Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut utilize structure and imagery to convey their antiwar viewpoints; however, Heller incorporates irony while Vonnegut adds motif. It is through the stories of Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse-five and Yossarian in Catch-22 that the reader learns how war negatively affects the soldiers involved (Wallin.)
Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut use a non-chronological structure in their novels. At first, the novels skip from episode to episode in a nonspecific order that forms an illogical mess. Not only does this accomplish presenting the protagonists as insane, but it causes the reader to experience life as someone who has been traumatized by what they witnessed in war (“Time and Structure” 9-11.) It is for this reason a traditional structure could not be applied to the novels because the illogical order of events that seem to have no relevance forces the reader to experience insanity. Vonnegut goes farther than just using the non-chronological structure of the novel as a whole by writing in short chapters. These chapters contain short paragraphs that are divided into unrelated sections. Vonnegut uses this unique structure because the way events are told to the reader is similar to how undifferentiated schizophrenics think and communicate ideas which supports the idea that Billy Pilgrim is insane. Undifferentiated schizophrenia is a severe psychiatric disorder, usually caused by a traumatic event, with symptoms where the patient speaks in fragments and detachment from reality (Gerrig and Zimbardo 497-503.) The traumatic event that caused Billy to become insane was the firebombing of Dresden in World War II. As Billy tries to justify the pointless destruction of an innocent city and killing of thousands of civilians, he cannot reach a logical solution. Because he cannot justify the firebombing, his brain metaphorically shut down.
The structure of a story is the main key which provides a better understanding and insight analysis to the reader. The elements of structure are time, setting, and character. Each individual element shapes the world of a story, and outlines the values or information which the writer is trying to the readers. In the articles!" Boys!" and! SSOrientation!" we can see totally different structures. By ...
As Kurt Vonnegut used structure in Slaughterhouse-five to represent the soldiers’ insanity, Joseph Heller incorporates it into Catch-22 in a similar fashion. Unlike Slaughterhouse-five where scene changes have a time period assigned to them, Heller switches from past, present, and future tense without establishing a definite ‘now’ as a reference point. The structure allows Heller to take a scene and “juxtapose it with another to show their relevance to one another” (“Time and Structure” 9-11.) The beginning of Chapter I is “set out of sequence in order to establish the importance of the hospital” and importance of Yossarian’s friendship with the chaplain (“Time and Structure”, Scoggins.) Heller and Vonnegut use structure to support insanity as a biproduct of war. Through the characters, the reader learns how war has taken two sane men and made them insane. By the end of the novels, the reader has told all the fragments and it is their job to align the scenes in the correct order so a logical storyline is formed.
Even though the theme of Catch-22 and Slaughterhouse-five is the same, Vonnegut and Heller use different elements additional to structure. Vonnegut incorporates motif, the repetition of an important phrase or concept, to push his antiwar theme. In Slaughterhouse-five, Vonnegut adds writes a recurring sentence after every mention of death or mortality; “So it goes.” Countless people die during the course of the novel and “So it goes.” is present after each one. Vonnegut does this to equalize all the deaths Billy has had some relation to. After seeing the senseless deaths of the people of Dresden, death seems to have no meaning anymore. Once death has been equalized, it is nothing more than an ordinary occurrence. This causes Billy to create this elaborate idea of Tralfamadore and that they look at time as something that does not change. In Billy’s mind, this means that even though people are dead at the present moment, at some point in time they are alive and well. This concept allows Billy to seek some justification and acceptance that the people of Dresden are not dead, they are only dead in the present moment. The effect the “So it goes.” motif has on the novel is that it shows the reader how war makes the soldier numb to any emotional stimuli, furthering the reasoning behind the theme.
Catch-22 portrays the absurdity of war in many events throughout the book. For example, Colonial Cathcart made the squadron go on more missions than they were required to. These missions were basically pointless, and some of the assignments included the bombing of towns that had no industry, enemy bases or value. He awarded pointless metals and he presented some of them to Yossarian for being ...
In Catch-22, Heller uses irony to support the antiwar theme. The most ironic part of Catch-22 is Catch-22 itself. Catch-22 can best be described as a goal someone is trying to achieve, but when they are about to reach that goal it’s manipulated so they cannot. Colonel Cathcart raises the number of flight missions to be flown before a soldier can be dismissed because he wants to be promoted to General. Just as Yossarian nears the number or Hungry Joe completes the required number of missions, the number is raised. The only other method of escaping is through claiming insanity, but it too is a Catch-22. Ironically, in order to be grounded, the soldier has to be considered insane, but if he asks to be grounded, he is clearly sane because nobody wants to be in war (Scoggins.) Here, Heller identifies two problems: the soldier cannot escape the war through any form of discharge, and the fate of the soldier is determined by the acquisition of power (Scoggins.) Heller points these problems out because they support the antiwar theme by giving examples of how war is unjust.
Slaughterhouse-five and Catch-22 are classic antiwar novels. While Joseph Heller didn’t intend to book to be labeled as ‘antiwar’, his negative attitude towards war displayed in the novel Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller use the literary elements structure, motif, and irony to state the reasons they hold antiwar beliefs. These examples are shown through characters that learn that war is hell.
Gerrig, Richard J., and Philip G. Zimbardo. Psychology And Life. 17th ed. New York:
Heller, Joseph. Catch-22. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989.
Peek, C. A.. “Time and Structure in Catch-22.”, Cliffs Notes. 1st ed. 1975.
Scoggins, Michael C.. War, Literature & The Arts. 10 Oct. 2006.
The Vietnam was a war like no other and the nature of the fighting in this war had great impacts on the soldiers. At this time, communism was seen as a great threat, especially by Western countries, and so extreme emphasis was placed on the domino theory that when one country falls to communism, others would follow and that forward defence would be the only solution to this issue. Also during this ...
Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-five. New York: Dial Press Trade, 2005.
Wallin, Eric. “C-C Essay Page 1.” Two Novels’ Protagonists. 30 Nov 1999. 9 Oct 2006