The Catastrophe of War in Slaughterhouse Five Essay

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The Catastrophe of War in Slaughterhouse-Five

Russian Prime Minister Joseph Stalin once said, “A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.” The impersonalization of war and death that he shares is an realistic characterization of war; originally intending to improve the lives of people, yet inevitably leading to the destruction of human life. Author Kurt Vonnegut endorses this view in his novel Slaughterhouse-Five; he shows that war can never be justified as long as innocent life is lost. Throughout Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut explores the theme of free will in order to illustrate the absurdity of war. Vonnegut conveys this through setting, characters, structure, and style.

Vonnegut uses setting to
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Throughout the course of the novel, Billy Pilgrim continues to alienate himself from his peers. His time travels prevent him from forming any strong continuous relationships with others (“Slaughterhouse” 264). One example of Billy’s alienating behavior occurs when a black man taps on Billy’s window to talk to him. After clearly seeing the man, “Billy Pilgrim did the simplest thing. He drove on” (Vonnegut 59). Billy’s dislocation “serves as a metaphor for the sense of alienation and dislocation which follows the experience of catastrophic violence” (“Slaughterhouse” 264). Billy’s condition is, “on one level, a symbol of the shock, confusion, dislocation, and desire for escape that result from the horrible experiences of war” (Cox 270). Billy is also distant and alienated because of his views on free will. Because Billy learns that he does not have free will and that all moments are preordained, he releases himself from any guilt he feels about the war. For example, “Billy was not moved to protest the bombing of North Vietnam, did not shudder about the hideous things he himself had seen bombing do” (Vonnegut 60). Billy’s indifference towards the war prevents him from being held accountable for events such as the Dresden firebombing. Billy Pilgrim’s response to the horrors of war is not to attempt to create change but to become isolated and indifferent in order to avoid dealing with his past.


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