Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-five; Or, The Children’s Crusade, a Duty-dance with Death. [New York]: Delacorte, 1969.
Slaughterhouse-Five; or, The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance With Death
Written by: Kurt Vonnegut
Reviewed by: Diego Guerrero
Recommended Audience: High School & Up
“Slaughterhouse-Five” is a Realistic Fiction book by Kurt Vonnegut. It features the life of Billy Pilgrim, a WWII veteran. The novel revolves around WWII and, specifically, the bombing of Dresden. Billy is a scrawny, oddly-built man who began optometry school, but got drafted into the army. He is able to get on everyone’s bad-side just in his pathetic personality. For example, he would refuse to fight, and wouldn’t even do anything to save his own life. He was captured at the Battle of the Bulge, and eventually transported to Dresden to do work as a POW (prisoner of war). When Dresden gets bombed, he and the other POWs hide in a meat cellar with their guards, and are some of the very few who survived. He claims to be “unstuck in time,” and lives out different periods of his life at different times. He claims to have lived through his own death as follows: he is giving a speech at a Convention is Chicago, Illinois about how he was abducted by aliens, and is shot by Paul Larazzo, who vowed to kill billy 30-years before.
The narrator would be classified as a semi-omniscient, because he is on a thin line between 3rd person omniscient and first person. Throughout the book, he appears and says “That was I. That was me. That was the author of this book.” The book is written non-chronologically, imitating the way Billy sees his life. According to Billy, he was abducted by Tralfamadorians the night before his daughter’s wedding, and put in a Tralfamadorian zoo. By the time they brought him back, they went through a “time warp” so that no one would ever know he was gone. While on his honeymoon, he goes to the bathroom, and the walls become the POW camp walls, and the door becomes a tent flap as he walks out into the cold prison night. Later that night, he returns to the tent and walks through the tent back to the night of his honeymoon.
The books message seems to be that fate is determined, and there is no changing it. Billy was abducted by the Tralfamadorians, who were 4th dimensional beings. They could see in four dimensions, meaning they saw past, present, and future all at the same time. They told him that time is not linear, and every moment is simultaneous. Someone who is dead is not really dead, because they are alive somewhere else on the timeline. Billy only begins telling the world about his abduction and time travel after he is in a plane crash where only him and the pilot survived. He suffered severe head injuries, but after his recovery, believes he is fine and completely sane. And keeping true to Billy’s vision of time, the book’s end, beginning, and climax are strewn randomly throughout the book.
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