Essay on Slaughterhouse Five
1256 Words6 Pages
Billy Pilgrim is born in 1922 and grows up in Ilium, New York. A funny-looking, weak youth, he does well in high school, then he enrolls in night classes at the Ilium School of Optometry, and is soon drafted into the army. He serves as a chaplain's assistant, is sent into the Battle of the Bulge, and almost gets taken prisoner by the Germans. Just before being captured he first becomes unstuck in time. He sees the entirety of his life in one sweep. Billy is transported with other privates to the beautiful city of Dresden. There the prisoners are made to work for their keep. They are kept in a former slaughterhouse. Billy and his fellow POWs survive in an airtight meat locker. They emerge to find a moonscape of…show more content…
Another is peacetime America, where Billy prospers as an optometrist and pillar of society in Ilium, New York. The last is the planet Tralfamadore, where Billy and his fantasy lover Montana Wildhack are exhibited in a zoo. Each setting corresponds to a different period in Billy Pilgrim’s life, and the story jumps from one setting to another as Billy travels back and forth in time.
The main characters are: Billy Pilgrim is a World War II veteran, a POW survivor of the firebombing of Dresden, a prospering optometrist, a husband, and a father, Billy Pilgrim believes he has "come unstuck in time." Kurt Vonnegut is the author and narrator of the book and in the first chapter reveals that he himself was on the ground as a prisoner of war during the firebombing of Dresden. Roland Weary is a stupid, cruel soldier taken prisoner by the Germans along with Billy. Weary dies of gangrene in a cattle car as the prisoners are being transported from the lines to prison camps. Paul Lazzaro is a soldier in the war and the man responsible for Billy's death. Edgar Derby is a former schoolteacher who is also taken prisoner and sent to Dresden. Derby is sentenced to die by a firing squad for taking a teapot.
Eliot Rosewater occupies the bed near Billy in the nonviolent ward of an asylum after Billy has a post-war breakdown. Kilgore Trout is the bitter, unappreciated author of clever science fiction novels, which never sell
Slaughterhouse Five: A Cycle of Self-Destruction
Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five is an antiwar novel that reveals the glorification of war and its effects. In this account of the bombing of Dresden, Vonnegut exposes the American war paradigm through supporting characters, such as Edgar Derby, Kilgore Trout, and the Tralfamadorians. Edgar Derby, a very normal and poor high school teacher, gives his life meaning by fighting bravely in the war. Kilgore Trout is an odd science fiction writer who communicates his beliefs through novel. The tralfamadorians are small green creatures who Vonnegut uses to ironically communicate his beliefs, such as free will. Together with these characters, Vonnegut uses Campbell’s monograph, an essay about the American war paradigm written by an American traitor, to more literally portray his message. Through this paradigm, Vonnegut reveals the cycle which makes poor Americans hate themselves, purposefully benefiting the rich; a cycle created by patriotism and the dependence on money for selfworth. In Slaughterhouse Five, Vonnegut uses supporting characters Edgar Derby, Kilgore Trout, and the tralfamadorians in partnership with Campbell’s monograph to develop the American war paradigm, revealing the emotionally selfdestructive cycle created by patriotism and financial selfworth which deliberately preserves the unhappiness of the poor to benefit the American elite.
Along with Campbell’s monograph, Vonnegut uses Edgar Derby as an archetype for the American soldier to demonstrate patriotism in lower classes, a force which glorifies war and consequently recruits poor men to join. Edgar Derby holds the characteristics of a normal American man; a kind, lowerclass High School teacher whose monotonous life has consisted of not more than his job and family. During the war, Derby proved himself the only soldier brave enough to answer Campbell, saying, “Poor Edgar Derby, the doomed high school teacher, lumbered to his feet for what was probably the finest moment of his life” (Vonnegut 164). Vonnegut emphasizes Derby’s normality before this moment, and the juxtaposition of his portrayal then and now reveals the importance of his bravery in the way he is received. The emphasis on this patriotic moment as the “finest” in his life suggests that the war gives his life meaning, glorifying it. When Derby confronted Campbell, Vonnegut says, “Derby spoke movingly of the American form of government, with freedom and justice and opportunities and fair play for all. He said there wasn’t a man who wouldn’t gladly die for those ideals” (Vonnegut 164). Here, Derby does not speak for himself alone, but for all low class Americans, demonstrating patriotism in these classes. By upholding such loyalty that he would die for these ideals, he embodies the idea of patriotism as the classic American war hero. Campbell speaks further about this widespread patriotism in lower classes, saying, “There will also be an American flag no larger than a child’s hand glued to a lollipop stick and flying from the cash register” (Vonnegut 129). Nationalism reveals itself in their everyday lives, showing that it has become common sense to support America not only ideologically but in war. People in poorer classes, like Edgar Derby, do not have much to believe in other than their country. This is the first step of an emotionally self destructive cycle in the American war paradigm, where such apparent patriotism glorifies war, making it seem like the only way to achieve greatness. This “spotlight” recruits men from lower classes to join the war, much like money.
