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Analysis of plot in Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut







Plot and structure analysis of Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut is one of the most fascinating and educative novel by this author which brings the history of World War II to the minds of the youngsters and generations to come. It focuses on life experience and adventures of a soldier, Billy Pilgrim, the challenges that he faced as a military man of this period. The novel is considered to be the most influential work of Vonnegut which follows the observation that he used firebombing of Dresden as the central occurrence, and thus makes the novel semi-autobiographical because he was present during the bombing (Vonnegut, 41). The story is told in a nonlinear sequence and this makes the events to be clear if the reader tries to flashback on imaginary issues.

Billy Pilgrim is presented as a disoriented, defeatist and ill-trained American soldier who worked under his own commands but not the command of the officers in the army. He feared war, and as soldier, it seems ironical because the military forces are purposely trained and equipped to manage security of a nation, and get into war with other parties that may attempt to bring insecurity to a territory. This act facilitated to his arrest during the Battle of the Bulge in 1914 (Vonnegut, 67-69). Further the whimsical string of occurrences lead him close to death. Before he was captured by the Germans, he met a bad-tempered Ronald Weary due to the differences with whom, friendship relations were impossible. Therewith they had different perceptions to such issues as war. When the two were arrested, Weary died because of gangrene that were caused by the clogs that he was forced to wear.

The Billy's character changes throughout his life from a cheap and disoriented individual to a more firm and determined man. After transportation of Billy and other prisoners to Luxembourg, he starts perceive his life differently. When were the prisoners transported to Dresden as contract laborers, Billy was taken to slaughterhouse in Dresden (Vonnegut, 81-83). Very few prisoners and guards survived after the bombing due to the secret place - a deep cellar. In May 1945, when the war was over, Billy was sent to United States and given an honorable discharge from service the same year in July.

In US Billy was involved in reading novels by Eliot Rosewater as a treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. The novels integrated obscure science fiction by a writer called Kilgore Trout, and these readings kept Billy active and lively throughout his stay at psychiatric care where he was recovering. Upon his release, he married Valencia Merble, and they gave birth to Robert and Barbara. As Barbara has wedding, Billy was captured by an alien space ship and taken to a planet called Tralfamadore. It was that planet where Billy meets Montana Wildhack, a porn star, with whom he fell in love and later had a child. However, in the short run Billy was sent to Earth to relieve his life. At the same time Montana disappeared and occurred to be drowned in the Pacific Ocean (Vonnegut, 109-112).

1968 - A horrible plane crash where Billy and the copilot were the only who survived. Furthermore, while driving to visit Billy in hospital, Valencia died of carbon monoxide poisoning. When Billy returned home, he told his daughter of his adventures at Tralfamadorians, but his narration seems too far-fetched and unbelievable. To make everyone believe, Billy makes several predictions such as being killed by Paul Lazzaro. Still it only aroused a concern of the crowd he was addressing to as they never wanted such killings to occur.

The author uses style and structure that were not common in those times, but make the novel seem modern and acceptable for critics. The author makes the events in the book seem as if they are simultaneous. From one view point, there are some scenes where the author captures the aspect of modernization needed in literature irrespective of whether it is the ancient literature or modern literature; making things seems to be real. For instance, the author show the Billy's life from childhood to maturity where every episode describes the specific significant event regarding his life (Vonnegut, 132). This style and structure awoke he willing to read further to get the true image of what really happens to Billy..

The author utilizes anticipation and suspense to great extent that not only captures the concentration of the reader, but also triggers the mind to think beyond. This is a sign of comprehension as reader requires using his mental abilities to predict some of the occurrences that the author left unmentioned. For instance, in the second chapter the author presents the pitiful life of a funny-looking young man. Seemingly, from the Billy’s description, it is hard to predict that at one time he will be recruited in the army. Pilgrim became a joker and a coward, being betrayed by his own character.  And the main question that confuses the reader is how he can lead other soldiers in battle if he feared war (Vonnegut, 71).

The style of presenting some comic scenes or tragic episodes help Kurt in making the narrative more dynamic as the reader gets divided feelings of the life of the main character. When Billy is captured and taken to another planet, the life seemed to be more interesting in such an extent that he hoped not to return to Earth. From such a world of fantastic luxury the homeland seemed unbearable to Billy so that he became confused on how to restart his future life on Earth. The comic scenario is followed by a tragedy where Billy gets involved in a plane crash, and later the death of his wife Valencia. Additionally, the episode where he narrates to the daughter seems comic because she does not believe the story that the father was giving her. It seemed astonishing, extraordinary and at the same time amazing; but the fact that from his point of view he was giving a real experience to a person who found it a total fiction.

