Sunday, October 25, 2009

tone and attitude in Slaughter House-Five

As I was reading Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughter House-Five, what particularly struck me was his matter-of-fact tone. He is incredibly desensitized by the things he saw in the war, which he deliberately incorporates into his writing style. His recognition of his detachment from the emotions that go along with death is what makes Slaughter House-Five such a powerful exposé.

Each time Vonnegut speaks about the death of a person he knew, he brushes it under the rug with the phrase, "So it goes." In the second chapter, the pattern emerges."Toward the end of maneuvers, Billy was given an emergency furlough home because his father, a barber in Ilium, New York, was shot dead by a friend while they were out hunting deer. So it goes" (page 32). The repetition of these three words, in my opinion, is a device that helps him to evade the pent up emotions deep down. It also serves to construct the stoic image a solider is supposed to represent.

Another passage that perfectly embodies Vonnegut's feigned aloofness about the war is in his repetition of other nonchalant words and phrases, such as "theoretically." "An umpire appeared. There were umpires everywhere, men who said who was winning or losing and theoretical battle, who was alive and who was dead./ The umpire had comical news. The congregation had been theoretically spotted from the air by a theoretical enemy. They were all theoretically dead now. The theoretical corpses laughed and a ate a hearty noontime meal" (page 31). The thick sarcasm seen here shows that Vonnegut sees a great deal of stupidity in the unnecessary deaths that war incurs, but it also shows that he feels it would emasculate him to come out and say so.

As I continued reading Slaughter House-Five, I saw more and more indications that Vonnegut sees war as an inhumane and merciless, but I didn't know whether to say that it is regardless of his involvement in the war, or as a result of his involvement in the war. He puts on an unaffected disguise, which shows that the aftermath of war can often mean detachment from emotions, but at the same time, he is writing an entire book on war. To me, this indicates that he must have been tremendously affected. I believe that trivializing the death and destruction he witnessed is a method of repressing his terror.

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