War plays a significant role in shaping human history. The rires of war can temper a man until he is unbreakable, or they can melt him with their heat. For Kurt Vonnegut, the flames of war do something extraordinary. They burn away his ability to accept the atrocities that humans direct toward one another. They galvanize his mind, removing any doubt as to the treacherous legacy that comes with the violence of war. Most importantly, they brand into his mind the images and events that would be the inspiration for a masterpiece. Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughter House Five is a modern parable, written to express the author’s anti-war sentiments and expose the absurdity of violence.
Kurt Vonnegut begins his classic novel with a preface that belies the genius of the piece (Smith 83).
This preface contains in its mere twenty two pages, all of the values and ideals from which Vonnegut writes his story. By telling the reader of the events that preceded the writing and publication of Slaughter-House Five, Vonnegut illustrates the very morals of his story before the reader even starts into the narrative (Smith 89).
Even the title of the novel explains the values which Vonnegut is applying to the bombing. Vonnegut, a captured soldier held hostage in a slaughter-house, is, ironically, among the only survivors of the bombing of a peaceful city (Gianonne 82).
When opening his novel, Vonnegut speaks to the reader as one would to an old friend, modestly and sincerely. He tells the reader about the troubles he faced trying to write what should have been such an easy book. The topic of Dresden is so big, yet no words come to him, not enough to fill a book anyway (Vonnegut 2).
This first chapter, a preface, is insistent on the fact that the book is based on real events. Vonnegut, like our narrator, is a veteran of World War II, a former prisoner of war, and a witness to a great massacre, and that fact lends a certain authority to what follows. Vonnegut shares with us his enduring inability to render in writing the horror of Dresden. There is nothing intelligent to say ...
Vonnegut explains, in his own unique way, that Dresden is a tragedy that is not justifiable; that it is not something that he can file away and forget about; and that it is not something that he can write about in a traditional story (Gianonne 102).
It is a cruelty that defies his attempts at rationalization. Even the simple act of outlining the events of the story proves impossible in the normal sense (Vonnegut 5).
Instead Vonnegut reduces the lives, deaths, and relationships of dozens of people to colored lines on the back of a strip of wallpaper (Smith 92).
The war which Vonnegut wants to use as the backdrop to his great novel makes writing next to impossible. The war drains the character of the human spirit. The characters become the listless playthings of enormous forces (Gianonne 84).
Writing the vibrant story of war heroes is impossible, and Vonnegut must instead settle with a melancholy, sarcastic, and satirical novel in which the main character is not a person, but an event.
Just as the war which his novel is based on shows no empathy for the dead, the author has difficulty doing so on such a large scale. Instead, Vonnegut uses the term “So it goes.” throughout the novel. Every time a character dies, or death is spoken of, Vonnegut uses this phrase to pause the story, take note of the loss of life, and move on. The words are a mannerism, a helpless shrug in the face of the inevitable (Holland 42).
The words become another example of Vonnegut’s inability to accept violence and war.
Vonnegut mentions to a Professor at a cocktail party that he is writing a book about the bombing of Dresden. The Professor, a member of the “Committee on Social Thought,” reminds Vonnegut of the German concentration camps; and of how Germans would make soap and candles out of the fat of dead Jews. The only thing Vonnegut could do was to say “I know, I know. I know” (Vonnegut 10).
Vonnegut knows that the Germans and Japanese atrocities occurred. However, Vonnegut does not feel that the wrongs of the enemy justify the sins committed by the Allies (Gianonne 87).
Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried is a work of metafiction that manages to test fiction in its very nature through the chapter, “How to Tell a True War Story.” The blurred line between reality and the imagination is explored by the given account—the reader is alienated and forced to think, does the truth matter in a war story? This chapter alternates in narration between O’Brien as a soldier ...
While sitting up late at night, as he does quite often, Vonnegut calls an old war buddy, Bernard O’Hare. He tells O’Hare that he is writing a novel about Dresden and asks if he could visit to talk and remember together. Not long after, Vonnegut travels to the home of O’Hare. When he arrives, he meets Mary O’Hare, the wife of his old friend Bernard. Vonnegut immediately realizes that Mary does not like him. She feels that the book he is writing is a tribute to the war.
You’ll pretend you were men instead of babies, and you’ll be played in the movies by Frank Sinatra or John Wayne or some of those other glamorous, war-loving, dirty old men. And war will look just wonderful, so we’ll have a lot more of them. (Vonnegut 14)
Vonnegut’s promise to remove from his novel any glorification and romanticism eases Mary’s anger, and Mary and Vonnegut befriend one another (Vonnegut15).
Vonnegut promises Mary to title the story “The Children’s Crusade.” The Children’s Crusade is an allusion to a tragedy that occurred in 1213 AD. Thirty thousand children volunteered to board ships bound for North African slave ports believing they are going to fight for Christianity in Palestine. Roughly one half of them died. When one looks back at the wars that have been fought throughout history, one realizes that children, are the ones that fight our wars, true some of them are older than most children, and most of them are much older looking. However, they are all children who die in battle fields (Holland 32).
Another allusion in the story is to the Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah. When the Lord rained fire and brimstone down to these two nests of corruption and greed, he gave the only pure hearted family the chance to escape. Lot and his family were to flee and never look back. Lot’s wife however, does look back. She turns one last time to look down on the homes and people who were dying for their sins. She looks at her neighbors and friends as they die at the hands of a vengeful and wrathful God. For her disobedience, God turns her into a pillar of salt. Lot’s wife dies because she does something so natural to all of us, she looks back at a massacre and questions it (Gianonne 75).
For this, Vonnegut loves her (Vonnegut 22).
All of the stories, anecdotes, allusions, and events that take place in the introduction of Slaughter-House Five serve to teach the reader that there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre (Vonnegut 19).
WWII was one of the wars that had the most devastating effects on peoples live in Europe. During five years citizens of the different countries suffered from this brutal war to which they were condemned by their government. Two of the most affected home fronts during this war, were Britain, and Germany. Women, children were the most affected, and by many they were the moral support for their ...
“Massacres defy explanation. Old forms are shattered, the world is cuckoo” (Gianonne 84).
Looking back at one can help cleanse one’s soul of the guilt and pain that accompany surviving while others around you die, but nothing can ever make you forget about the terror that accompanies a slaughter (Gianonne 84).
Vonnegut wrote his novel in hope of enlightening those who read his book as to the hopelessness of war. He is trying to make a generation of adults who have never experienced war, realize that war is an absurd, pointless act. “Slaughter-House Five is a plea for help, written by an exhausted veteran” (Gianonne 83).
Vonnegut does indeed write Slaughter-House Five in an attempt to bring about peace. He hopes that in writing, he can demonstrate humanity’s need for widespread pacifism, as well as expose the senselessness of war.