Rhetoric 101

Fall 2003

Words: 1312

I. Slaughter House-Five follows Vonnegut’s tendency to use themes of desperation and futility.

II. Narrarator, first person form of writing.

A. Changes to third person perspective to begin to tell the story of the life of Billy Pilgrim.

B. Makes the personal connection between Vonnegut and Pilgrim.

III. Vonnegut incorporates his own experiences and views into the story and text.

A. Expresses his opinion the war is a “senseless at.”

B. Acknowledges his adversity for violence and war through Pilgrim

C. Fails in avoiding glorification of the war: discusses it in order to relay his feelings

IV. Explain Vonnegut’s intentions for the book

A. Outline Billy’s outlook on life; reasons for his actions throughout the book

B. introduce the Tralfamadore experience

C. The harsh effects of the war on Billy and other involved people

V. Billy Pilgrim finds meaning in life

A. The life in which he finds meaning does not exist

B. Tralfamadores teach Pilgrim about their outlook on life

C. Billy is calmed by this and finds he has no control on life

D. Let life happen just as it does

VI. Vonnegut ends his search for meaning

A. Attempts to change life are futile

B. Life cannot be changed

C. Search for meaning is ultimately futile

Critics often suggest that Kurt Vonnegut’s novels represent a man’s desperate, yet, futile search for meaning in a senseless existence. Vonnegut’s novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, follows this pattern and also displays this theme. Kurt Vonnegut uses a narrator, which is different from the main character. He uses this technique for several reasons.

Kurt Vonnegut introduces Slaughterhouse-Five in the first person. He sets up the preface of the story himself and tells what it took for him to actually write the story. In the remaining chapters the story is told in third person as if by a mere bystander. Vonnegut does this for a specific reason. He wants the reader to realize that the narrator and Billy Pilgrim, the main character, are two different people. In order to do this, Vonnegut even places the narrator in the text, on several occasions. “An American near Billy wailed that [Billy] had excreted everything but his brains...That was I. That was me. That was the author of this book” (Vonnegut, p. 125). This statement clearly illustrates that the narrator and Billy are not the same person. The narrator is the American disgusted by Billy. Vonnegut places the narrator in the novel in subtle ways. While describing the German prisoner trains, he merely states, “I was there.” By not referring to Billy as “I,” Billy is immediately an individual person. “I” refers to the narrator, while “Billy” is simply Billy. Their single connection is that they were both in the war and, on a few rare occasions, saw and spoke to each other.

Kurt Vonnegut places his own experiences and he views in the text. He begins the book by stating, “All this happened, more or less. The war parts, anyway, are pretty much true...I’ve changed all of the names” (Vonnegut, p. 1). Viewing war as a senseless act, Slaughterhouse-Five allows Vonnegut to express his feelings on the matter. Through Billy Pilgrim, he is able to indicate his views concerning the war. Many things which he viewed as senseless acts were very violent. “[The two scouts] had been lying in ambush for the Germans. They had been discovered and shot from behind. Now they were dying in the snow, feeling nothing, turning the snow the color of raspberry sherbet. So it goes” (Vonnegut, p. 68-69). The narrator describes what happened and how it occurred. The imagery is very strong. The reader can imagine the snow slowly being dyed with the color of blood. Therefore, readers can picture a slow agonizing death. By ending with the statement “So it goes,” the reader is enticed, yet can also be appalled. Every time someone in the novel dies, “so it goes” is used to help the readers accept the death of that person. It also tells us that there is nothing we can do about it and we should go on with our lives (Phillips). The narrator states this when he finds that there is no need to continue describing the horrific brutality. The imagery used in the preceding sentence was strong enough. And,