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Slaughterhouse-Five: Or the Children's…

Slaughterhouse-Five: Or the Children's Crusade, a Duty-Dance with Death (original 1969; edition 2009)

by Kurt Vonnegut (Author)

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40,55864735 (4.11)1 / 956
Billy Pilgrim returns home from the Second World War only to be kidnapped by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore, who teach him that time is an eternal present.
Title:Slaughterhouse-Five: Or the Children's Crusade, a Duty-Dance with Death
Authors:Kurt Vonnegut (Author)
Info:Dial Press: New York, NY
Collections:Your library, NPR Top 100 SciFi
Tags:literature, novel, science fiction

Work Information

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (1969)

  1. 402
    Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (kiwiflowa, Anonymous user)
  2. 230
    Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut (seojen)
  3. 151
    Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut (weener)
  4. 90
    Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut (esswedl)
    esswedl: Both of these Vonnegut novels involve the question of free will (and both are great).
  5. 124
    The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (weener)
  6. 50
    Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo (waitingtoderail)
  7. 53
    The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (andomck)
    andomck: Both books, besides having science fiction/magical realism elements, discuss bloody episodes of WWII from the point of view of everyday people.
  8. 20
    Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar (CGlanovsky)
  9. 31
    Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (JenMDB)
  10. 10
    God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: Elliot Rosewater, the main character of God Bless You, Mr Rosewater, appears in Slaughterhouse-Five. Also, they both feature books from fictional author Kilgore Trout.
  11. 32
    Candide by Voltaire (SCPeterson)
    SCPeterson: Vonnegut is the Voltaire of our age of un-enlightenment.
  12. 10
    The Wanting Seed by Anthony Burgess (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: Slightly absurdist satire that includes an anti-war message
  13. 10
    Payback by Gert Ledig (hvg)
  14. 21
    Armageddon in Retrospect by Kurt Vonnegut (Ronoc)
  15. 21
    Kurt Vonnegut's crusade; or, How a postmodern harlequin preached a new kind of humanism by Todd F. Davis (pyrocow)
  16. 21
    The Book of Jonas by Stephen Dau (PghDragonMan)
    PghDragonMan: War is not glorious and even survivors are not unscathed.
  17. 10
    Tertium Organum by P. D. Ouspensky (sombrio)
  18. 21
    Crash Gordon and the Mysteries of Kingsburg by Derek Swannson (jasbro)
  19. 00
    1968 by Joe Haldeman (snat)
  20. 25
    Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman (ateolf)

(see all 20 recommendations)

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Europe (30)
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So it goes.

Recently gave this a re-read, having been assigned it back in high school.

It holds up well, and Vonnegut's usual scattershot approach to narrative (which can wear a bit thin after reading a dozen or so of his novels) is perfectly suited for a story about a man "unstuck in time". The appearance of Vonnegut regulars (Kilgore Trout, Eliot Rosewater) seems a bit gratuitous -- having read their respective novels does not add any insight to this novel.

The novel's refrain was nagging at me for quite some time before I put my finger on it: Danielewski's Only Revolutions (short review: not worth it), with its constant reporting of tragic deaths ("Dresden bombed. 135 thousand go."). I wonder if Danielewski was consciously referencing Vonnegut there, or if it happened without him realizing. ( )
  mkfs | Aug 13, 2022 |
Good book but terrible choice in narrator. ( )
  jilliantow | Aug 11, 2022 |
Slaughterhouse Five is a quirky, but sometimes chilling, account of Billy Pilgrim, a man who has witnessed and survived the horrors of the burning of Dresden during WWII. While he seems to have survived not only physically, but thrived in society in the aftermath, there is an emotional and mental toll that he is paying beneath the surface, and as part of this inner turmoil, he believes he has been abducted by aliens from Tralfamadore and that he travels in time.

The following conversation takes place between Billy and his Tralfamadorian captors:
”That is a very Earthling question to ask, Mr. Pilgrim. Why you? Why us for that matter? Why anything? Because this moment simply is. Have you ever seen bugs trapped in amber?” “Yes.” Billy, in fact, had a paperweight in his office which was a blob of polished amber with three ladybugs embedded in it. “Well here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why.”

Vonnegut seems to have concluded, himself, that “there is no why”, and he and Billy together step away from any idea that there is choice or free will operating in the universe, and gravitate toward the idea that everything that happens in life is random. Time and again, we are told of those who escape death inexplicably and those who die despite being better armed, better prepared, smarter, more careful or more deserving of survival. They often escape situations that are fraught with death, to die in situations that are ironically random.

The only solution seems to be to navigate life without trying to find too much meaning in anything, including death. He constantly echoes the phrase “so it goes” after every reference to death, as if to emphasize that in the end death is where everything goes and there is no fighting it, understanding it, or avoiding it.

