Slaughter House Five

external image slaughterhouse-five.jpg


By Kurt Vonnegut





Characters:
  • Bernard V. O'Hare- A war buddy of Vonnegut, he was a POW during the Dresden firebombing.
  • Kurt Vonnegut- A surviving POW of the Dresden firebombing, he is a minor character who appears throughout the story. He is also the narrator. He replies "so it goes" at every metion of death.
  • Mary O'Hare- The wife of Bernard, she hates everything that is associated with war and she believes Vonnegut will try to glorify war in his book.
  • Billy Pilgrim- The protagonist who believes he's unstuck in time. He's also a WWII veteran, POW survivor of the Dresden firebombing, an optometrist, father, and husband.
  • Gerhard muller- The taxi cab driver who takes Vonnegut and O'Hare back to their Dresden slaughterhouse, he later sends O'Hare a Christmas card that represents one of the few gestures of sympathy in the novel.
  • Paul Lazzaro- The man responsible for Billy's death, he is also a POW.
  • Tralfamadoria​ns- Aliens that are shaped like tiolet plungers, all of them have one hand that has an eye in it. They have an acceptance of death that Billy eventually embraces.
  • Howard W. Campbell, Jr- An American turned Nazi who tries to convince the prisoners of the slaughterhouse to join his army. He represents everything that is wrong with war.
  • Barbara Pilgrim- Billy's daughter who is faced with the death of her mother and the mental breakdown of her father. She represents the follow-up generation to the one consumed by WWII.
  • Robert Pilgrim- Billy's son who was a failure and a delinquent cleans up and becomes a Green Beret during the vietnam war. Robert's presence later on in Billy's life helps illustrate the severity of his father's war trauma.


Summary:
  • Novel- Billy Pilgrim is born in 1922 and grows up in Ilium, New York. A funny-looking, weak youth, he does reasonably well in high school, enrolls in night classes at the Ilium School of Optometry, and is drafted into the army during World War II. He gets shiped overseas to join an infantry regiment in Luxembourg. Billy is thrown into the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium and is immediately taken prisoner behind German lines. One night, Allied forces drop incendiary bombs to create a firestorm that sucks most of the oxygen into the blaze, incinerating about 130,000 people. Billy and his fellow POWs survive in an airtight meat locker. They emerge to find Dresden in complete destruction and are forced to excavate corpses from the rubble. Several days later, Russian forces capture the city, and Billy’s involvement in the war ends. Billy returns to Ilium and finishes optometry school. Then he gets engaged to Valencia Merble, the obese daughter of the school’s founder. The night after his daughter’s wedding in 1967, Billy is kidnapped by two-foot-high aliens who resemble upside-down toilet plungers, who he says are called Tralfamadorians. They take him in their flying saucer to the planet Tralfamadore.They tell him that he had been brought from Earth to live under a transparent geodesic dome in a zoo where Tralfamadorians can observe extraterrestrial curiosities. In 1968, he gets on a chartered plane to go to an optometry conference in Montreal. The plane crashes into a mountain, and, among the optometrists, only Billy survives. A brain surgeon operates on him in a Vermont hospital. On her way to visit him there, Valencia dies of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning after crashing her car. Billy’s daughter places him under the care of a nurse back home in Ilium. Billy makes a tape recording of his death, which he predicts will occur in 1976 after Chicago has been hydrogen-bombed by the Chinese. He knows exactly how it will happen: a vengeful man he knew in the war will hire someone to shoot him. He has seen it all many times.

  • Setting- 1944–1945 concerns Billy’s army service in Germany and briefly in Luxembourg, where he is captured after the Battle of the Bulge. Most of the rest of Billy’s life takes place in Ilium, New York. He also travels to the planet Tralfamadore and lives there in a zoo.


  • Conflict- Billy struggles to make sense out of a life forever marked by the firsthand experience of war’s tragedy.


Author Biography:
  • Kurt Vonnegut was born on November 11, 1922 in Indianapolis, Indiana. He studied at Cornell University from 1940 to 1942. Kurt then joined the army and studied engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. He served and fought in Europe and he fought in the Battle of the Bulge, then he was later captured and became a POW. He witnessed the devastation caused by the bombing of Dresden, he only survived because himself and the other POWs were workin in a meat locker underground. He is considered the most influential American novelist of the twentieth century, most likely because he blended literature with science fiction and humor.




Literary Devices:

  • On various occasions in Slaughterhouse-Five, Billy’s bare feet are described as being blue and ivory, as when Billy writes a letter in his basement in the cold and when he waits for the flying saucer to kidnap him. These cold, corpselike hues suggest the fragility of the thin membrane between life and death, between worldly and otherworldly experience.


  • The phrase “So it goes” follows every mention of death in the novel, equalizing all of them, whether they are natural, accidental, or intentional, and whether they occur on a massive scale or on a very personal one. The repetition of the phrase keeps a tally of the cumulative force of death throughout the novel, thus pointing out the tragic inevitability of death.




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