Book Review : Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best novels of all time, Slaughterhouse-Five, an American classic, is one of the world’s great antiwar books. Centering on the infamous firebombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we fear most.
A Sneak Peek Into the Story :
Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.
Billy has gone to sleep a senile widower and awakened on his wedding day. He has walked through a door in 1955 and come out another one in 1941. He has gone back through that door to find himself in 1963. He has seen his birth and death many times, he says, and pays random visits to all the events in between.
Billy is spastic in time, has no control over where he is going next, and the trips aren’t necessarily fun. He is ‘m a constant state of stage fright, he says, because he never knows what part of his life he is going to have to act in next.
Billy was bon in 1922 in Ilium, New York, the only child of a barber there. He was a funny-looking child who became a funny-looking youth-tall and weak, and shaped like a bottle of Coca-Cola. He graduated from Ilium High School in the upper third of his class, and attended night sessions at the Ilium School of Optometry for one semester before being drafted for military service in the Second World War. His father died in a hunting accident during the war. So it goes.
“Among the things Billy Pilgrim could not change were the past, the present, and the future.”
Billy saw service with the infantry in Europe, and was taken prisoner by the Germans. After his honorable discharge from the Army in 1945, Billy again enrolled in the Ilium School of Optometry. During his senior year there, he became engaged to the daughter of the founder and owner of the school, and then suffered a mild nervous collapse.
He was treated in a veterans’ hospital near Lake Placid, and was given shock treatments and released. He married his fiancée, finished his education, and was set up in business in Ilium by his father-in-law. Ilium is a particularly good city for optometrists because the General Forge and Foundry Company is there. Every employee is required to own a pair of safety glasses, and to wear them in areas where manufacturing is going on. GF&F has sixty-eight thousand employees in Ilium. That calls for a lot of lenses and a lot of frames.
Frames are where the money is.
Bill became rich. He had two children, Barbara and Robert. In time, his daughter Barbara married another optometrist., and Billy set him up in business. Billy’s son Robert had a lot of trouble in high school, but then he joined the famous Green Berets. He straightened out, became a fine Young man, and he fought in Vietnam.
Early in 1968, a group of optometrists, with Billy among them, chartered an airplane to fly them from Ilium to an international convention of optometrists in Montreal. The plane crashed on top of Sugarbush Mountain, in Vermont. Everybody was killed but Billy. So it goes.
“There were lots of things to stop and see—and then it was time to go, always time to go.”
While Billy was recuperating in a hospital in Vermont, his wife died accidentally of carbon-monoxide poisoning. So it goes.
Billy Pilgrim closed his eyes again.
‘Time-traveling again?’ said Montana.
‘Hmm?’ said Billy.
‘You’ve been time-traveling again. I can always tell.’
‘Where did you go this time? It wasn’t the war. I can tell that, too. ‘
‘The Big Apple.’
‘That’s what they used to call New York.’
‘You see any plays or movies?’
‘No––I walked around Times Square some, bought a book by Kilgore Trout.’
‘Lucky you.’ She did not share his enthusiasm for Kilgore Trout.
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-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.
3 Words to Sum Up This Book :
PAGE-TURNER, PECULIAR, CURIOUS
To say that I’ve never read a book like this, is an understatement. Honestly, if I were to be truly honest, I might even go as far as saying that this might be the only book that I will ever read that could evoke this feeling of oddity, yet interest at the same time.
I see the praises that Slaughterhouse-Five received. I can see where all those 4 or 5 stars reviews are coming from, and I can understand the love and words of acknowledgment of how important the presence of this book bring to our society today. However, I am not writing this reviewing from an objective point of view, but rather, a subjective one. So please be warned that a lot of my opinions may vary from all the words of love and praises you see so far online.
Slaughterhouse-Five was banned from Oakland County, Michigan public schools in 1972. It is still banned in schools today. Wesley Scroggins –– assistant professor at Missouri State University –– wrote in the local paper, saying that : “This is a book that contains so much profane language, it would make a sailor blush with shame. The ‘f word’ is plastered on almost every other page. The content ranges from naked men and women in cages together so that others can watch them having sex to God telling people that they better not mess with his loser, bum of a son, named Jesus Christ.”