"And Lot's wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human. So she was turned to a pillar of salt. So it goes. People aren't supposed to look back. I'm certainly not going to do it anymore."

In truth, Billy not only looks back, but does little else. He returns, over and over again, in what he describes as a kind of time travel, to relive and re-experience the horror that he has never really left behind. He is Lot’s wife, being turned to salt, or to stone, simply because he cannot unsee the things he has seen or make sense of the events that make up his own life.

There is a deep irony in Vonnegut’s selecting Pilgrim for the name of his protagonist. A pilgrim, by definition, is a person who journeys to a sacred place for religious reasons; a worshiper, a devotee, a believer. What Billy has found is that there is nothing to believe in, nothing that is sacred, nothing that can save you...life and death are random, unselective, indiscriminate. Vonnegut tells us:

Among the things Billy Pilgrim could not change were the past, the present, and the future.

Slaughterhouse Five is an anti-war appeal, penned at the height of the Vietnam War, but it has a much wider reach than just that war or that time. It begs us, in an ironically lighthearted way, to question what life is about. How precious is it, how expendable? And what price does humanity pay for acts of carnage that are dismissed as inevitable parts of unavoidable conflicts? I found myself thinking about all the boys who never returned from Vietnam, and about those I knew who did return but were never the same, whose smiles were always a little wry, whose laughter carried a tint of sorrow. And then I found myself thinking about all the WWII veterans who never wanted to talk about their war, but found themselves constantly drawn back to the cemeteries of France or the memorials at Pearl Harbor. No one really survives a war unaltered.

( )
1 vote mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
Motto: There is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre.

Notes completed from the study guide: http://books.google.nl/books?id=Gc_SLksZVB4C&printsec=frontcover&dq=slau... five&hl=en&sa=X&ei=h4noU9y9BYyCPbSzgYAG&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=slaughterhouse five&f=false

"So it goes“ follows every mention of death, no matter its nature (death is equally important regardless the cause, and death goes on after the war). Death is inevitable, and there is a feeling of frivolity that emerges from the way it is said, probably related to the Tralfamadorian idea that nothing can stop existing, and you can revive anything through time travel (to which humans don’t have access yet…) Attitude towards death: acceptance, sorrow, humour, outrage. The despair over the insanity of war is emphasised by the glacier metaphor. You can stop a war just as much as you can stop a glacier. And if they didn’t exist, there would still be the plain old death. So it goes.


The subtitle of the book (The Children’s Crusade) manages to „debugle with terrible efficiency the widespread macho images of heroic soldierhood.“ (P. Freeze) Moreover, he reminds us that humans have a long history of cruelty, from the crusades in the Middle Ages (thousands of children have been recruited to go from Europe to Palestine to protect the holy land) to the war in Vietnam.
The disjointed narrative (structure) is nevertheless easy to follow. Could he have written about all the things in the novel using linear, Aristotelian narrative (beginning, middle, end)? It is a „juxtaposition of absurdist irony.”
We see the use of the stream-of-counsciousness technique (pioneered by Joyce, Faulkner, Virginia Woolf) — the past is revived through memory, the present is revived through perception and the future through anticipation.
The novel is anticipative, and rather anti-climatic (no-suspense): Billy knows how he is going to die (Paul Lazzaro), he knows how the universe will end and unveils an important event easily at the beginning of the novel (Edgar Derby dies for taking a tea pot that wasn’t his).
It is a „bewildering blending of fact and fiction.“(P. Freeze)
The first chapter (about the creation of the novel) makes the novel a metafictional work.
The novel is highly subjective: „All of this happened, more or less.“ At the same time, the first chapter of the novel also makes it a frame story, as it is „a fictional story within an autobiography.”
All notes above demonstrate that the novel belongs to the Postmodernist movement in arts.

Themes — Major themes: time, death, war, mental illness

The theme of time and time travel Time doesn’t point in a single direction (past to future). „Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.“ SF that anticipates the findings of Stephen Hawking.
The Bible (Judeo-Christian Bible) and its moral „Before you kill somebody, make absolutely sure he isn’t well connected.“ Billy has been compared by some critics (W.R.Allen) with Jesus. They both bring the message than one should accept his death with calm. It wasn’t that Christ didn’t die on the cross, but that he accepted his death and, in this way, defeated mortality. The biblical theme is also reflected by his name (Pilgrim). Another reference is the correspondence between the couple Montana - Billy, and Adam and Eve. Billy is expelled from the zoo / garden after he learns of the true nature of time and space for conscious beings.
The theme of schizophrenia and mental illness—escaping reality (through hallucinations): in the war, Billy becomes unstuck in time for the first time, probably as a response to the unbearable ordeal. He is then abducted by the Tralfamadorians, where he escapes his banal wife and life to be with Montana Wildhack and have a baby. Billy links the experiences of the war with those of civilian life: the team of Austrians who come to rescue him is mistaken for German soldiers.
The war — this is an anti-war book, and especially a book opposing the war in Vietnam and trying to tear down the glamourous, full of heroism image of war that was being promoted in the media. This is a novel about the gap between the technological advance of the human race and the human ability to meet the same level spiritually. The references to Sinatra and Wayne are meant as a critique to films like Sands of Iwo Jima and from Here to Eternity, which present the soldiers as masculine, maverick heroes.
Death, or fatality and futility of life. Life against death-in-life. Tralfamadore is an anagram of FATAL DREAM.

