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“Slaughterhouse 5” by Kurt Vonnegut Essay


Having reflecting the WWI and the anti-war oppositions of our author Kurt VonnegutSlaughter House 5 can be considered as one of the significant works of post modern American literature. In this work I am going to criticize this book regarding the elements of the Archetypal Approach; that is, the hero, his quest and sacrifice, mother earth and father sky, and elements of the world.


Normally the term hero reminds the reader a robust and glorified character; however, in this book we happen to meet a weak and mentally ill one. So that, this disables the reader see the story from the perspective of a real strong hero who leave his place for a specific purpose, fights against evil or some other powerful mythological giants or dragons. Billy is an American soldier who fights in the WWII in Germany and who is not the right one to be sent to this bloody war even did not know why he was there in the battlefield. Normally real heroic characters symbolize the courage and the wisdom which he gains thorough in the battle against evil but in this story Billy gains nothing but mental illness questioning of time and death and in the end he dies. So, I think there is no strong links between our protagonist and heroic archetypal motifs. Only we can consider that our hero versus the Post Modern war phenomena and himself, his mental disorder as evil.


In archetypal criticism we compare and contrast the elements of the book with mother earth and father sky. Mother earth symbolizes vitality, courage and optimism and father sky is referred to divinity. In this story, we do not happen to see any optimism or courage but misery and questioning. So we can state that mother earth do not exist in this novel. Moreover, the case of divinity in this story there is an illusion of father sky because in this book we see a loss of faith thorough the resolution part.


The four elements we believe the world consist of are earth, water, fire and air. Earth represents the nurturing life so in this story Billy’s hope and search for solution his miserable position in this bloody war can be connoted as earth. The second element of the world is water and it symbolizes purity. So once again Billy’s unconsciousness about war and innocence can be described as water in the story. However, water also represents destruction when it is not controlled like flood so war also can be connoted with water. The third one is fire and it also symbolizes disorder and destruction like uncontrolled water and it directly refers to the WWI and warriors. The fourth and the final element is air and it represents spirituality. We can not see a direct connection between any motif and the air but I think the tralfamadorians whom Billy sees in his hallucinations can be connoted with these people because they refer to the fact that there is a utopic society named tralfamaore and it is the place where aliens live in peace Billy says the reader. Finally, these elements exist in the world symbolizes different icons and ideas in Slaughter House 5.


In Post Modern novels, novelists like Kurt Vonnegut avoid to mythological references and this indicates us the fact that the belief to the old myths are getting weaker in that time period. He creates a weak and miserable character and hesitates to glorify him in order to reflect the destructiveness of war that will never end successfully. I think this is because of the rise of non-fictional writings in that era as in the example of Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” and just because this book is also an autobiographical work and a documentary.

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