Sunday, July 1, 2012

Kurt Vonnegut--Slaughterhouse Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty Dance with Death (1969)

I’m finding it hard to say more than, I like this book a lot.  It’s really well-written, and way easier to read than Judith Butler.  But that would be really shortchanging the novel.
This brilliantly readable novel is centered around the experiences of protagonist Billy Pilgrim leading up to and during the bombing of Dresden during World War II.  Using the frame story that the author himself was present and has been unsuccessfully trying to write about the tragic event for some time, Vonnegut then tells the story of Billy Pilgrim, who has become “unstuck in time.”  This allows him to present a very fragmented (and yet very readable) story of Pilgrim’s life, through his marriage and old age as well as his experiences in a German prison camp the bombing of Dresden to his being kidnapped by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore, where he is put on display in a zoo with B-movie starlet Montana Wildhack.  Pilgrim’s experience on Tralfamadore has a profound effect on him, as they explain their sense of time, which is quite different from Pilgrim’s.  To the Tralfamadorians, all time has already happened, so the dead are never fully gone, and it’s better to dwell upon the good times rather than on tragedy.
This perspective provides an interesting undercurrent to the novel, as Billy Pilgrim is bounced from time to time, though seemingly without much say in the matter.  This theme is emphasized by the refrain “And so it goes,” which one report claims appears 103 times over the course of the novel.  However, what could be a terribly depressing book about humanity’s inability to avoid tragedy is saved by a strong sense of satire throughout the novel, as well as a sense of compassionate humor about humanity’s insistence on perpetuating trauma.


  1. I loved this book, too. It was the first book I read by Vonnegut and I'm looking forward to reading his other works.

    Loved your notes! You are going to do so well on these exams!

  2. I'd read Cat's Cradle, which was great--and Vonnegut can really write an essay. As a fiction writer, can you explain why his work is so easy to get sucked into?

    Thank you so much for the kind words! It's getting close--the plan right now is to get my questions on August 13, which will put the oral exam around the first of October. I'm filling out the paperwork right now, which is creating quite a bit of anxiety.

  3. Vonnegut’s zany and surreal world reflects the absurdity of our own and really bended my mind to different modes of thinking. His work has inspired my own visual arts for quite some time and I created a tribute illustration of the author with the help of an old typewriter. You can see it at and tell me how his work and words also affected you.