Introduction of the most harrowing events of

            Introduction

Kurt
Vonnegut Jr. is one of the most famous writers of postmodernism. His writing is
hailed as easily approachable but profound – simple structures dealing with
serious questions about the society while blurring the lines between aspects of
the real world and science fiction. (Farrell 3) Slaughterhouse-Five is, perhaps, Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s most famous
work as well as one of the most famous postmodernist works, and it deals with
the remnants in the society of what was one of the most harrowing events of the
20th century. It is partially also meant to be autobiographical, as
the writer intends to portray the Bombing of Dresden as he saw when he was a
prisoner of war, too. This essay aims to examine in which ways Kurt Vonnegut
Jr. reflects on World War II and what kind of sentiments are represented in the
book.

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            Billy
Pilgrim

The
focal point of Slaughterhouse-Five is
Billy Pilgrim whose life the reader gets to see in fragments as Billy travels
though time, a consequence of being abducted by aliens from Tralfamadore.
Tralfamadorians teach Billy about their beliefs, which heavily rely on
predetermination and examining all events as a singular point in time,
happening “all at one time”. (Vonnegut ##) This
in turn shapes a bigger portion of Billy’s insights and plenty of them take
time throughout the novel to fully develop into a picture that explains Billy’s
background.

Nihilism
and fatalism dominate in Billy’s point of view as he is portrayed as a relatively
helpless person who does not seem to live his life, but his life rather seems
to just kind of happen around him, which includes becoming “unstuck in time”
seemingly at random. Vonnegut does seem to offer a possible explanation for the
elements of time travelling, and Billy’s existentialist way of coping: “…they
were trying to re-invent themselves and their universe. Science fiction was a
big help.” (##) This is said as Billy and Eliot
Rosewater are being treated at a mental health veteran’s hospital and Rosewater
introduces Billy to the works of a science fiction writer, Kilgore Trout, who
seems to be a continuous influence on the episodes Billy experiences while
travelling through time.

Contemporary
psychologists suggest Billy’s case of travelling through time can be
interpreted as PTSD episodes, which are influenced in part by the Kilgore Trout
novels he has read but does not fully remember. (FFFF)
This can also account for Billy’s resigned attitude towards life, a coping
mechanism where he is only able to sustain if he takes everything that happens
as something that must have happened. “So it goes” is by far the most used
phrase in the novel, noted each time death is mentioned, regardless if it is
war related, if it was a group of people, a person or even horses. It happens
as if to confirm the thought that death is just what happens and there is not
much one can do about it. It is taken out of a Tralfamadorian philosophy Billy
says he has learnt – “dead person is in bad condition in that particular
moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now,
when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the
Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is ‘So it goes.'” (Vonnegut ##)

It
seems then, that through Billy, Vonnegut is trying to rationalise a battle with
the aftermaths of war. He seems to be exploring what lengths a person might go
to, emotionally and mentally, to be able to face both with the past and with
life afterwards. Billy has developed a sort of a detachment from the outside
world, despite finishing school, being successful at his job, marrying and
having children. However, once he is “unstuck in time” he is not much more than
an observer of his life who becoming more and more transfixed with Tralfamadorian
views, to the point where he wants to make other people aware of them, perhaps
because they have helped him tackle life after he wound up in the veteran’s
mental hospital after the war.

            Other
Characters’ Perspectives

The
first character that gives a blunt view on the war in the novel is Mary O’Hare,
the wife of Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s fellow veteran who has also lived through the
Bombing of Dresden. Vonnegut visits his friend and talks about writing a book
on Dresden, which seems to unsettle his friend’s wife. “…then I understood. It
was war that made her so angry. She didn’t want her babies or anybody else’s
babies killed in wars. And she thought wars were partly encouraged by books and
movies.” He echoes her sentiment and promises to her: “I’ll call it ‘The
Children’s Crusade.'”, and true to his promise, that is the subtitle of the
book. (Vonnegut 18)

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