Sunday, October 25, 2009

Disconnectedness in 'Slaughterhouse-Five'

Vonnegut's world in Slaughterhouse-Five is completely disconnected from itself, and on purpose. As Katie and Sara have previously argued, this theme of disconnectedness takes many forms to achieve different reactions in the reader. Vonnegut uses this strategy also to illuminate some "difficult truths" about life that had been glossed over, or completely ignored, in traditional literature.

Vonnegut's narrative itself is disrupted, first by his own point of view in Chapter one, which shifts to the third person story of Billy in Chapter two. This style is disorienting to a reader who is used to first, second or third person only. Vonnegut also warns of his story, "This one is a failure, and it had to be, since it was written by a pillar of salt" (22). Vonnegut openly admits the inability to fully capture a narrative in retrospect. His encounters with the Tralfamadorians and the things he learns from them about life are an (at the very least) interesting alternative to more traditional, religious views.

In addition to Vonnegut's first person introduction, the story within a story, or the story of Billy Pilgrim, is inherently disconnected by his ability to be "unstuck in time" (23). This ability allows Billy to float in between events in his life freely and above chronological order. This shows the disconnectedness one can feel about life itself; that certain events are more influential than others. Obviously Vonnegut suggests Dresden is the pinnacle event in Billy's life-- he keeps coming back to those moments in time when he was involved in World War II. This piece also works as an anti-war novel, highlighting the disconnectedness of events in life and relating this back to the absurdity of events during wartime.

Vonnegut takes this theme even further by not only disconnecting each event chronologically, but also in the types of events themselves. Billy has normal, everyday life experiences, but some are atypical enough to throw off readers of Slaughterhouse-Five. Billy's experiences during his own infancy, as well as events on board an alien spacecraft, are intermingled with wartime narrative events. The variation between the kinds of experiences Billy has demonstrate the diverse nature of life as well as its various degrees of meaning.

Though disorienting at first, readers can get accustomed to Vonnegut's style and experience a truly new way of narration. If Slaughterhouse-Five can be seen the way it was envisioned, this fantastical story can be read as serious, comic and everything-in-between. This story suggests a redefinition of life, and what it truly means.

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