The board eventually voted 4-0 to remove the novel from the high school curriculum and its library.
This novel, despite it talking about the life of Kurt Vonnegut in WWII who has seen, experienced, and lived to tell the stories of the destructions and massacre in WWII, was not starred by Kurt himself.
The main character was a guy named Billy Pilgrim, who was described as someone who was weak and not really well-liked or loved. From what was written about Billy in the book, he came off as someone who was indecisive, often soft-hearted, someone –– despite him being a soldier in WWII –– not fitted for war. But then again, who is?
“If everybody would leave him alone for just a little while, he thought, he wouldn’t cause anybody any more trouble. He would turn to steam and float up among the treetops.”
Reading the book from his perspective, dare I say, was not a pleasant experience. Not to say that it was bad, no. But I just personally find it very hard to want to root for Billy, or to sympathize with him. For after being in his head for a good 200 pages, I must say that Billy doesn’t really have that strong of a will to live. Honestly, I don’t think he cares for a lot of things. He’s not driven by riches, or women, or booze, or sex. He just is. And to me, I suppose, that’s the most frustrating things of all.
SCARY AND GRUESOME?
Seeing that this book is about WWII, before going in, I actually expected that this book will be talking a lot about gore, death, and sufferings and the likes in great detail. But after finishing the novel, I can say that it was quite the opposite.
The horrors of WWII in this book –– in my opinion –– is pretty mild. I was expecting every single gruesome details about the deaths of the people and ways that they were killed to be explained in explicit details, but Kurt Vonnegut seemed to skim over a lot of things. And on the rare moments when he did decide to go more in depth about how things went down, it was still pretty tame compared to other books that I have read about WWII.
Out of all the jumbled and tangled mess that is Slaughterhouse-Five, the time traveling a.k.a “being unstuck in time” and the Trafalmadorians are the most bizarre things to me. In the book, Billy Pilgrim often have this episodes where he suddenly got unstuck in time, and started traveling backwards or forward in time.
“The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist.”
Going back to the past or into the future is understandable, but there were also times where there would be a space-ship coming to pick him up and take him all the way to Trafalmadore. There, the Trafalmadorians put Billy in a glass cage, and ask him to do mundane every day things while they observe. From things like showering, eating, peeing, to having sex and giving birth to a baby.
For a while, I was unable to understand what the Trafalmadorians represent, but after some googling, there has apparently been some saying that the Trafalmadorians are subtly linked to the Germans. And apparently, Billy being “unstuck in time” represented the PTSD that Kurt Vonnegut experienced from WWII.
A JUMBLED MESS OR A GENIUS?
While I was reading this, for some reason, I kept feeling as if there is something deeper hidden in the story. It was as if Kurt Vonnegut is hiding some deeper meaning that has yet to be deciphered by the general public thanks to how random this book can be at times. But then again, even he himself wrote :
“It is so short and jumbled and jangled, because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want anything ever again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds.”
This book, despite how absurd it could be at times, was entertaining enough that I was able to kept reading all the way to the end. I would not say that this book was entertaining, because it wasn’t, at least not to me. It did however, lend me a new set of frames to see and perceive the world in a way that I’ve never really thought of before.
The Verdict :
Should you read this book?
I would say yes, give it a try. Slaughterhouse-Five is a short one, a book shy of 200 pages long. So there really is no cons to reading it, because if you like it, good. And if you hate it, it’s less than 200 pages long. Plus, after you finished the book, you’ll be able to check off another classics off your list.
Slaughterhouse-Five, while being an anti-war book, didn’t really give off that much of an impact to me when it comes to stopping wars, and saying no to wars. Honestly, other than having learned that there are a whole lot more other perspectives and ways of seeing the world that I’ve never thought of, there isn’t much that I can take away from this book.
Maybe it’s just because the generation difference, or the cultural difference, or something else. I don’t know. But hey, that’s just me and my opinions of this book after I finished reading it. A lot of people love and rave for it. So who knows, if you give it a try, you might love it as well.
Other posts :
- Quotes Galore : Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
- Up Close and Personal : So Apparently I Am A Butterfly