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Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Essay

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut combines the themes of loss and determinism to create a story of the power of tragedy. The characters and events experience the inevitability of tragedy and begin to accept the fate granted, affecting their view of their own lives. Billy Pilgrim is a numb and senseless character after his experiences in WWII; witnessing the bombing of Dresden triggered the concept that the he cannot change circumstances which therefore causes him to no longer participate in his life. Everything becomes insignificant, his view of death best showcases this stating carelessly, “so it goes” over 100 times through the novel, whether talking about the death of microbes in his jacket or the incomparable Martin Luther King Jr.; because to Billy, it is all the same. He accepts tragedies and views life as a helpless place therefore becoming discouraged from proactively seeking change and happiness. Similarly, the Tralfamadorian’s believe all events are out of their control and inevitable.

They live without guilt because in their world, everything is meant to be, “There isn’t anything we can do about them (wars). So we simply don’t look at them. We ignore them.” (Vonnegut 101) The Tralfamadorians live in ignorance, not feeling the need or ability to influence events and view life as predetermined and unalterable. It can be argued that this outlook leaves it’s beholders oppressed and feeling powerless, in the way many readers view Billy, after the Tralfamadorian’s share this philosophy with him. This negative view of life is fueled by their accepting attitude and waves them of the responsibility such as preventing accidents like the end of the world from occurring.

The lack of decision making and ignorance becomes deeply rooted in their fatalistic thoughts and damages positive feelings towards life. Billy and the Tralfamadorian’s mirror Vonnegut’s experiences and emotions, acting as an anchor to reality. Due to this Vonnegut serves as an ideal real world example of the effects of acceptance. Slaughterhouse-Five is a work entirely based on how Vonnegut understands life now, accepting the horrors of war and their impacts as his reality along with their side effects such as alcoholism and sadness. Vonnegut chooses to begin his novel with a bird singing, “Poo-tee-weet?”(Vonnegut 19) and ends Billy’s story with the bird once again repeating itself.

The bird is a meaningless limerick formed in Vonnegut mind to show how life just continues to pointlessly repeat. The entire novel is Vonnegut’s way of accepting and retelling tragedy and through each character and his own prologue it can be inferred Vonnegut views his life as a place which is no longer joyful and significant. Slaughterhouse-Five is a key literary example surrounding the negativity of how accepting events without inquiry allows people to forfeit both guilt and responsibility. In this book it is apparent the acceptance of tragedy effects the views of one’s life to become pointless and unhappy, consequently resulting in lack of motivation and then ignorance; discouraging a culture of growth and happiness.


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