorians see the world in a different way than you and I. They see in four dimensions. It was explained to Pilgrim that, “when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just the way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance” (26-27).Although this seems like a simple concept, the things the aliens are able to see and experience are hard for humans to wrap their mind around. Another ideal of the Tralfamadorians would be the concept of the phrase, “so it goes”. This is a strong reoccurring motif that will usually be stated after a tragic event, such as death. It is a way to remember that that moment has always happened, and always will happen, because that’s just how it is. It means that this person’s death should not be mourned because they are still very alive in the past.
The destructiveness of war is very present within this anti-war novel. Within the first chapter it is stated about the novel about Dresden that, “you’ll pretend you were mean instead of babies, and you’ll be played in the movies by Frank Sinatra and John Wayne or some of those other glamorous, war-loving, dirty old men. And war will look just wonderful so we’ll have a lot more of them. And they’ll be fought by babies like the babies upstairs” (14). This concept that war is fought by babies, that it’s a children’s crusade, is a central theme within the book. Although Pilgrim survived the bombing of Dresden, it has forever been destructive over his life. As if he has never grown out of been a young man in war. For example, continuing to go by Billy rather than William even as an adult. In Slaughterhouse-Five Vonnegut embraces the idea of the physical destructiveness of war, but emphasizes the emotional destructiveness of it.
Vonnegut includes symbolism into this anti-war book about the struggles of humanity. The first being the bird that says “poo-tee-weet”. When first reading this book the bird seems nonsensical, like a random aspect of the book. But it’s not. The bird is a symbol for the absurdity of war, the answer for the unanswerable questions of war. In Pilgrim’s final vision of the city, “Billy and the rest wandered out onto the shady street. The trees were leafing out. There was nothing going on out there, no traffic of any kind. There was only one vehicle, an abandoned wagon drawn by two horses. The wagan was green and coffin-shaped. Birds were talking. One bird said to Billy Pilgrim, ‘poo-tee-weet?’” (215). Another important symbol are the colors blue and ivory. Billy’s bare feet are very often described as blue and ivory, which are cool, corpse like hues. This represents the fragility between life and death (or worldly and otherworldly experiences). Before he was abducted, “Billy got out of bed in the moonlight. He felt spooky and luminous, felt as though he were wrapped in cool fur that was full of static electricity. He looked down at his bare feet. They were ivory and blue” (72). This blue image reoccurs with Pilgrim’s wife Valencia’s sudden death emphasizing again the fragility of life and death . “She was a heavenly azure” (183), is how she was described upon her surprising and sudden demise.
Although I have never read another anti-war novel, I have got to image Slaughterhouse-Five is different from any other. It takes such a controversial subject such as war and adds alien abduction and some of life’s greatest questions and stirs them together. This is why I enjoyed this book as much as I did. If one were to read this as a purely plot novel, they would get nothing out of the experience. It is to be viewed as a statement of humanity. I am going to take away a great deal from this novel. Although Tralfamadorian ideas seem to be a little out there, they are quite applicable to human life. Vonnegut affectively demonstrates an attitude for life that involves just taking it as it comes, and not dwelling on the aspects that we can’t change.
In the end, this book will stay with me for many years to come. Of course for Vonnegut’s entertaining plot, but also for his perspective on life.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No (3 of 6 readers found this comment helpful)
sanfranwitch, October 14, 2009 (view all comments by sanfranwitch)
One of my favorite books by him it is also one of the bloodier ones in my opinion. Though most of his novels are adult this one is the most creepiest because of the characters.I have read it twice and after the first read I didn't need to read it again because it is so wholly unique that it is hard to forget anything.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No (1 of 2 readers found this comment helpful)
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut is a very poignant and powerful anti-war novel. In Vonnegut's characteristic style of terrific bluntness, the reader follows the story of Billy Pilgrim's life as he relives his memories and sees what the future will hold for him. The novel is intended to portray the horrors and atrocities of war, specifically using what Vonnegut saw in Dresden to showcase these ideas. As Vonnegut says about his book, "It is so short and jumbled and jangled... because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want anything ever again" (18). Overall, the book is such that it keeps the reader immersed and unable to set it down. Through the novel's style and ideas, Vonnegut has accomplished his anti-war objectives.
Since Vonnegut himself says that Slaughterhouse Five is primarily an anti-war novel, the criteria for judging whether it is effective in its purpose is whether it fosters a similar sense of abhorrence to war, or at the very least an appreciation of the thought process behind that abhorrence. Vonnegut had been meaning to write an anti-war book for quite some time before this novel was published. He wanted to tell about the horrible things he had seen in the Firebombing of Dresden during World War II. In judging this book, one should not only examine Vonnegut's expressed ideas, but also the style and characterization used to communicate those ideas. A brief examination of the plot will provide insight into the themes explored within the novel.
