In the novel Slaughterhouse 5 written by Kurt Vonnegut, it can be perceived that the overall plot structure does not follow the expected chronological order of most other novels. Normally, the life of Billy Pilgrim would be represented as a linear story. This means that it would show the order of events as they happened in time. The lack of chronological order in the novel and the abrupt and random changes in time are used by the author to represent how the life of a soldier is affected after the war.
Throughout the novel, Vonnegut implements this structure also to define Billy’s personality and characteristics. Vonnegut uses the ideals and beliefs of the Tralfamadorians to influence the structure of the novel. The Tralfamadorians believe that “there is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time”. The author represents this idea in the structure by alternating between stories and times, telling the story as Billy lives it, to show what he thinks of life and death after war.
Vonnegut successfully writes the novel in this style to allow the readers to consider these ideals in their own lives. This is portrayed in the novel when Billy says repeatedly “so it goes” when someone dies; meaning that he doesn’t look at death like an end, it just look at it like another part of life. Vonnegut succeeds in showing the readers the elements of the novel all at once using random changes and skipping from one event to another abruptly.
The author also gave this particular structure to the plot of the novel because it represented the bombing of Dresden as an event that kept going forever. The fact that the bombing of Dresden didn’t have much historic attention, although it was a real massacre, encouraged Vonnegut to describe it as Billy Pilgrim sees it: endless. As Billy went over his life more than once, the author wants the reader to know how hard and devastating was for Billy to live war more than once.
The harshness and the uselessness of war are represented with this method. Another structural technique implemented by Vonnegut is foreshadowing. Foreshadowing is when a warning or an indication of a future event is given before the actual event occurs. This is clearly seen throughout the entire novel but especially in the first chapter. “It begins like this: Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time. It ends like this: Poo-tee-weet? ” (p. 31). Here Vonnegut deliberately breaks the concept of time as well as the concept of tension.
The most important events in this novel are foreshadowed by the author before, to relieve this negative tension that the whole theme of war creates. A clear example is seen in page 56: Billy sat down in the waiting room. He wasn’t a widower yet. ” This technique allows the plot of the novel to be much more relaxed as well as giving the readers a sense of tranquility and fluidity. An effect of the novel’s plot structure in the overall meaning of the book is the fact that Billy’s life is replicated by the structure; producing a metaphor of the damage warfare creates.
An example of this is when Billy jumps in time to his death repeatedly. He knows exactly how, when and where he dies. He knows that he will be killed by Paul Lazzaro after he delivers a speech in a stadium filled with people, about everything he learnt on tralfamadore in 1976. This helps the audience to understand the damage war causes to the minds of soldiers. The fact that the storyline is incoherent to the reader shows exactly how Billy has lived his life every day since the war.
Also the disjointed characteristic of the structure portrays how the events in Billy’s life are all disassociated. To conclude, the author uses a non-chronological plot structure for reasons such as, to represent a soldier’s life after war and the ongoing massacre of Dresden. Vonnegut achieves, with the use of extended metaphors and careful descriptions, to convey the reader a sense of discontinuity in the novel and therefore an overall “image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep”.
Courtney from Study Moose
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