Professor’s Note: This first draft is notable for its fine syntax and his fine incorporation of quotes into the text. He fully explores the theme without discussing other literary devices



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John Oates

Professor’s Note: This first draft is notable for its fine syntax and his fine incorporation of quotes into the text. He fully explores the theme without discussing other literary devices, and I told him in my “feedback” that he should probably discuss other literary devices and how they reinforce the theme. Nonetheless, this is a good example of how to approach the topic, how to incorporate quotes into the text in a natural, flowing way—and he has a great intro.

1st Draft


Kurt Vonnegut Jr., undoubtedly one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, wrote Slaughterhouse Five nearly 20 years after his war experience in Dresden, Germany. Because of the traumatic events Vonnegut witnessed and suffered during the war, he has written a shockingly absurd tale full of death, free will versus fate, and flaccid acceptance of all things and obstacles. Slaughterhouse Five was written as an anti-war novel, and because of this, one must conclude that there must be some mention of death. Billy Pilgrim was constantly surrounded by death, and his reactions to it were nothing short of peculiar. Pilgrim did not defy death, nor fear it. He simply accepted it as it was supposed to happen, nature had a predetermined fate for him, and it was futile to resist, so Pilgrim merely accepted it.

Author Kurt Vonnegut wrote Slaughterhouse Five as a mixture of historical context and science fiction. Charles B. Harris has noted: "Ultimately, [Slaughterhouse-Five] is less about Dresden than it is about the impact of Dresden on one man's sensibilities. More specifically, it is the story of Vonnegut's story of Dresden, how he came to write it and, implicitly, why he wrote it as he did." Vonnegut tells of his exploits throughout life, but through the life of the fictional character Billy Pilgrim. Slaughterhouse Five is the story of Billy Pilgrim, a particularly non-heroic man who has become "unstuck in time." He travels back and forth in time, visiting his birth, death, all the moments in between repeatedly and out of order. Chapters One and Ten, in which Vonnegut himself talks about the difficulties of writing the novel and the effects of Dresden on his own life, frame the novel. In between those two chapters, Billy Pilgrim's life is given to us out of order and in small fragments. According to an article in Critique by Wayne D. McGinnis, Vonnegut “avoids framing his story in linear narration, choosing a circular structure.” (I.) You might discuss why he chose this format. Pilgrim leaps in time from his early years as a meek soldier during World War II (1944-45), to his later years as an optometrist and public speaker (1968), with many other highlighted spots in between, such as Billy’s marriage to the unattractive Valencia, his daughter’s wedding, Billy’s stint with the Tralfamadorians and all the insight he gains from that journey, and even a vision of how Billy Pilgrim actually dies.

Kurt Vonnegut spoke of death quite liberally in this novel. On average, every other page of this novel that had some mention of death or grave misfortune. If there were a message Vonnegut was trying to convey, it would have to be about the calamity of war, and the unnecessary outcome that resulted with it, which was death. Vonnegut probably used death a key factor in this writing to boost his anti-war aspect. No one likes to think of living or dead in war, but instead of winners and losers. Vonnegut makes this clear by describing in detail the goriness produced by the firebombing of Dresden. He describes the excavating of the dead bodies out of the rubble: ”There were hundreds of corpse mines operating by and by. They didn’t smell bad at first, were wax museums. But then the bodies rotted and liquefied, and the stink was like roses and mustard gas.” (pg. 214) “[Gerhard Muller’s] mother had been killed in a Dresden fire-storm. So it goes.” (pg. 2) One of the book's most famous lines is "So it goes," repeated whenever a death is mentioned. Captured prisoners-of-war, depressed and weary of solitude, also fell victim to the cool term vindicated by the author. ”’They ceased to stand up straight, then ceased to shave or wash, then ceased to talk, then died.’ So it goes.” (pg. 145) Vonnegut’s key term “so it goes” is also a key indicator of the flaccid character of Billy Pilgrim, and Billy’s willingness to acknowledge whatever future may be in store for him, regardless of the outcome. Good example of using the text to support your conclusions.

The expression of fatalism serves as a source of renewal, a situation typical of Vonnegut’s works, for it enables the novel to go on despite—even because of—the proliferation of deaths. … Death keeps life in motion, even the life of the novel ….in a world where life must renew itself arbitrarily, the mental construct becomes tremendously important. The phrase “so it goes” is a sign of human will to survive, and it recurs throughout the novel as an important aid to going on.” (I. McGinnis pg. 4) Billy Pilgrim is immensely passive, accepting everything that befalls him. It makes him able to forgive anyone for anything, and he never seems to get irritated or annoyed, but this acceptance has it problems. When Billy drives through a black ghetto and ignores the suffering he sees there, we see the problem with complete acceptance. “There was a tap on Billy’s car window. A black man was out there. He wanted to talk about something. The light changed. Billy did the simplest thing. He drove on.” (pg 59) Pilgrim did not choose to help that man, because Billy did not believe that he could be helped. That man was destined to be that way. {PROBABLY SOME MORE ACCEPTANCE STUFF HERE}

As a result of the trauma of the war experience, Billy faces an inability to deal with reality later in his life. The phenomenal Tralfamadore is a place Billy escapes to when he feels life's stresses pushing on him; however mad Billy seems to have become, Tralfamadore doubles to reveal Vonnegut's earnest philosophical views. Tralfamadore is the embodiment of all that is right in the universe and points out all that is wrong on Earth. Its inhabitants, the Tralfamadorians, directly tell the "lessons" that Vonnegut wants to emphasize to Billy and to the novel's readers. The first things the Tralfamadorians tell Billy is how Earth is unlike any other planet in its superficial limits of time and its human beings' belief in free will. A Tralfamadorian tells Billy: "All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all... bugs in amber... If I hadn't spent so much time studying Earthlings... I wouldn't have any idea what was meant by 'free will.' I've [studied one hundred and thirty-one] inhabited planets in the universe... Only on Earth is there any talk of free will." (pg 86) Here the author shows that he doesn't relinquish his faith into free will. He describes time and life as unexplainable, as the war is unexplainable. The plunger-shaped Tralfamadorians tell Billy that, although Earth is corrupt, there is nothing he can do about it: "Everything is all right, and everybody has to do exactly what he does." Just as Billy was destined to go to war, decided on by a "higher being" (the government), the government was forced to go to war by a "higher being" than themselves, which was God, and the war was predestined. This idea of free will versus fate attempts to validate the pointlessness of war. Vonnegut, (and the Tralfamadorians) has come to the conclusion that the war can only be explained by saying that it was determined by a higher power. The fact that humans believe in free will, the opposite of pre-determined fate, signifies that Earth is corrupt.

The phrase “so it goes” was probably coined by Vonnegut for this novel. It is a passive statement that shows a shrug of the shoulders and a nonchalant wave of the hand to dismiss an idea from any further thought. Such was the case with Billy Pilgrim. Billy assumed that his life was already planned for him, so there was no reason to challenge the powers of fate. He knew of his death, and the deaths of many others, but never once opted to alter the “structured” way. Billy Pilgrim died without any family, because he didn’t take advantage of his life to save them. So it goes.


Note: I am still searching for some more “scholarly sources.”


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