The novel begins with Kurt Vonnegut as the narrator, talking about his life and also how he is writing an anti-war novel about the Fire Bombing of Dresden. After the first chapter, the main character in the rest of the book is Billy Pilgrim. It begins, "Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time... He has seen his birth and death many times, he says, and pays random visits to all the events in between" (22). Soon he discusses how "he had been kidnapped by a flying saucer in 1967" (24). The aliens that kidnapped him were from the planet Trafalmadore, and Billy often mentions in the book what he learned from them. From this point on, Billy's narration skips around between events of his life. Much of these bits of narration have to do with the time that Billy spent in World War II. These war experiences are what make Vonnegut's novel most effective.
Slaughterhouse Five achieves Vonnegut's goals very well. The anti-war sentiment within the book is very obvious, and at the same time it isn't the only impression one takes away from the book. It makes the reader think, whether that reader is anti-war or not. The beginning of the book, narrated by Vonnegut himself, is where he clearly shows the reasons for writing this book. He says such things as, "The nicest veterans... the ones who hated the war most, were the ones who'd really fought" (10). This is not the only theme occurring in the novel, however.
Other themes that Vonnegut explores are death and time. The Trafalmadorians teach Billy Pilgrim about both of these. Billy says, "'The most important thing I learned on Trafalmadore was that when a person dies, he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist... It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one... and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever'" (25). One can apply this to one's own life life in the idea that one shouldn't mourn a death, but should rather cherish the memories experienced with that loved one. These additional themes set this novel apart from other anti-war novels.
One could compare Slaughterhouse Five to another famous anti-war novel, Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo. Although both books delve into the horrors of war, Vonnegut seems to branch out more in his themes covered than Trumbo. Although Trumbo does address some other ideas, coming of age for example, anti-war sentiment is by far the dominating factor. Trumbo seems to throw the idea into the reader's face from the beginning to the end of the book. In contrast, Vonnegut talks about it but is not so forceful. This makes Slaughterhouse Five more effective because it is more appealing to the average reader. Not only that, but it is humorous and in many ways is more clever than Johnny Got His Gun. Although Vonnegut is not as forceful in his presentation of anti-war ideas, he uses various elements, like style, to communicate the ideas just as effectively, if not more so.
One part of Vonnegut's style that is so effective is his repetition. He often repeats the phrase “So it goes.” This is because Billy Pilgrim learned this idea from the Trafalmadorians who say the phrase about dead people, because, “the dead person... is in bad condition in that particular moment, but... is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I... say what the Trafalmadorians say about dead people, which is 'So it goes'” (26). Whenever death is mentioned in the book, it is more or less dismissed with a “So it goes.” However, this repetition has the opposite effect of shrugging death off, in that after enough repetitions it makes the reader pause and think whenever the phrase appears.
Overall, Slaughterhouse Five is an extremely clever and effective book that accurately communicates Vonnegut's ideas about war. This is an anti-war novel that, as the Trafalmadorians say, “always will exist” because it has an important message and is a worthwhile read for anyone.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No (18 of 25 readers found this comment helpful)
What Kurt Vonnegut set out to do was write a book about war, and in particular the firebombing of Dresden in World War II. What he ended up doing was writing clean around it — traveling in and out of time warps, bouncing on and off the earth, sometimes setting down on the planet Tralfamadore, millions of miles away from Dresden and millions of miles away from war. What he created was a masterpiece of satire in which every crazy, clever moment, every whimsical line, no matter how deceptively light, is imbued with the sorrow and the starkness of the atrocity Vonnegut himself witnessed in that very real war.
by Gigi Little
by Boston Globe,
"Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. has written one of the major novels of the year....Haunting....Irresistible reading....Poignant and hilarious, threaded with compassion and, behind everything, the cataract of a thundering moral statement."
by The New York Times,
"Highly imaginative, nearly psychedelic....It is very tough and very funny; it is sad and delightful; it is very Vonnegut; and it works."
by Life magazine,
"Splendid art and simplicity....Nerve-racking control....A funny book at which you are not permitted to laugh, a sad book without tears, a tale told in a slaughterhouse."
by Daniel Stern, Washington Post Book World,
"What I...applaud is the marvelous comic scenes with the British prisoners of war; the control in the war scenes; the understated bitterness with which he handles the American soldiers....When Vonnegut stops preaching and is funny, I take him very seriously."
by Robert Scholes, New York Times Book Review,
"Serious critics have shown some reluctance to acknowledge that Vonnegut is among the best writers of his generation. He is, I suspect, both too funny and too intelligent for many, who confused muddled earnestness with profundity. Vonnegut is not confused. He sees all too clearly....Only Billy's time-warped perspective could do justice to the cosmic absurdity of his life, which is Vonnegut's life and our lives."
by Random House,
Slaughterhouse-Five, an American classic, is one of the worlds great antiwar books. Centering on the infamous firebombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrims odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we fear most.
Powell's City of Books is an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that fills a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out of print books. Shop those shelves — plus literally millions more books, DVDs, and gifts — here at Powells.com.