Monday, March 28, 2011

Readers Response

My initial response to Slaughterhouse- Five by Kurt Vonnegut was that I did not like the book at all. However, a few days later after thinking about the book as a whole I changed my opinions of the book. The reasons I did not like the book at first were:
- The simple language
- The jumpy storyline
- Mundane story line

Soon I realized that Vonnegut used these elements of the story for a purpose. Firstly, the simple language and mundane story line play on Vonnegut's idea of war. In the first chapter of the book Vonnegut makes it clear that he did not want to romanticize the war, therefore he does not use flowery language or an enticing storyline to make war look enticing (hence the second title of the book The Children's Crusade).
The jumpy storyline made me confused for the first half part of the book, it made me feel confused and annoyed by the constant, inconsistent changing of events. Soon, I realized that Vonnegut made the reader feel this way on purpose to allow them to feel Billy Pilgrims emotions.

My favorite part of the book is the saying "So it goes." I think that it can apply to any situation in life, not only death, but any part of the human experience. If one applies this philosophy of thinking to their life, they can live life without regrets, living life to the fullest.

Use of Illustration

Billy's epitaph for himself

An epitaph (from Greek ἐπιτάφιον epitaphion "a funeral oration" from ἐπί epi "at, over" and τάφος taphos "tomb") is a short text honouring a deceased person, strictly speaking that is inscribed on their tombstone or plaque, but also used figuratively. Some are specified by the dead person beforehand, others chosen by those responsible for the burial. An epitaph may be in poem verse; poets have been known to compose their own epitaphs prior to their death

There was a silver chain around Montana Wildhack's neck. Hanging from it, between her breasts, was a locket containing a photograph of her alcoholic mother - a grainy thing, soot and chalk. It could have been anybody. Engraved on the outside of the locket were these words:

"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom always to tell the difference"

The saying brings to light the central conflict of Billy’s attempt to live a Tralfamadorian life in a human world: he subscribes to the Tralfamadorian belief that there is a fourth dimension of time and that time is cyclical, but he lives in a world in which everyone believes that time moves in a single, linear progression. Tralfamadorians would argue that humans never know the difference between the things they cannot change because there is no difference; nothing is negotiable in a universe of predefined, structured moments.

Historical Content

Dresden Bombing - military bombing of the British and American air forces bewteen February 13- 15 1945.  In all more than 3,900 tons of high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices were dropped on the city, the Baroque capital of the German state of Saxony. 15 square miles of city was destroyed by the firestorm. It is estimated that 25,000 people died from the initial bombing, but many were missing that were never found. 

The Dresden Bombing was one of the most controversial bombings that took place during WWII. The highly populated civilian area was supposed to have been a major railway/ communication center of Nazi communication. After the war, the bombing has been scrutinized as a possible war crime of the allies, as it completely destroyed the city, killing thousands. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Beyond the text: Themes and Symbolism

A reoccurring saying throughout Vonnegut's novel, Slaughterhouse- Five follows every mention of death throughout. Whether the death be personal, insignificant, general, or on a massive scale "So it goes" will always follow. This reoccurring saying reflects the Tralfamadorian philosophy of death that although a person may be dead at that specific moment, that person is still alive in other moments in their life. They move between these moments through time travel, revisiting moments and memories. The reoccurring phase also points out the tragedy of war and the inevitability of death.

The birds saying of "Poo-tee-weet" further communicates Vonnegut's lack of anything intellegent to say about war. The birds song, representing gibberish ends the book as Vonnegut further reinstates that he can not fully describe the terror of the bombing of Dresden. In the last line of the book, "Poo-tee-weet" is in the form of a question, allowing the reader to feel Vonnegut's confusion of how such a traumatic event could have taken place; as well as his confusion in how to describe it.

Blue and ivory feet are mentioned a few times within the novel. Vonnegut mentions blue and ivory feet is when he is in basement in the cold and when he waits for the Tralfamadorians to kidnap him. This particular choice of blue and ivory represents the thinness of the skin, further communicating the thin line between life and death.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

What the hell is Tralfamadore?!

Tralfamadore is a fictional alien race that Vonnegut uses in several of his novels. Tralfamadore is the home plant and the Tralfamadorians are the aliens that inhabit the planet.
In Slaughterhouse-Five, Tralfamadore is home to aliens that exist in all times simultaneously. They have knowledge to the future and even know how the world will end, supposed by a Tralfamadorian test pilot. They experience the world around them in four dimensions, having access to past, present, future, and the ability to perceive any point in time at will. The Tralfamadorian way of thinking about time effects Billy's perception of life and death, seeing death as a moment, not an end to existence.  Billy describes the aliens as,

...they were two feet high, and green, and shaped like plumber's friends. Their suction cups were on the ground, and their shafts, which were extremely flexible, usually pointed to the sky. At the top of each shaft was a little hand with a green eye in its palm. The creatures were friendly, and they could see in four dimensions. They pitied Earthlings for being able to see only three. They had many wonderful things to teach Earthlings about time (Vonnegut 26). 

The Tralfamadorains kidnap Billy and Montana Wildhack to put on display in their zoo. 

During Billy's stay in Tralfamadore, he adopts their attitude of fatalism and their response to death, "So it goes.". As he returns to earth he attempts to spread their philosophy.

Important Characters

Billy Pilgrim- POW survivor of Dresden, optometrist, husband and father. Protagonist of the novel. Visits Tralalfadore and becomes "unstuck in time", as he relives moments right after another. These experiences make the novel into short episodic vignettes and communicates to the reader the difficulty of recounting traumatic experiences.
Kurt Vonnegut- obviously author, but Vonnegut also acts a minor character in the story. He often reappears in the refrain, "So it goes" that follows each mention of death.
The O'Hare couple- Bernhard O'Hare is Pilgrims war buddy, he goes to him to help Vonnegut remember the war for the novel. Mary O'Hare is Berhard's wife and becomes upset in the novel because she believes that Vonnegut will romanticize war. Thats where the second title comes from, The Childrens Crusade.
Roland Weary- a soldier that Pilgrim meets in Dresden, the leader of the Three Musketeers. He is cruel and desires to be heroic despite his cruel actions.
Valencia Merble- Billys fat wife
Tralfamadorians- Aliens on Tralfamador

Kilgore Trout- unknown science-fiction author that Pilgrim becomes obsessed with
Montana Wildhack- adult movie actress that is kidnapped to be Billy's mate inside the Tralfamadorians zoo

Plot Overview

Slaughterhouse- five by Kurt Vonnegut is about a man named Billy Pilgrim and his reflection of events in his life that relate to the Dresden bombing during WWII. Billy Pilgrim begins the novel as a relatively weak character, during his childhood he is constantly pushed around by his father, just as when he is put in the army he is pushed around by other army men as a joke. Vonnegut himself is a character, narrating Billy's life. Vonnegut tells of Billy's experience of being a POW, his family life, and his kidnapping to Tralfamadore. In the very first chapter of the book, Vonnegut expresses the difficulty he had when he tried to write a book about his Dresden POW experience. The circular plot of the story portrays to the reader the difficulty that Vonnegut expierences to relive the terrifying experience of War; as well as communicating the theme of Slaughterhouse- Five that such memories cannot be erased by time nor be romanticized.