Welcome to the first real entry in my Vonnegut series! Today we’re going to go over one of Vonnegut’s most famous works, Slaughterhouse-Five. You’re probably going to question the order that I do this series in, but don’t fret; I’m doing them in the order that we read the books in class. It’s as simple a system as any.
First published in 1969, S5 took the world by storm. Vonnegut never really had to worry about money again after publishing this book.
I read this book in a day. All of Vonnegut’s books are really short, and they look deceptively simple when you first open them up. But know that that’s not the case: they’re actually very deep, and it will take several readings for you to understand everything that’s going on in the stories, so don’t feel bad if you don’t get it on your first go-around.
What’s interesting about the book is that it’s written in the style of a Tralfamadorian novel. The Tralfamadorians are a race of aliens that abduct Billy Pilgrim, the main character, a little ways into the novel. This causes him to become “unstuck in time,” meaning that he is able to see the world as the Tralfamadorians do, which is that he can see every single timeline and every single thing all at once. Their novels are also written in this manner, and Vonnegut makes sure to tell his readers on the title page that that is the way he’s written in. (Fun fact: I wrote my final paper in the style of a Tralfamadorian novel because I honestly couldn’t figure out how to tie everything together.)
Going through Billy Pilgrim’s life is interesting, and it takes a little bit to be able to string everything together, but once you do, you understand. Nothing is told in a chronological or linear order, so you do have to work a little bit. Vonnegut may write simply, but it takes a bit to truly understand what’s going on.
The majority of the novel deals with Billy Pilgrim’s life, and several people from other Vonnegut novels intersect with his life, too. The deeper meaning underneath the novel’s shiny exterior, though, is that Vonnegut was dealing with some extreme PTSD from his time in World War II, as he witnessed the bombing of Dresden, Germany, a cultural center and therefore not a military target. He was a prisoner at the time, and was made to clean up the ruins as his crew was one of the few that wasn’t killed when the bombs dropped. This is a theme that runs through the majority of his stories, and Philip Beidler even wrote an article entitled “What Vonnegut Saw in World War II Made Him Crazy,” which was one of the main articles I used in writing my final paper. (The author was also my professor’s dissertation director: small world.)
Overall, once I was able to discuss the novel in class, I think I understood it much more. I sped through it on the first go-around, and didn’t really come to terms with what was going on in the plot. (That’s also a major thing with Vonnegut novels: they don’t really have a plot. They’re a lot of slice-of-life type stuff.) At some point in the future, I’ll have to reread it again. But for now? I think I’m good.
I enjoyed the book, but it probably won’t sit on my top 10 list anytime soon.
Have you read the book? What were your thoughts? Do you have any thoughts on Vonnegut in general? Let me know in the comments!
And as always, keep reading.
Blog: 5,714/10,000 || Thesis: 1,810/10,000