Using Comparison and Contrast Essay

Pages: 7 (2207 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 6  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature

¶ … Slaughterhouse Five the Novel and the Movie

The novel Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was published in 1969 and George Roy Hill directed the film based on the book just three years later in 1972. While the major themes of the book remain intact in the movie, there are differences in texture and depth due the limitations of the film media. Both the book and the novel weave three storylines together through the life of the protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, who has become 'unstuck' in time and randomly experiences life out of chronological order. One storyline focuses on Billy's suburban home life as an adult and a child, another is based on Billy's experiences during the Second World War, and the third involves Billy's abduction by aliens and his time spent in a zoo on the planet Tralfamadore.


T.J. Matheson noted that critics have a wide and varied interpretation of the meaning of Slaughterhouse-Five ranging from a novel that is best appreciated as satire where the horrors of war are simply accepted as an inescapable consequence of the human condition, to a plea for active pacifism, art as the only potential form of transcendence from such horrors, or the concept that "history, sex, religion, and life in general are all waste products of a world which is itself universally inconsequential" (228). Both the book and the movie make a case for each of these interpretations of the story.

2.1 Common Themes

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The theme of the destructiveness and capriciousness of war runs through both book and film. As both works progress, Billy slips back and forth between his life as a prisoner of war in a meat locker in Dresden where he survives the incineration of the city by allied forces for no apparent strategic reason and his life beyond this event.

Essay on Using Comparison and Contrast Assignment

One difference between the book and the movie can be found in the way the fate of the character Edgar Derby unravels. Although the film is faithful to the novel in essence, Derby watches over Billy in the prison camp, is elected leader of his fellow prisoners, and is shot for looting, the film explores the relationship between the pair more thoroughly.

In the film the father-son relationship of the two is heightened, exacerbating the pain of Derby's demise. In the book when Derby's death is finally told it is remarkable only for its brevity and slight irony "Somewhere in there the poor high school teacher Edgar Derby was caught with a teapot he had taken from the catacombs. He was arrested for plundering. He was tried and shot. So it goes" (Vonnegut, 214).

In the film Derby plunders a figurine exactly like on broken by his son long ago. The incident is portrayed as an innocent act of a man far from home; he even shows the figurine to the guards thinking they will delight in his find. When he is immediately hauled off to a nearby wall and shot the emotional response to the horror and absurdity of the event is inescapable.

Another theme explored by both the book and the movie is the concept of free will and time. Both the novel and the movie portray free will as an illusion. This is done through the perspective of the Tralfamadorians who see time as a series of moments and advise us to concentrate on the good and ignore the bad in order to survive. Toward the end of the movie Billy is giving a speech about Tralfamadore where he states, "life has no beginning, no middle, no end" (Hill, 138:08). Billy asserts time and events are already determined in the fourth dimension and our fate is sealed.

In the novel this theme of stoic of acceptance of one's destiny is robust. Billy boards a plane heading to Montreal knowing it is going to crash in Vermont, and even though "…he knew it was going crash, he didn't want to make a fool of himself by saying so" (Vonnegut, 154).

The movie varies from the novel in the aspect that as Billy is getting settled into his seat he looks out the window and sees his future rescuers in ski masks standing by his family. He panics and attempts to get the pilots to abort the flight (Hill, 54:18). This variation, though subtle, is indicative of the difference in texture between the two works.

2.2 the Significance of the First Chapter

One major difference between the novel and the movie is the absence of the first chapter from the film. This chapter sets the tone for the reader and enunciates many of the views later expanded upon in the subsequent chapters. It also frames the novel as a story within a story. In many ways it adds a layer of depth missing in the movie.

Vonnegut begins the novel by claiming, "All of this happened, more or less. The war parts, anyway, are pretty much true" (1). He then sets out to give us the prototypes for certain characters, Roland Weary, Edgar Derby, and Paul Lazarro, who will later surface in the text. "One guy I knew really was shot in Dresden for taking a teapot that wasn't his. Another guy I knew really did threaten to have his personal enemies killed by hired gunmen after the war" (1).

The chapter is designed to add to the credibility of the storyteller and by extension the story, by let the reader know the author has experienced the horrors of war and suffered the effects. "People aren't supposed to look back. I'm certainly not going to do it anymore. I've finished my war book now. The next one I write is going to be fun. This one was a failure, it had to be since it was written by a pillar of salt" (a reference to Lot's wife in the Bible) (22).

Another scene in chapter one not contained in the movie are the authors interactions with Mary O'Hare, one of the individuals to whom the book is dedicated. Relating an incident during the writing of the novel Vonnegut recounts a conversation between himself and Mary, the wife of Bernard, one of the, author's war buddies who Vonnegut visits to discuss Dresden. Mary is disturbed that Vonnegut is visiting their home and going to write a book about the war:

"You'll pretend you were men instead of babies, and you'll be played in the movies by Frank Sinatra and John Wayne or some of those other glamorous war loving, dirty old men. And war will just look wonderful we'll have a lot more of them. And they'll be fought by babies like the babies upstairs" (14).

In response Vonnegut answers "I don't think this book of mine is ever going to be finished…if I ever finish it though, I give you my word of honor: there won't be a part for Frank Sinatra or John Wayne" (15). True to his word, George Roy Hill's casting kept that promise.

One last thought about the significance of the first chapter. Vonnegut relates that over the years he had often be asked what he was working on and his response was usually a book about Dresden:

"I said that to Harrison Starr, the movie maker, one time, and he raised his eyebrows and inquired is it an anti-war book?" "Yes," I said. "I guess." "You know what I say to people when I hear they are writing anti-war books?" "No. What do you say Harrison Starr?" "I say 'Why don't you write an anti-glacier book instead?" (4).

Vonnegut is saying there will always be wars; they are an inevitable part of the human condition. However, the central theme of this book is not anti-war so much as it is that life is meaningless and pointless, the universe does not care one iota about the human race, and humanity's myopia and self-delusion blinds people to this reality while leading them to their own destruction.

2.3 Other Disparities

All of the characters in the novel appear in the play with the exception of two, the author and Kilgore Trout, a science fiction writer. Vonnegut appears in the book in chapter one and sporadically throughout the book. He was imprisoned in Dresden during the bombing, personally witnessed the aftermath, and comments about what he saw. Trout is a neighbor of Billy's whose books do not sell well and works as a supervisor to newspaper delivery boys. Billy's science fiction adventures reflect events in Trout's books, which Billy has read and forgotten afterwards.

Perhaps a more significant difference is the use of the narrator's observational phrase "so it goes" to punctuate the commonality and triviality of death. While the movie was highly enjoyable the fact that I had previously read the book enhanced the experience. I do not think this can be said of the reverse.

2.4 Critical Reviews

At the time the movie was released Stanley Kauffmann congratulated the screen writer, film editor, the cinematographer, and the director for making a "cohesive dramatized… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Using Comparison and Contrast.  (2013, May 31).  Retrieved April 14, 2021, from

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"Using Comparison and Contrast."  31 May 2013.  Web.  14 April 2021. <>.

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"Using Comparison and Contrast."  May 31, 2013.  Accessed April 14, 2021.