Sunday, June 23, 2013

Lit-Savvy Sunday: June 23

Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five

Chapters Six - Ten

What a powerful book. Fatalism is a fantastic word to describe the philosophy behind it.


1. The acceptance of all things and events as inevitable; submission to fate.
2. Philosophy. The doctrine that all events are subject to fate or inevitable predetermination.

The main character is extremely passive in all things, in a very curious way. Vonnegut goes out of his way to say so, like in the first chapters where Billy was begging to be left alone despite being behind enemy lines. This makes much more sense once you realize the Tralfamadorian philosophy is basically fatalism, because all of the main character's actions emphasize this. A great example is when Billy knew he was about to be kidnapped by aliens despite having no warning, so he put on his slippers and went outside to wait for them to take him. That moment was structured that way, whether he wanted to go or not, so why have a profound opinion about it? In fact, I'd argue just about everything about this book was structured to emphasize fatalism. He continually writes about death but brushes it off with "So it goes," instead of making a big scene about it. Why weep for someone who's still alive, just not at this very moment?

One important thing to remember while reading this book is that, because it isn't necessarily in chronological order, it's very important to remember the details. There are many repeticious aspects of the book, going back and forth from one plot to another and back to the first, to using the same lines, "So it goes." The biggest hitter is when a seemingly non-important line is repeated at the end of chapter nine. The story, as far as Billy's life is concerned, basically is from Chapter 2-9 so the end of chapter nine very much feels like the end of the book. This is a clever place to put something special for the readers, since it's not technically the end.

As for chapters one and two, and the other brief moments when Vonnegut inserts himself into Billy's story, this book feels like a very shy memoir. Sometimes he'll describe in detail something Billy said or did or witnessed, then he'd tack on, "That was me," or "I was there." After all, Vonnegut begins the book by explaining that yes, "All this happened, more or less. The war parts, anyway, are pretty much true," (p. 1). This is a clever way for Vonnegut to share his stories mixed with his philosophies because he's so detached from them. This way, when the reader begins the book, the reader thinks, man, this Billy guy is kind of nuts, instead of, man, this Vonnegut guy is kind of nuts. It's a very delicate balance between Billy's story and Vonnegut's support. Vonnegut retains his credibility so we carefully consider the things he's written, instead of brushing it off as some crazy writer, or alternatively, some crazy fictional character.

"It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters," (p. 129).

"Trout, incidentally, had written a book about a money tree. It had twenty-dollar bills for leaves. Its flowers were government bonds. Its fruit was diamonds. It attracted human beings who killed each other around the roots and made very good fertilizer. So it goes," (p. 167).

"Trout's leading robot looked like a human being and could talk and dance and so on, and go out with girls. And nobody held it against him that he dropped jellied gasoline on people. But they found his halitosis unforgivable. But then he cleared that up, and he was welcomed to the human race," (p. 168).

"The advocates of nuclear disarmament seem to believe that, if they could achieve their aim, war would become tolerable and decent. They would do well to read this book and ponder the fate of Dresden, where 135,000 people died as the result of an air attack with conventional weapons. On the night of March 9th 1945, an air attack on Tokyo ... using incendiary and high explosive bombs, caused the death of 83,793 people. The atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima killed 71,379 people," (p. 188).

What a crazy, fascinating book. Leave your thoughts in the comments and tell me what you're reading!

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