Nov 182012
 
Memorable Moments in Slaughterhouse FiveSlaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Published by Delacorte, 1969
Genres: Modern Fiction
Pages: 186
Synopsis: Slaughterhouse-Five is one of the world's great anti-war books. Centering on the infamous fire-bombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim's odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we are afraid to know.

I recently read Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut.  It is commonly listed as a great American classic, widely prescribed as required reading in grade school, and often described as an anti-war novel.  My impression of it was slightly different.

I found Slaughterhouse Five to be an stark tribute to the confused nature of a human search for meaning in life, and the problems we all have when coping with grief and loss.  The protagonist of the novel, Billy Pilgrim, does not live according to a linear conception of time.  He jumps around, informing the reader of various significant moments in his life in no apparent order.  All throughout his story, the effects of war abound.  Billy lived through World War II and the Allied fire-bombing of the German city of Dresden.  The consequences of his experiences manifest in varying degrees of mental quirks and instability throughout the novel.  He is a man who knows how, when, and why he will one day die, yet who finds the inner drive to carry on and persevere.

As I was reading on my Kindle, I highlighted a few passages.  They don’t necessarily represent the core ideas of the novel, but I found them to be significant moments in the development of the plot and characters.  The first two were not written by Vonnegut, but quoted in the course of the narrative.

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

—–

GOD GRANT ME
THE SERENITY TO ACCEPT
THE THINGS I CANNOT CHANGE,
COURAGE
TO CHANGE THE THINGS I CAN,
AND WISDOM ALWAYS
TO TELL THE
DIFFERENCE.

—–

Derby described the incredible artificial weather that Earthlings sometimes create for other Earthlings when they don’t want those other Earth-lings to inhabit Earth any more. Shells were bursting in the treetops with terrific bangs, he said, showering down knives and needles and razorblades. Little lumps of lead in copper jackets were crisscrossing the woods under the shellbursts, zipping along much faster than sound.
A lot of people were being wounded or killed. So it goes.

—–

“That’s one thing Earthlings might learn to do, if they tried hard enough: Ignore the awful times, and concentrate on the good ones.”

—–

Trout, incidentally, had written a book about a money tree.  It had twenty-dollar bills for leaves.  Its flowers were government bonds.  Its fruit was diamonds.  It attracted human beings who killed each other around its roots and made very good fertilizer.  So it goes.

—–

In any case, if you have the opportunity to pick up a copy of Slaughterhouse Five, give it a try.  It’ll be worth it.

five-stars

  2 Responses to “Memorable Moments in Slaughterhouse Five”

  1. Hello! I am Gustavo, a student from Argentina. I read that you liked this quote from the novel:

    Derby described the incredible artificial weather that Earthlings sometimes create for other Earthlings when they don’t want those other Earthlings to inhabit Earth any more. Shells were bursting in the treetops with terrific bangs, he said, showering down knives and needles and razorblades. Little lumps of lead in copper jackets were crisscrossing the woods under shellbursts, zipping along much faster than sound.

    A lot of people were being wounded or killed. So it goes.

    I wanted to know if you have any idea of how to analyze this quote in terms of the writer´s style.
    Thanks in advance!

    Gustavo

    • Hi Gustavo! Thanks for visiting the blog. I’m sorry I’m so late in replying, but here’s a bit of an answer.

      Kurt Vonnegut had a pretty unique writing style and all of his works were influenced by his personal experiences. You can read a bit of what he thought about writing style here at Brain Pickings but I think what characterizes his own style the most is his ability to write conversationally – to take complex topics and communicate them in ways that an ordinary reader would understand. In the case of Slaughterhouse Five, much of the book’s story is about war – influenced by his own time in WWII on the Western Front and as a Prisoner of War. He knew that many of his own memories of warfare would be difficult to convey to readers who hadn’t experienced combat, so Slaughterhouse Five is written in a style that makes the trauma and the violence of war obvious to an “everyman” audience.

      This quote is a great example of that. How does Vonnegut communicate what war is like, if the intended reader has never even held a gun? Well, he creates an external observer – aliens – and tries to describe their impressions of warfare. They don’t see nations and alliances at war for geopolitical reasons; they just see men in the woods firing guns at each other as artillery burst overhead:

      Little lumps of lead in copper jackets were crisscrossing the woods under shellbursts, zipping along much faster than sound. // A lot of people were being wounded or killed. So it goes.

      When Vonnegut describes war this way – as simply as possible, and at its lowest level – war seems pretty pointless. And that’s his objective here, and the calling card of his style – use of simple language to communicate complex ideas to the ordinary reader, eventually imparting a powerful message.

      Hope this helps.

      Robby

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