In my search for a good book to read, I ran across the book Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut. Upon further research, I read that this book had something to do with firebombing, the second world war, aliens, dimensions, and time travel. All of these are interesting or perplexing so I went ahead and read the book. I was not prepared in the least for what greeted me on the other side of the cover.
Before I begin talking about what I found interesting in this book, I would like to first go over the content.
This book was unfortunately wrought with foul language and specific, blunt sexual content (however the sexual content was by no means glorified, rather it is dealt with the same harsh, brutal satire that almost everything else is dealt with in this book.)
Because of these issues I probably would not recommend this book to most people.
However once I waded through the harsh language and blunt sexual content there were quite a few interesting (though sometimes perplexing) elements in Slaughterhouse 5.
1. Nonlinear storyline
Because this book involves a sort of memory based time travel, the entire book is read in small segments of the protagonist’s (Billy Pilgrim’s) life which are shuffled and placed into the book in a non-linear order. So while you may be reading about Billy’s life as a child on one page, on the next page you will move on to his first day as a widower, then on the next paragraph you will read about his experiences in Dresden during its ruthless firebombing. This sort of non-linear writing is fascinating but at the same time it makes understanding the story rather difficult.
2. Ruthless Mocking and Satire
Vonnegut shows no mercy when dealing with certain characters and ideas presented about certain events. From mocking science fiction, to satirizing the entire idea of war, Vonnegut kept me amused, though he never quite made me laugh. I guess when wrestling with moral problems such as firebombing, execution, and social decay, it seems almost wrong to laugh. I do not believe Vonnegut was WANTING to get a laugh out of his readers, more a depressed sigh at how messed up and fallen we all are.
Vonnegut’s aliens can see in the fourth dimension. Thus they can see all that has or will happen as they view time as a still event rather than a continuous motion. The analogy is often made of a mountain range. The Tralfamadorians (the aliens) view a human life like we would view the Rockies, it ends somewhere, but it is always there. Thus when someone dies, the range ends, but the rest is still there to admire, look at, and live as. Not only is this odd view of time a statement about life, it also is a statement about fate. Because everything is laid out like a mountain range, people cannot change the future. What will be will be and will continue to be forever. The universe is said to be destroyed by a Tralfamadorian test pilot. The Tralfamadorians do not try and stop this fate as it will never be stopped. It is fixed in time. Kurt Vonnegut’s universe is one without free will, and without human decision. The way Billy Pilgrim deals with this knowledge is fascinating. He simply does not seem to be bothered by anything. Whatever happens, will happen as it always has and always will. He cannot change anything and thus he does not care what happens.
This was particularly interesting to me, as a Calvinist, with regards to the dangers of inaction and an improper view of Providence. We are not called to be Billy Pilgrims, we are called to be in the world acting out God’s will, not sitting in the corner repeating “so it goes” until it all goes away.
I found Slaughterhouse 5 to be interesting, perplexing, and thoughtful. Unfortunately the inappropriate content is something that would make me reconsider before recommending or supporting this book. Vonnegut speaks his mind and does not spare anything. This is both his strength and his weakness.