Violence and Death in Slaughterhouse Five Kurt Term Paper

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Violence and Death in Slaughterhouse Five

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., a fourth-generation German-American now living in Cape Cod, was an American Infantry Scout and as a Prisoner of War, witnessed the fire-bombing of Dresden, Germany, the Florence of the Elbe in 1945. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on the character, he survived to tell the tale: Billy Pilgrim, the hero of Slaughterhouse Five, -- or the Children's Crusade, bounces around in a time spanning his life and believes he is aided by an extraterrestrial civilization that has kidnapped him and put him in a zoo. Containing sexual content, violence and offensive language, the book was censored and burned in Drake, North Dakota in 1973, banned in Rochester Michigan for religious reasons, challenged at Owensboro, Kentucky High School Library in 1985 because of foul language. It was challenged, but retained on the Round Rock, Texas Independent High School reading list in 1996 for being too violent. This paper will attempt to explain why the book was considered too violent.Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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Term Paper on Violence and Death in Slaughterhouse Five Kurt Assignment

Slaughterhouse Five, -- or the Children's Crusade, is considered the highest achievement of Kurt Vonnegut and is one of the most widely known works in modern American literature. It is a novel which draws upon Vonnegut's own experience in World War Two. He was a very young infantry scout with the 106th Infantry Division, captured in the Battle of the Bulge and quartered in a Dresden slaughterhouse where he and other prisoners were employed in the production of a vitamin supplement for pregnant women. A witness to the fire-bombing of Dresden on 13th February 1945, he saw 135,000 people die in the ruins of Dresden, the greatest man-caused massacre of all times (71,379 people were killed by the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima.). During the February 13, 1945, firebombing by Allied aircraft, the prisoners took shelter in an underground meat locker. When they emerged, the city has been leveled and they were forced to dig corpses out of the rubble.

The story of Billy Pilgrim is Kurt Vonnegut's as he was captured and survived the firestorm which killed more than the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. A novel about war, it dwells on the cruelty and violence of war, about human nature, the selfishness of humans, and death, but also about love, humanity and regeneration (Vit 5).

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was born in 1922. He authored many novels, short stories, plays and works of non-fiction, dwelling often on his war experience (Hocus Pocus, Mother Night etc.). In Slaughterhouse-Five, the war experiences affect the whole book from the beginning.

The popularity of Slaughterhouse Five is due, in part, to the fact that it deals with issues vital to the sixties: war, ecology, overpopulation, and consumerism.

Billy Pilgrim, an optometrist who "provides corrective lenses for Earthlings" learns of a new view of life as he becomes "unstuck in time," the lenses are metaphorically corrective. Billy learns that "frames are where the money is." And this refers to historical events like the bombing of Dresden, which is "framed" in moral and historical interpretation. The repeated phrase, "so it goes" recurs at each death in the book, bringing a cyclical quality to the novel in form and content. And this "so it goes" at each death serves as a source and reason for renewal, something that is familiar in Vonnegut's books, as death brings a proliferation of new entities.

The book begins as a narrative and memorialization of his days as a war prisoner in Dresden, Germany. Ironically, he and other prisoners were spared the killing that occurred all around them, curing the bombing of Dresden, simply because they were prisoners and had been locked in the concrete meat locker of a slaughterhouse. All Vonnegut's books are satirical and ironical, using dark humor. The plot appears to be light, as it follows the pathetic characters. Vonnegut loves science fiction and formula plots with lots of action, short dialogues and fast movements between places, which sometimes places his books in the "sci-fi" section of bookstores.

In Slaughterhouse-Five, former characters from other books show up: Mr. Rosewater, Kilgore Trout, and the Tralfamadorians. The familiar reader also recognize themes appearing in earlier books, such as War vs. Love; Life vs. human understanding. Slaughterhouse-Five has sometimes been described as a summary of previous novels.

In the book's two narratives (one personal and the other impersonal), the impersonal narrative is Billy Pilgrim's story. He fights in World War Two, is taken prisoner by the Germans and witnesses the fire-storming of Dresden. The personal narrative is a story about writing a book about the worst experience of one's life, which is Vonnegut's own narrative. In the first chapter he describes his desire and horror at writing a book about his experience in Dresden and his reluctant efforts to produce it. The personal narrative surfaces twice in the Billy Pilgrim's story, and the tenth chapter also contains this personal "That was I. That was me. That was the author of this book." (Vonnegut 1969 p.125, 148). Perhaps like Billy, Vonnegut has become "unstuck in time," which means that he uncontrollably drifts from one part of his life to another "and the trips aren't necessarily fun," (ibid p.23).

While the author has experienced a time in his life when violence was a daily occurrence, he, like Billy Pilgrim experiences them sporadically, as those who suffer with Post Traumatic Syndrome do, except that the author has chosen these flashbacks carefully. Some believe the narration is linear, as Billy's life is told in one long line. But the line of narration is broken by the recall of violent events of the war, each time taking up the narrative at the point where the previous war story ended. The war permeates the thought and storyline, in spite of Vonnegut's trying to escape its power. He manages to do so temporarily, but every now and then falls back into the violence of World War Two.

The theme is the war and how it contrasts with innocence, love, beauty, humanity, to tell us that war is bad for us and how it would be better for us to love one another. Vonnegut expresses love very lightly, using the word rarely, yet effectively. He is not looking for love and beauty, yet finds things lovely and beautiful. When Billy is captured by Germans, he sees them as innocent. "Billy looked up at the face that went with the clogs. It was the face of a blond angel, of a fifteen-year-old boy. The boy was as beautiful as Eve." (Vonnegut 1969 p.53).

He has characters ask questions that he himself cannot answer about violence and its relationship to innocence and love:

Then she turned to me, let me see how angry she was, and that the anger was for me. She had been talking to herself, so what she said was a fragment of a much larger conversation. 'You were just babies then!' she said.

What?' I said.

You were just babies in the war -- like the ones upstairs!' nodded that this was true. We had been foolish virgins in the war, right at the end of childhood.

But you're not going to write it that way, are you.' This wasn't a question. It was an accusation.

I don't know,' I said.

Well, I know,' she said. '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 look just wonderful, so we'll have a lot more of them. And they'll be fought by babies like the babies upstairs.'

So then I understood. It was war that made her so angry. She didn't want her babies or anybody else's babies killed in wars. And she thought wars were partly encouraged by books and movies. (ibid p. 14-15)

Billy becomes unstuck in time and watches a war movie backwards:

The bombers got back to their base, where the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals (ibid p.74-75).

The fact that they and the rest of humanity are trapped in their fate is likened to people who are "bugs in amber." When Billy is kidnapped by the Tralfamadorian flying saucer, they greet him:

Welcome aboard, Mr. Pilgrim,' said the loudspeaker. 'Any questions?'

Billy licked his lips, thought a while, inquired at last: 'Why me?'

That is a very Earthling question to ask, Mr. Pilgrim. Why you? Why us for that matter? Why anything? Because this moment simply is. Have you ever seen bugs trapped in amber?'

Yes.' Billy, in fact, had a paperweight in his office which was a blob of polished amber with three lady-bugs embedded in it.

Well, here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why.' (ibid p.76-77).

The only thing Billy can do is… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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