Slaughterhouse-Five: An Analysis

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Slaughterhouse-Five, or the Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death is a novel by Kurt Vonnegut about Billy Pilgrim and his life during and after World War II. The plot follows the protagonist's military career from his days as a US Army soldier and chaplain's assistant to his capture as a POW in Dresden, Germany, where they were held in an abandoned slaughterhouse. The author employs a variety of literary techniques in the book to convey desired thematic meanings, including the destructive essence of war, religion, the principle of free will, and the psychological effect of military life on soldiers, among others. The events in the book are not arranged in a chronological order and often made clearer through flashbacks. An analysis of the novel reveals several similarities between the events detailed in the novel and Vonnegut’s actual life occurrences and various authors view the book as a section of the author’s biography. This essay provides a reflection of the novel, Slaughterhouse-Five.

The novel is partly fiction and partly autobiographical. A key event in the novel is a firebomb attack on Dresden when Billy Pilgrim was a prisoner of war. This event is consistent with Vonnegut’s experiences as he was also a prisoner of war. According to Klinkowitz, the author survived a bombing that occurred at a slaughterhouse where he and others resided as prisoners of war (3). A significant literary style that offers insight into the link between the author and the key occurrences of the book is the narrator point of view. The author uses first and third person narration to show the thoughts and motives of various characters. Perhaps the evidence showing the narrator is indeed the author is given by the quote, “That was I. That was me. That was the author of this book” (Vonnegut 59).

The author uses several literary techniques to attain both character and thematic developments. One of them is the use of motifs. The author uses the phrase “so it goes” multiple times across the story to develop the narrator as a character. Vonnegut also uses flashbacks (time travel experiences) to map the present and bring out the historical context, the theme of impact of war and the post-war scenario. An example of the style in use is displayed in the quotes, “His attention began to swing grandly through the full arc of his life, passing into death, which was violet light,” he then swings to pre-birth period, “…then Billy swung into life again, going backwards until he was in pre-birth, which was red light and bubbling sounds” (Vonnegut 23). The author uses symbolism to show the destructive nature of war and the suffering in the period of war. “A military surgeon would have admired the clinical fidelity of the artist's rendition of all Christ's wounds—the spear wound, the thorn wounds, the holes that were made by the iron spikes. Billy's Christ died horribly,” (Vonnegut 21). This statement use Jesus’s life events top symbolizes the suffering of the soldiers during the war. It also develops the theme of religion and impact of war.

In conclusion, an analysis of Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, or the Children's Crusade reveals various aspects of the novel. As discussed herein, the author provides a historical context of the literature focusing on the events of the World War II. He uses several writing techniques to develop various themes and characters. These include point of view narration, motifs, flashbacks, and symbolism. It is evident throughout the novel that the events are consistent with actual events in the author’s life, giving credence to the fictional autobiography classification of the book.

Works Cited

Klinkowitz, Jerome. Slaughterhouse-five: Reforming the Novel and the World. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1990. Print.

Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five, or the Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death. NAL Release #21, 2001. Print.

September 01, 2021

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