Historical context or mentions
Kurt Vonnegut Junior was 22 when he was captured during Bulge Battle at Luxembourg, the last great German counteroffensive, aiming to re-capture Antwerpen, and that took place on the Belgian (Ardennes) front and the front in Luxembourg. The battle itself was a very hard fight for the Allies, during a harsh winter. However, Vonnegut didn’t get to go through a lot of the battle, because he was captured on the 3rd day. That is why he isn’t talking too much about it either. Kurt Vonnegut is "a German-American who had strong anti-German sentiments as a Cornell Studend and then survived (ironically) the destruction of Dresden by the Allies as and American Soldier in German captivity, thus cannot but ssume a meditating stance"
Dresden Firebombing was a controversy attack over Dresden that caused the deaths of at least 135,000 civilians, although the city didn’t have military importance, so the attack had no tactical value. In 14 hours, there were 3,000 tons of incendiary explosives dropped over the city. Vonnegut calls it „the greatest massacre in European history“, since the number of deaths was around the sum of those of Tokio and Hiroshima/Nagasaki.
The Vietnam War (the second one, the American War) was taking place when the book was published. There are many references to this war, the most important being the Green Berets (the popular name of the US Special Forces), a military organisation that Robert, the son of Billy, belongs to. KV takes an ironical stance towards the WWII veterans whose sons enroll in the American Army to fight in the next war. A cycle of war seems to engender another.
The Children’s Crusade — in 1213, 30,000 children were recruited and sent to Palestine to defend the holy land in the name of Christianity. None made it to Jerusalem, they died or were enslaved en route.
the firestorm in Tokion and the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima/Nagasaki.
Billy Pilgrim — Like the author, he is born in 1922 and he is murdered in Chicago on February 13, 1976, seven years after the publication of the novel and on the anniversary of the Dresden Firestorm. He is a „fully realized” schizophrenic persona. He is an optician. As a veteran of war, he should symbolically make other people see right, but he is unable to.
Billy is not trying to moralize the story. He is not just talking about it, he witnessed it. „I was there.“ — or, „That was I. That was me. That was the author of this book."
Roland Weary — indeed weary, but not really a Roland
Paul Lazarro — symbol for the fact that the experiences of the war will always haunt you and might kill you even long after the war, when you expect it the less.
Valencia — parody of consumerism. All the women in the book are seen as machines for making babies, just like all men become numbers, "a count of corpses created by military science“. Another similar mention is how the Germans see the cars of prisoners of war as machines that turn air and food into feces and language. The real Vonnegut tells his sons not to work for companies that make war machinery and to express contempt for people who think we need machinery like that.
Billy’s son — see above
the Tralfamadorians — look like a plumber’s friend (a household tool for unclogging pipes), being symbol of the apparently superior consciousness or knowledge they offer to Billy, their role being to cleanse the perception of the protagonist.

Related books
Journey to the end of the night by Celine (about the WWI)
Catch-22, by Heller

Critical reception
The book was very successful, not only because it described atrocities the Americans hadn’t really known about, but also because it was offering a strong anti-war message at the height of the Vietnam war.
Critics tend to confuse Billy’s (or the Tralfamadorian) way of looking at the world, which is hopeless fatalism, with the author’s position. Albeit Billy and Pilgrim share some biographical data, the character is inspired by a comrade, and V makes it clear during the novel that he is not Billy. It is also hard to believe that Vonnegut would want us to find right a schizophrenic’s view of the world (including his ideas about free will). Isn’t this what war actually was? Aren’t the Tralfamadorians the same as the ruthless powers that were driving the war, treating people as animals or useless, powerless entities, trying to rid them of free will? Vonnegut wants to warn us agains the perils in believing in fatality, in that we can’t do anything to stop war. He humanises the characters, but he reveals the fact there are enormous deterministic forces that transform all the novel’s characters in playthings, or even machines („so sick and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces").
We have to keep in mind that this is a satire, and that Vonnegut looked at his readers as if they were performers, and „limiting factors” at the same time.
The stance of K.V. is seemingly impartial towards the men on the front lines, whom he is actually humanising. He knows that innocent people were dying on both sides, („That V-1’s and V-2’s were at the very time falling an England, killing civilian men, women, and children indiscriminately.“) but he speaks against the greater forces that drive wars.
At the end, we don’t hear the bombs exploding, but the birds chirping. Poo-Tee-Weet?