The sophisticated chronotope, mixture of the past and future and author's manner of presentation in general, appears to be really overwhelming. In the first chapter, Billy is, for instance, presented as a poor man of a miserable society. He undergoes torture and stress as a soldier but later after marrying Valencia, Billy changes choosing a noble lifestyle with a lot of wealth. Billy becomes the president of Lions club. He breaks down at his 18th wedding anniversary when he sees a quartet barbershop. He did realize that it was his reminder of the Dresden tragedy. Within the scope of this chapter, the reader is also introduced to Billy's talk about the Tralfamadore, which again presents a lavish lifestyle full of luxuries. When Billy seems to recover and enjoys a short moment of peace, the plane crash disorients everything again. This event affected Billy Pilgrim and prompted him to speak about the Tralfamadore. Just the night after the wedding of her daughter, he appears on radio and explains his abduction by aliens from Tralfamadore. He explains how he was kidnapped by aliens resembling upside down toilet plungers. Montana Wildhack – an actress –is also kidnapped and taken to the planet Tralfamadore. The two are forced to mate as a zoo exhibition. We also find him writing to a local newspaper about the life of the Tralfamadorians. This is how the Tralfamadorians explained  Billy their perception of the moment, how moment's whole sweep occurs for them instantaneously in four dimensions (Vonnegut, 121). Whenever people die, they are simply dead at that specific moment. Another place and at another moment he is alive and fine. Billy takes this perception and sees no need to blame anyone for the painful experience one undergoes on earth.

Generally, the structure and the style that Kurt integrates in composing his story is perfect considering the fact that the novel was written several years ago. It creates a good literature foundation to the upcoming writers, and it enables them to understand the techniques that they need to use when narrating a factious or imaginary story. The order of events in the novel is also extraordinary, as the author exchanges comic scenes with tragedy scenes thereby giving the reader mixed feelings. Kurt is observed to be mixing fiction with facts, and this is a unique style because the author must be having clear understanding of the scoop to which the targeted readers have on ancient or modern literature.

Review of Moody’s Mixing Fantasy with Fact: Kurt Vonnegut’s Use of Structure in Slaughterhouse-Five

Moody gives a creditworthy critic of the novel, Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, which follows the observation that she shows how Vonnegut applied different literature styles to achieve his prospects of mixing fantasy with facts. For instance, the author did not visit the alien planet or travel through time, but is able to present various events that we assume are true in the unseen world. Such episode involves fiction as we already know that might be such a planet does not exist, and if it does, it’s still hard to predict the nature of life that is present in the planets. A fact is for example seen when Vonnegut narrates the story of Billy in prison because he was also a prisoner in Dresden and he had a true copy of the carnage (Moody, 74). Thus, instead of writing a memoir, a political diatribe or a manifesto, he chose to write a novel that portrays realistic events fictionally and also fantastically, and he achieves this by inventing the character of Billy.

According to Moody, for a reader of this book needs to understand Vonnegut’s choice in the particular structure. For instance, Moody observes that Vonnegut uses quick and succinct paragraphs that do not have direct timeline in the sense that he jumps forward and backwards. This is observed while he gave the narrative of the experiences with the Tralfamadorian. Moody also considers that the novel is an anti-war book that transcends WWII and it is a novel that is applicable to all generations because wars are very common and can arise at any time. The argument of Moody regarding the reliability of the book to many generations is valuable and true because regardless of whether war is occurring or not, it always occurs at some point of life in one way or another. Currently, it is viewed that bombings in Dresden are very common, and people who died during the time captured in Kurt’s material are still dying now from similar causes; war and bombings (Moody, 76-78).

The lesson that the author wanted people to have from the material is that in order to avoid war, one must never have started it, but this is impossible because wars were started in the world from the vary begining, and thus there is some reality in the material that the author needed readers to know. However, as Moody tries to show how Kurt integrated fiction in the novel, she fails to recognize that people have to ignore the finality of death and only focus in the good things as described in the novel in the episodes of the Tralfamadorians. Moody notes that some critics disagree with the meaning of Slaughterhouse-Five, but according to her the novel clearly exhibits the true meaning of war and the consequences of war (Moody, 80-81). Thus, from her viewpoint to which I support the meaning of Slaughterhouse-Five is well presented and brought to clarity by the author.

Review of Matheson’s ‘“This Lousy Little Book:’ The Genesis and Development of Slaughterhouse-Five as Revealed in Chapter One.”

