The Kids Go To Slaughterhouse-Five

English 12-8

6 January 2003

Kurt Vonnegut, while conversing with a friend over how he would write Slaughterhouse-Five, unintentionally enrages his friend’s wife. As it turns out, the wife was annoyed that Kurt would write a book glorifying war, when really war is fought by mere children. Kurt responded by declaring his book was to be an anti-war novel, and that he would entitle it The Children’s Crusade to please the wife. The book which Vonnegut came to write would, in fact, be a sort of children’s crusade, set in the time of World War II. However, the children who would be in this “crusade” were young men and boys who enlisted in the army. The story consists of fragments of the life of Billy Pilgrim, a prisoner of war in World War II who enters an insane asylum for a short time and also is abducted by aliens. Nevertheless, there exists a much deeper meaning under what some may consider such a ludicrous story, as Vonnegut displays the reality of war. By the end of the novel, Vonnegut shows the “childishness” of war through various characters in the novel, repetition, and the structure of the novel itself.

Perhaps the most notable device Vonnegut uses in Slaughterhouse-Five is the method in which he uses his characters. The main character of the novel, Billy Pilgrim, is a confused man who seems to be unaware of reality, as seen by his idea of the aliens from Tralfamador and they way that he acts as a prisoner of war. During the war, one of Billy’s shoes has lost its heel, leaving Billy to bob up and down as he walks. Even more comical is that in an attempt to keep warm, Billy uses a toga prop from the Cinderella play hosted by the British prisoners. In his time at war Billy, while simply trying to survive, makes an utter fool of himself and is oblivious to the manner in which others see him. Even on the train ride to the prison camp, other prisoners refuse to sleep near him because, like a child, he thrashes and kicks in his sleep. Yet what causes Billy Pilgrim to be seen as naive little child the most is his belief in the Tralfamadorians.

The Tralfamadors also play an interesting part in the novel in that they directly influence the way Pilgrim thinks. The Tralfamadorians are capable of seeing in the “fourth dimension,” which causes the alien race to see all moments at the same time. For them there is no past, present, or future; resulting in the apathy they hold for life. The alien race simply ignore the bad moments and focus on the good moments, with no motivation to change the bad moments because they are still moments, simply structured to be the way they are. As a result, Tralfamadorians simply accept what occurs, and this same feeling of apathy without trying extends to Billy Pilgrim. Ironically enough, in Billy’s office is the prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom always to tell the difference.(Vonnegut, 60)” Yet, Billy does not bother to even try to change anything, for, like the Tralfamadorians, he sees life as a series of moments which must occur, just the same as children who do not try because they cannot do anything about such matters.

Unlike Billy and the Tralfamadorians, the British prisoners of war inhabiting the prison camp which Billy is taken to before Dresden, attempt to make the best of their situation. Nevertheless, the British prisoners remain optimistic using the most childish means. Upon Billy and his fellow American prisoners’ arrival, the British host a play of Cinderella. Such merriment seems innocent enough, a welcome feature to witness for such boys who are forced to be men. Yet childish acts do not stop here on the part of the British. On a makeshift latrine that Billy goes to use, he notices the sign, “Please leave this latrine as tidy as you found it! (Vonnegut, 125)” as if the soldiers need to be corrected as little children still being taught their lessons. Soon after the Americans arrival, a British soldier goes to