The Destructiveness of War in Slaughterhouse-Five Essay
Kurt Vonnegut was an American writer of the twentieth century of German origin. He was born in 1922 in Indianapolis, Indiana. He wrote a number of books among them Slaughterhouse-Five. The novel can be classified as a historical, science fiction, or semi-autobiographical novel written in 1969; about twenty-three years after the Second World War. Vonnegut wrote the book as a way of sharing his experience as a prisoner of war in Germany during the Nazi era. As a survivor of the 1944 massacre in Germany, the author reveals to us the struggles of other prisoners of war, the effects of the war on its people and the country.
The author uses an imaginary character that he exposes to the same struggles as him. Billy Pilgrim, the protagonist of the novel is taken to Germany as a young infantry scout (Raver para 1). They are later captured in the battle of the bulge and quartered in a slaughterhouse in Dresden where they make supplements for pregnant women. It is here that he witnessed the firebombing of Dresden resulting in the flattening of the heavenly city to rubbles. Billy and other prisoners of war are taken to clean up the after war mess. The novel then takes a scientific turn when Billy is taken by aliens from Tralfamadore. There, he is displayed in their zoo as an earthling. He learns of the alien’s beliefs and lifestyle. Bill later returns to New York and lives a ‘normal’ life as an optometrist, a husband, and a father to two children.
Themes are the main issues covered in a work of art. One of the major themes in Slaughterhouse-Five is the destructiveness of war. War often results in death, wounding, economic turmoil, family disintegration, sexual abuse, hatred, displacement, and physical destruction of property and nations. For instance, the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki resulted in serious health problems for the Japanese, the destruction of their country’s economy and governance (SparkNotesEditors para 2).
Vonnegut in his novel reveals the extent to which war can cause destruction to a country by relating the case of Dresden. Billy witnesses the German’s firebombing of the entire city so as to kill the Nazis in their country (Quinn para 3). The Germans attacked the prisoners of war by throwing stones at them as they cleared the ruins. To the Germans, one was either one of them or a Nazi. The physical destruction of war is enormous.
Billy’s post-war life depicts a man with a family living in a decent house and a decent career. That sounds like the life of any normal adult; however, the torture and experiences in Billy’s past do not depart. When at one time, Billy walks in on his son, he feels that his son is a total stranger (Quinn para 4, 5). Billy loses touch with his wife and children. The war makes Billy lose touch with his environment by making him live in a delusional world governed by hallucinations. As a youngster before going to war, Billy is sane. He lives a normal life with dreams and a future. After the war, he becomes insane; he has no vision or dreams and aspirations as before.
War destructs careers. Optometrists correct people’s eyesight to enable them to see better. This was Billy’s work. It is, however, ironic that he was in the business of correcting other people’s eyesight when he could not do that for himself (Quinn para 4). Billy turns out to be a myopic and blind person who needs his inner sight to be corrected to enable him to live beyond the war. He does not realize that the war affects his interactions with other people and his family.
The war made Billy hallucinate and escape from reality into a comfort zone where war does not exist. The kidnapping of Billy by the Tralfamadorian is a way for him to escape reality (SparkNotesEditors para 3). The alien world is free of war and is always condemning the earthlings for their warring nature. The importance of the Tralfamadorians is to criticize the warring culture of humans for a peaceful culture.
The aliens’ world does not believe in the existence of free will as the earthlings (Raver para 2). They believe in fatalism which means that everything that happens is a result of nature and, therefore, not subject to challenge. Earthlings, on the other hand, believe that there is free will to choose right and wrong and the consequences of either choice will follow. The aliens also think in a linear way as opposed to the circular way of the earthlings. Linear thinking does not allow the aliens to think of the past or the future like the earthlings. Vonnegut feels that living like aliens is the only way to prevent war.
War is not a means for peace because of the nature of humans to want to exercise their free will. The only way to prevent war is to believe in fatalism and linear time. By so doing, we will prevent the emotional and physical destruction that is the aftermath of war.
Quinn, Lewis. “Critical Analysis of Slaughterhouse-Five.” Marek Vit’s Kurt Vonnegut Corner. 1998. Web. 16 Nov. 2011.
Raver, Edward. “A Closer Look at Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.” Associated Content. 2007. Web. 16 Nov. 2011.
SparkNotesEditors. “SparkNote on Slaughterhouse-Five.” SparkNotes.com. SparkNotes LLC. 2002. Web. 16 Nov. 2011.