The understanding of Matheson regarding the structure and style used by Vonnegut is different from other individuals who have analyzed the plot of the novel. The observation that some individuals find the book not good enough or not serving the purpose that the author intended puts the book’s reliability in modern literature at risk. Matheson believes that the information contained in the book is evidence-based regardless of the fact that there are some episodes which have a lot of fiction. According to his, dependability of the book in terms of the structure that is used and the style should not be distrusted (Matheson’s, 229). This is evident from his claim that “Most of critics are agreed that Slaughterhouse-Five is a carefully structured book” and to him the book’s structure and the style that the author used is not satisfying for the publication of the book. Matheson notes that even though the author of the novel referred his material as a “lousy little book” Kurt could not have published the book in the a condition that he felt unsatisfied, implying that for Vonnegut to publish the novel, he must have found it valuable to the readers.

Matheson indicates that any reader can confidently argue that Vonnegut presented his masterpiece in a  best way he found, and this is irrespective of what some critics say about the novel. He claims that the novel was published in a form, style and tone that suits Slaughterhouse-Five in all corners, and therefore the credibility of the novel is high. Vonnegut chose to invent a fictional character, optometrist Billy Pilgrim whose experiences as a time-traveler illustrates the Dresden firebombing reduces the risk of making the novel boring (Matheson’s, 234). Additionally, Matheson notes that writing a novel that captures war scenes with a strict dependence on chronology helps in presenting the reader with an misapprehension of sense and meaning by asset of the perceptible causal model therein, and because there is usually no logic in war, the author of Slaughterhouse-Five disordered the progress of occurrences by putting his scenarios disarranged and mishmash things in attempt of demonstrating its irrationality and chaos. I support the argument of Matheson that the author clearly understood that for effectiveness and efficiency to be attained in writing war novels, some aspects or writing styles such as use of fiction must be included (Matheson’s, 236-39). The structure to which he presents his arguments regarding the life of the soldier from when he was born, through various experiences to when he settles down as a old retiree is appropriate, as the order of events are clearly seen and understood by any reader.

Review of Wayne’s “The Arbitrary Cycle of Slaughterhouse-Five: A Relation of Form to Theme.”

In his article, Wayne argued that the character’s occupation as an optometrist is not an accident on Vonnegut’s part, and supported his argument by showing that the lenses are corrective metaphorically and at the same time physically. This is alluding to Billy’s time with the Tralfamadorians and his desire to deliver his experiences of non-linear rime and Tralfamadorian attitude to the events and practices that take place on Earth to those who do not have any picture on what he does (Wayne, 59). According to Wayne, writing such a novel requires the author to have the ability to twist issues and present things in a forward and backward manner, which is an attribute that Vonnegut uses in his material Slaughterhouse-Five to capture the attention of the reader, and to make his material interesting and informative.

Wayne confirms that the story of Vonnegut, just like his character jumps forward and backward as he described the life of Billy. This way he successfully shows the experiences of Billy during the fire-bombings of Dresden by the Allies. According to Wayne, the major theme of Slaughterhouse-Five is to present the historical events of Dresden and this can be considered to be the basic plot of the novel. He notes that readers need to read deeper to understand the author’s emphatic anti-war stance, and this is due to the structure and the styles that the author applies in his writing (Wayne, 63). This implies that Vonnegut clearly understood the need of using styles that are unique with consideration that to make a war novel interesting aspects or elements associated with invention and literature must be included. For instance, the author portrays Billy as a weak and dislikable character, and his aim was to present the lack of heroism in a war, but many readers may have the perception that Vonnegut would have presented Billy as a sturdy and strong individual because he was a soldier and because of his position in the military during the war (Wayne, 55-58). Generally, I concur with the Wayne that Vonnegut clearly used literature structures and styles effectively, and this makes his material unique, interesting and educative to all generations.


Cited Works

Jennifer Moody. Mixing Fantasy with Fact: Kurt Vonnegut’s Use of Structure in Slaughterhouse- Five. The Online Journal of Undergraduate Literary Criticism and Theory, 1(1) (2009): 74-81

Kurt Vonnegut. Slaughterhouse-Five, Dell publishers: Random house, Inc. New York, 1969. pp. 5-284

Matheson’s, T. J. ‘“This Lousy Little Book:’ The Genesis and Development of Slaughterhouse-Five as Revealed in Chapter One.” Studies in the Novel 16 (1984): 228-39

McGinnis, Wayne D. “The Arbitrary Cycle of Slaughterhouse-Five: A Relation of Form to Theme.” Critique 17 (1975): 55-67

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