Sunday, October 25, 2009

Slaughterhouse Five: A failure?

In the very beginning of the novel Kurt Vonnegut tells his audience that his novel is a failure, “I’ve finished my war book now. The next one I write is going to be fun. This one is a failure, and had to be, since it was written by a pillar of salt.” (Vonnegut, 22) He is referencing the Bible story of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the fact that Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt because she looked back upon the destruction. By writing this novel about the war Vonnegut admits to being a pillar of a salt and that it is human nature to look back upon destruction. Regardless of how much people claim they move on from something traumatic it is impossible to forget. For example when the anniversary of a loved one's death occurs every year it is hard not to reflect upon the past.
I agree with Katie, that Vonnegut presents a “drunken state of mind” through which Billy Pilgrim consistently falls back and forward in time almost like a drunken person faltering his steps after he’s had one too many. Many people use alcohol as an escape. Vonnegut mentions at the beginning of the novel this “disease” he has, drunk dialing. I think, being in college, we are all familiar with this concept (unfortunately). When you’re in an altered state of mind it is harder to differentiate between the real and the fantastical, and if you do something silly or embarrassing you have the fact that you were “so totally wasted” to blame.
Pilgrim mentions at certain times throughout the novel that he has seen his whole life and it is “bearable.” His happiest moments in life are when he is on Tralfamadore, which are humorous because his memories involve him having a “tremendous wang” (Vonnegut, 132) and having sex with Montana, the infamous porn star. It began as hard for me to recognize the humor in this novel because I found the humor somewhat misplaced and awkward, and then I realized that the misplacement was the point of the novel. Ultimately what I believe Vonnegut was trying to prove was the fact that war is as senseless, out of place, and disorienting as Pilgrim’s strange ability to time travel.
The final line in the novel sums up this idea, “One bird said to Billy Pilgrim, ‘Poo-tee-weet’?” (Vonnegut, 215) This is a reflection of what Vonnegut explains in the first chapter of the novel, he writes, “It is so short and jumbled and jangled, Sam, because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds. And what do the birds say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like ‘Poo-tee-weet?’” (Vonnegut, 19). I believe that what Vonnegut is trying to say is that all war/massacre is ultimately a failure and in proving that his book fails at being a failure, therefore it is a success.

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