Dunlap High School
Instructor: Kristen Strom
Slaughterhouse-Five: Will Analysis
Sometimes, even though the society as a whole believes in a certain viewpoint, an individual from the society begins to question whether the belief is truly correct or best. Such belief may include how a society views war. At the decade in which Kurt Vonnegut writes Slaughterhouse-Five, the western society apparently has a quite positive view of war. Knowing that the society leans towards the illusion of war’s greatness, Vonnegut makes his readers frustrated with this illusion by using his calm and casual tone of serious matters. With this technique, Vonnegut is able to show his readers the overall meaning of the novel, which is that the power of human free will allows one to be able to affect even the minor outcomes of uncontrollable circumstances.
Vonnegut uses calm tone on serious matters to show that this is exactly how these matters are treated during a war; this ultimately causes readers to question and reevaluate how the society views war. While writing the book, Vonnegut understood that his surrounding society viewed war as something positive, exiting, and like a heroic adventure. In chapter one, in which he gives the background of his novel, Vonnegut recalls a true incident in which his “buddy’s” wife, Mary, comments on how society views war. Mary says,
You were just babies in the war…[but] You’ll pretend you were men instead of babies, and you’ll be played in movies by…some of those other glamorous, war-loving, dirty old men. And war will look just wonderful, so we’ll have a lot more of them. And they’ll be fought by babies. (14)
Vonnegut explains that Mary meant that “she didn’t want her babies or anybody else’s babies killed in wars. And she thought wars were partly encouraged by books and movies” (15). Mary believes that most people within the society admire war, but in reality, war is greatly undesirable and soldiers are usually foolish instead of heroes. By mentioning this incident, Vonnegut is trying to say that the culture falsely believes in the greatness of war. With this understood, Vonnegut uses satire as he shows a lack of serious on serious matters like death. With showing casualness on such matters, he is able to achieve from his readers rebellion against this casualness. Awestruck Dove comments on Vonnegut’s technique of satire.
Vonnegut wants to frustrate the common reader’s expectations of the ways things in the world are treated…He uses the phrase ‘so it goes’ in relation to every instant of death in the novel…Shocking his readers into some sort of rebellious action is Vonnegut’s main goal. In treating death with such casualness throughout the novel Vonnegut brings to the readers attention the true definition of a massacre and how casually death is treated in the instance of one. (NP)
Dove explains that Vonnegut wants his readers to be frustrated with how he—and wars—treat grave matters; he wants his readers to question if the cultural view of war being heroic is really the best. Vonnegut’s technique allows readers to evaluate the opinion for themselves rather than plainly telling the readers the social status. Moreover, Vonnegut creates in the readers’ mind how life would be like under the control of fate so that the readers can realize the power of human free will.
Frustrated by the theory of fate that Vonnegut presents, the readers can see the book’s overall meaning of that the power of human free will is so great that it can even control the outcome of uncontrollable circumstances, like war. A big theme of the book is the concept of time. The novel’s protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, is abducted by aliens, called Tralfamadorians; the Tralfamadorians show Billy a new way of viewing time. Here, a Tralfamadorian describes how the universe will end in order to explain the “true” concept of time.
We blow it [the universe] up, experimenting with new fuels for our flying saucers. A Tralfamadorian test pilot presses a starter button, and the whole Universe disappears…He has always pressed it, and he always will…The moment is structured that way…There isn’t anything we can do about them, so we simply don’t look at them [them refers to bad moments]. We ignore them. We spend eternity looking at pleasant moments. (117)
The Tralfamadorian illustrates that time is like an already structured string, and that what is meant to happen will always happen. The book later mentions that humans see time as one moment after another, thus, seeing an illusion of events happening because of previous events. With this, the Tralfamadorians suggest that free will is just an illusion of mankind. Accordingly, Vonnegut uses this concept of time to explain his reason for his calmness in serious events, and through it, Vonnegut explains that all wars and destruction happens because they are suppose to happen, and that human have no blame for they follow fate. Being introduced to this concept, Vonnegut’s readers are able to realize how much power human beings have with free will: they are then able to see the things that people can achieve and the circumstances people can change with free will. And Vonnegut wants this realization in his readers; that is why the overall meaning of his book is the realization that free will can even affect the minor outcomes of fate itself. He also wants his readers to condemn the concept of fate and believe in free will. Dove comments on the book’s overall meaning:
In this book Vonnegut frustrates the readers expectations purposefully in order to bring about in him an experience of the absurd. Vonnegut ultimately feels that the human condition is a sad one and that in so many instances man is trapped. Thus, he wants to bring to the reader’s immediate attention the need for all the lonely people to treat one another with kindness and decency. (NP)
Dove mentions here that Vonnegut wants his readers to understand that although many occurrences are uncontrollable to humanity—like being trapped in the middle of a war, human beings have ways of dealing with them and helping others to deal with them, ultimately affecting their outcome. Vonnegut presents and uses the special concept of time and wants his readers to deny it and realize how much, in reality, humankind is responsible for the major occurrences like war, and can affect uncontrollable circumstances, or fate.
Kurt Vonnegut uses his particular concept of time in showing calmness in important matters; this technique is designed to frustrate readers with the illusion of glorified war, which society leans towards. The readers can then understand the overall meaning of the novel, which is the realization of how much power people have through free will and of how many ways people can use it to affect uncontrollable circumstances. Along with that, the satire illustrates to the readers that serious matters are treated casually during a war, that war is a trap to uncontrollable circumstances, and that there is nothing glorifying about it. Vonnegut uses the overall meaning of the novel to illustrate that people not only have the power to prevent events like war, but they also have the power to change their minor outcomes, like helping a dying man, when they do happen.
Dove, Awestruck . “Slaughterhouse Five.” everything2.9 Oct. 2001. 1 Dec. 2008. <http://www.everything2.org/title/Slaughterhouse%25>.
Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five. Dial Press Trade Paperback, 1999.