Review – Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five is a classic of postmodern American literature. I have read different opinions about it, although most people can agree that it is a masterpiece. Some readers believe that Vonnegut’s way of presenting the realities of the Second World War are downright inconsiderate and superficial. Some even say the novel is not anti-war.
Going into reading this novel with this idea in your head is an interesting journey. Is he really being superficial? I would love your opinion on it. I will tell you mine, though.
The simple answer is no, it’s not. For me, the way that it is written perfectly represents a soldier’s defense mechanisms against the cruelty of war. It doesn’t go deep, because it cannot go deep. There is enough pain and suffering outside of one’s body, so why would our main character, Billy Pilgrim dig any deeper into his own misery? The occasional irony and satirical way of talking about some of the events in his life show a clear detachment between reality and the way he chooses to perceive reality.
“- Why me?
– That is a very Earthling question to ask, Mr. Pilgrim. Why you? Why us for that matter? Why anything? Because this moment simply is. Have you ever seen bugs trapped in amber?
– Well, here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why.”
Slaughterhouse-Five makes you wonder whether Billy is suffering from dementia, some sort of mental illness or the way he relates to everything and everybody around him is merely the effect of his post traumatic stress disorder. You might have a different opinion about this, but to me, the whole novel moves around a slippery slope of insanity (Billy) and tragedy (the war).
Think about Billy Pilgrim’s travels to Tralfamadore (the planet he supposedly visits with all the funny-looking aliens) and his journeys through time. It might be interesting to note that these mostly occur during very difficult times in his life (for example, when Roland Weary beats him up). These are the times Billy Pilgrim comes “unstuck in time”.
“There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvellous moments seen all at one time.”
Vonnegut keeps true to his word and gives you a novel that truly does not have a beginning, a middle, an end or a moral. The truth is, some of the things that happen to us during a lifetime are precisely like that: they lack any meaning. It is human nature to try to find an explanation for things and the way they happen, but in reality, there might not be any. As the tralfamadorians point out, we can choose to see the “marvelous moments” all at the same time. This might be the only way for us to cope with whatever it is we are dealing with in our day to day life.
“One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters.”
Another interesting idea that might be worth exploring is the idea that during times of war people should not want to have personalities. A man without principles and ideals is a lot easier to lead. It is much more likely that he will blindly follow orders, without questioning the motives behind them.
I cannot write this review of Slaughterhouse-Five without mentioning the phrase that is repeated to an almost annoying point in the novel: “so it goes”. I think that using this phrase in the context that Vonnegut keeps using it is a reference to existentialism. It is a satirical way of pointing out how insignificant we are. This idea is reinforced by the presence of the tralfamadorians who, as I’ve previously said, point out that the difference between humans and them is that humans cannot seem to be able to see the good moments in life. So in that sense, “so it goes” refers both to our insignificance in the grand scheme of things and the idea that all that exists is good, simply by existing (Remember Voltaire’s “Candide”? Also one of my all time favourite books. The phrase that keeps being repeated there is: “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds”)
I have to admit that reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five took me a lot more time than it usually does for me to read a novel this short. I guess it took a little longer for me to get used to Vonnegut’s style. It took me two days to come up with a rating for this novel, but the more I thought about it, the more I understood why this novel is so highly appreciated. What I loved the most about it is that it made me think. I love books that make me think. I also loved the fact that he made me think about the subtleties of human nature without ever going into detailing them. Genius, if you ask me.
So, of course, Slaughterhouse-Five deserves the best of possible ratings: 🦊🦊🦊🦊🦊. Because so it goes.
Questions to ponder
Is Slaughterhouse-Five and anti-war novel?
Does Billy really get “unstuck in time”? Does he really go to Tralfamadore?
How does Billy cope with the realities of the war?
If you haven’t read this book yet, I highly recommend you pick it up as soon as possible. You can find it on:
Also, if you liked my review of Slaughterhouse-Five, make sure to check out my other book reviews:
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