Vonnegut uses Campbell’s monograph along with Kilgore Trout’s “The Money Tree” as a metaphor to reflect the poorer class’ dependence on money for self worth, revealing its emotionally selfdestructive effects and how they benefit the rich. In Campbell’s monograph he speaks about the irony of American economics, saying, “America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves” (Vonnegut 128129). This dynamic glorifies war because the poor think that war marks an exit from poverty and selfhatred. When they go to war and experience its bloody and unpleasant qualities, they do nothing but continue to hate their conditions and consequently themselves. The poor never win yet they allow this cycle to continue. Campbell speaks further about this, saying, “Those who have no money blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since Napoleonic times.” (129). This cycle of emotional selfdestruction of the poor proves becomes never ending because the people in power, the rich, will not change it as long as it continues to benefit them. Some of these benefits include the poor continuing to fight in wars, doing the “dirty work” so that the rich do not need to. Vonnegut uses Kilgore Trout’s book, “The Money Tree”, as a metaphor for this cycle. He says, “Trout, incidentally, had written a book about a money tree. It had twentydollar bills for leaves. Its flowers were government bonds. Its fruit were diamonds. It attracted human beings who killed each other around the roots and it made very good fertilizer.” (167). The money, government bonds, and diamonds on the tree symbolize the money that the rich have, which attracts the poor. Those poor then go on to hate themselves and the people around them, and their hatred creates “very good fertilizer”, letting the cycle continue. The tree symbolizes America, specifically the rich, who need the poor’s selfhatred to survive, and glorifies things such as money and war to ensure that. The poor never end up benefitting, while the rich always do.
Vonnegut uses the Tralfamadorian idea that “humans are machines” paired with Kilgore Trout’s “The Gutless Wonder” to parallel the American poor, revealing that they are “machines” to the war paradigm which sets them up to loathe themselves and consequentially each other. The American war paradigm sustains itself not only through the rich’s failure at changing it, but also because the poor fail to do the same. Vonnegut uses Tralfamadorians to show this, writing, “Tralfamadorians, of course, say that every creature and plant in the universe is a machine” (Vonnegut 154). By creature, Vonnegut means specifically poor American people, saying they are machines, doing exactly what they are told without second thought. Told to glorify their betters, they selfloathe allowing the cycle of emotional selfdestruction to continue. Vonnegut uses Kilgore Trout’s book “The Gutless Wonder” to enforce this idea. He explains what happens in the book, saying, “It (burning jellied gasoline) was dropped on them from airplanes. Robots did the dropping. They had no conscience, and no circuits which would allow them to imagine what was happening to the people on the ground. Trout’s leading robot looked like a human being and could talk and dance and so on” (Vonnegut 168). These robots also parallel the American poor, who are blind of the damage their selfhatred causes. They uphold the cycle unintentionally because they do not realize its existence, and therefore can not feel guilty about it. Campbell shows the negative effects of this paradigm in his monograph, saying, “(The poor) have no one to blame for their misery but themselves…They do not love each other because they do not love themselves” (Vonnegut 130). The poor fill themselves with so much hatred that then reflects onto others, creating an unhappy society from an emotionally destructive cycle.
In Slaughterhouse Five, Vonnegut uses supporting characters Edgar Derby, Kilgore Trout, and the tralfamadorians in partnership with Campbell’s monograph to develop the American war paradigm, revealing the emotionally selfdestructive cycle created by patriotism and financial selfworth which deliberately preserves the unhappiness of the poor to benefit the American elite. Emotionally selfdestructive cycle meaning it consists of continuous selfhatred in which the poor look to war, which is glorified, to take them out of their misery. This prevents the rich from having to fight in wars, and giving them a lasting advantage over the poor not only economically but emotionally. Patriotism in poorer classes and a dependence on money for selfworth create this cycle, in which humans act as machines to the paradigm, allowing it to continue. Now the question is: why does this matter? This war paradigm still exists today and not only in America. In today’s society, war is advertised and glorified through politicians, which causes unemployed or poor people to join in hopes of a better life. Vonnegut’s may have based his writing on events that happened over 60 years ago, but his ideas prove themselves relevant today.
Slaughterhouse Five Essay by LA