The book written by Kurt Vonnegut Slaughterhouse-Five, is difficult to rank in the contemporaneous literature, as it can be considered as sci-fi, as well as an anti-war literature and autobiography, as well as a critique of the concept of American dream. The author tells the story of a young man named Billy Pilgrim, who gets into Second World War as an assistant of pastor (Vonnegut, 2009). Slaughterhouse Five presents some very interesting proposals. The novel protagonist is a soldier named Billy Pilgrim, who has the ability to travel through time and is kidnapped by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. Pilgrim is the alter ego of Kurt Vonnegut in this anti-war novel, psychological study and autobiographical fiction in which the American author, who was really as deponent in the city of Dresden in times of the aforementioned war, is introduced, with an omniscient narrative and from a critical position with its present (Vietnam) and a paranoid sense, with some humorous features, mainly ironic nature, and science fiction, clinching the troubled mind of the deponent of barbarism and the failed American dream, in the disorder witnessing the death and the destruction(Tally, 2011). That is the least valued positions which could gain.
He joins the trio of soldiers who are trying to siege Germans in their territory, which is held by the Allied Forces. One of three soldiers, who is similar in terms of character as Billy, searches weaker individuals who can be ordered and humiliated. Weary himself as a tank, when his battalion was besieged by German troops, he wanted to shoot at German tanks and soldiers, but instead was captured along with Billy and both were taken to Dresden, to a building called Slaugtherhouse Nr. 5, while Weary gets killed (Tally, 2009). After the war Billy gets into various stages of his life in order to be killed in the 1976 by a person, who is supposed to be a friend of Weary, who thus becomes the symbol of failure of the concept of American dream.
The character of Billy Pilgrim is very particular. He is complacent as well as unpopular before the war as well as after the war. He lives a strange life of indignity. Oddly, he is not afraid of death, and accepts the Tralfamadorian philosophy of a death acceptance. He is thus the anti-role model of a protagonist of an American dream.
Vonnegut follows two main storylines. The first of these is Billy’s war experiences. Billy is captured by the Germans (as Kurt Vonnegut) is forced to work for them in Dresden (just like Kurt Vonnegut) and witnessed the fire bombing of the city (just like Kurt Vonnegut). Incidentally Billy Pilgrim was born in 1922 in Indianapolis
(just like Kurt Vonnegut). If someone mentions this book, more or less he says it’s a scary picture bombing Dresden.
Billy Pilgrim keeps recalling his experiences in World War II, especially its presence in the Allied bombing of Dresden, and its contact with the trafalmadorians, who are supposed to be strange beings with four-dimensional perception. Employed, with various metaphors, surrealistic traits, absurd and disorderly temporal and spatial translations that emphasize the mental state of the central character situations, the time travel experienced by the protagonist Billy Pilgrim is in principle controlled by the inhabitants of Tralfamador. Throughout its history Billy Pilgrim has grown cowardly and uncertain to become a man of modest confidence who sees only the bright side of life even after all his years at war and his first-person experience of bombing Dresden. He is remembering the events of his default death, which he is able to do so because of its apparent time jumping skills that can go between events in time but cannot control them as if you made is a spectator of his own life. A third person view almost on the master of life is an influential throughout both texts factor. Where Vonnegut uses it to show the simplicity and serenity of fate, his narrative is kind of detached from the action of the principal personalities. The killing happens again and again in the memory of the writer, in the same way over and over again as Billy Pilgrim returns to Dresden through his thought; and likewise occur repeatedly the events on the planet Tralfamadore, where according to the statements of Pilgrim, was kept kidnapped. The recurrence of events does not respond to a common linear arrangement of temporality, where time is constituted as a succession of moments. Indeed, time is presented simultaneously as a question, hesitation and response of the story told (Boomhover, 1999).
Vonnegut not only protests against the war, but exposes issues such as existential futility of the concept of American dream, its determinism, its vital complacency, and the insignificance of human beings. Billy Pilgrim as fatuous hero is not the most typical hero, who could fulfill his American dream. The fact that he did and his low intelligence and practical skills succeed may be the first plane innovation myth, in a way resembling Forest Gump concept. The mental disability of the protagonist, who is not the most important in the novel, reaches him only in passing in his quest for love. Hero desires for fulfilment of the American dream, and yet he achieves it only virtually. The element of chance as a doer in Billy’s life also upgrades the fulfillment of the American dream. The man who wants to achieve a planned it tries, but the American dream could be possibly achieved through a series of coincidences. In all of these planes is a myth newly defined. Yet at the end, the dream falters when Billy gets murdered decades after the end of the war.
- Boomhower, Ray E. (1999). “Slaughterhouse-Five: Kurt Vonnegut Jr.”. Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History, Indiana Historical Society.
- Tally, Robert T. Jr. (2009) Kurt Vonnegut. Critical Insights. Salem Press.
- Tally, Robert T. Jr. (2011). Kurt Vonnegut and the American Novel: A Postmodern Iconography. Continuum Books.
- Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five. (2009) Dial Press Trade paperback edition 43.