———————————Quotations and other ideas

‘"God grant me the serenity to adapt to the things I cannot change, courage to change the things that I can change, and wisdom always to tell the difference.“ Among the things that Billy could not change were the past, the present, and the future.’ — „Dresden has happened, is happening and will always happen.“ — We lose the good moments easier than the bad ones. Humans find it easy to think that the good things come to an end, but we can look at things differently, the bad things, the atrocities, can’t be erased, they support the Tralfamadorian theory, they can be seen like stretches of mountains, and they will always exist.

„Earthlings are great explainers. I am a Tralfamadosian, seeing all time as you might see a strech of the Rocky Mountains. All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings and explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment and you will find that we are all, as I’ve said before, bugs in amber.“

Mentions of Space-Time travel, time warps and the speed of light.

„The doctors agreed: he was going crazy. They didn’t think it had anything to do with the war. They were sure Billy was going to pieces because his father had thrown him into the deep end of the YMCA swimming pool when he was a little boy, and had taken him to the rim of the Grand Canyon.“

„They both found life meaningless partly because of what they had seen in the war. (…) Billy had seen the greatest massacre in Europe’s history, which was the firebombing of Dresden. So it goes. They were trying to reinvent themselves and their universe. Science-fiction was a big help.“

„We had forgotten wars were fought by babies. (…) It’s the Children’s Crusade.“

„The visitor from outer space made a serious study of Christianity, to learn, if he could, why Christians found it so easy to be cruel.“

„You needn’t worry about bombs, by the way. Dresden is an open city. It is undefended, and contains no war industries or troop concentrations of any importance.“ ( )
  luciarux | Jul 3, 2022 |
Ez volt az első Vonnegut-könyvem, így a többivel és a korábbi megítélésével sem foglalkozva, önállóan, csak ez a kötet alapján azt mondom: meglátásom szerint nem sci-fi, mivel szerintem időben ugrálás ide, űrlények oda, valójában Billy Pilgrim fejében nem stimmel valami, tehát ezek nem képezik részét a regény valóságának. Több helyen konkrét mondatok, képek, szereplők bukkannak fel, amelyekről ezeket a képeket, párbeszédeket, történéseket vizionálhatta. Az én értelmezésemben ez is történt. Biztos lehet másképp olvasni, de akkor számtalan elrejtett utalást nem vennék figyelembe. Ugyanakkor a pezsgősüveg „Drink me”-felszólításáról rögtön Alizra asszociáltam, ami meg már lehet túlzás, de az is lehet, hogy nem.

Tetszett a halálhoz való hozzáállása, amit főszereplője a képzelt földönkívüliektől tanult el, miszerint a halott nincs túl jó állapotban az adott a pillanatban, de számos más pillanatban minden rendben van vele. Ugyanúgy a véglegességét veszi el (hogy elviselhetőbb legyen a tudat), mint ahogy a vallások is teszik. Nem tudom, hányszor írta le, biztosan összeszámolták már, de nem mulasztotta el baktériumok esetében sem, vagy ha kiment a szénsav egy italból: So it goes.

Nagyon élveztem, az okos utalásokat, a szóhasználatát, a következetességét (lásd fent), az egész játékot. Jó belépő volt, hamarosan visszatérek Vonneguthoz. ( )
  blueisthenewpink | Jul 2, 2022 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Vonnegut, Kurtprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brioschi, LuigiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Chesterman, AdrianIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Donkers, JanAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ferrer, JoseNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Franco, JamesNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
García de Miró, MargaritaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hawke, EthanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hens, GregorTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Holder, JohnIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hoog, ElseTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jaskari, JuhaniTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jonason, OlovTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mantovani, VincenzoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nemes, LászlóTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pellizzari, DanielTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sutherland, JohnIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wagenseil, KurtTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zanon, CássiaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Владимир ФилиповTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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The cattle are lowing,
The Baby awakes.
But the little Lord Jesus
No crying He makes.
For Mary O'Hare and Gerhard Müller
First words
All this happened, more or less.
Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops.
There was a a soft drink bottle on the windowsill. Its label boasted that it contained no nourishment whatsoever.
I have told my sons that they are not under any circumstances to take part in massacres, and that the news of massacres of enemies is not to fill them with satisfaction or glee.
So it goes.

Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.
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Billy Pilgrim returns home from the Second World War only to be kidnapped by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore, who teach him that time is an eternal present.

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[R.L. 6.0]
From the World War Two firebombing of Dresden to the distant planet called Tralfamadore, the reader follows Billy Pilgrim in his attempt to understand the natures of time and existence.
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