For hundreds of years people have written countless books about war. Some have chosen to write simply about the events that took place during the war, in the form a historical account, while others have chosen to write about their own, or other people’s experiences. However, many of them have portrayed war as being glorious and associated it with valor and honor, suggesting that all participants of war were heroes. In a way these kinds of writings were encouraging warfare by depicting the act of war and its partakers as being admirable. On the contrary, Slaughterhouse- Five written by Kurt Vonnegut is an anti-war book. Not only does it reveal the horrors of war, but it also suggests that the ‘heroes’ are in fact mere children doing what they have been instructed to do. The combatants are depicted as weak, vulnerable and very much human, unlike the exaggerated superheroes of typical war novels.
The theme of the passage is that even though time and death are two concepts that are beyond the control of human beings, people still try to overcome them, oblivious to the fact that there would be no life without death. The author Kurt Vonnegut uses literary features such as allusion and irony to emphasize on the theme.
The setting of the passage is in a motel room where the narrator has to spend the night after the plane, which was supposed to take him to Frankfurt, goes there straight from Philadelphia, leaving him and a number of other people behind in Boston. This takes place while the narrator is still writing the book. The narrator addresses the reader through first person narration indirectly revealing to him, mainly through excerpts from books he read, the main theme of the book. Therefore, the passage plays a significant part in the work as a whole.
There are shifts in the tone of the passage. The narrator has a somewhat bitter tone when he is talking about being left behind by the plane. The line “And I became a non-person in the Boston fog…with some other non-persons…” (20) shows that he is both frustrated for not being able to have power over the situation which he and the others are in. The plane that was scheduled to go to Frankfurt had gone ahead, but a number of people including the narrator himself who were supposed to be on the plane, were not. The narrator is saddened by this situation, which makes it seem like they disappeared off the face of the earth, and became non-existent.
Once in the motel room, the narrator’s tone display signs of impatience and irritation, as he talks about the time not passing. The narrator uses hyperbole in the line ” The second hand of my watch would twitch once, and a year would pass, and then it would twitch again” (20) to emphasize on how slowly the time is passing. “There was nothing I could do about it” (20). This line shows the narrator’s helplessness and his inability to control the situation. Finally, the tone becomes sarcastic after he reads the excerpt from the Gideon Bible about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. “Those were vile people in both those cities, as is well known. The world was better of without them” (21).
The main literary feature used in the passage is allusion. The narrator alludes to a number of excerpts from books he has read. The narrator’s allusion to an excerpt from Words for the Wind by Theodore Roethke, suggests many things about the way the narrator feels about fate. “I wake to sleep and take my waking slow. I feel my fate in what I cannot fear. I learn by going where I have to go” (20). We can tell from this extract that the narrator believes in fate. He believes that everything is predetermined and it is the destiny of every mortal to eventually die.
So, what the narrator is trying to say through the excerpt is that, we know that ultimately we will all die, and there is no way of overcoming it, therefore there is no point in fearing it. The key is to accept death and try to learn as much as possible from life as we go along the path that destiny has chosen for us. It is meaningless to spend life defying what we cannot change. The excerpt shows us how the narrator deals with death. The narrator also uses allusion to extracts from Celine and His Vision by Erika Ostrovsky and Death on the Installment Plan. The narrator quotes from Erika Ostrovsky’s Celine and His Vision: “No art is possible without a dance with death” (21).
With the words ‘dance with death’ the narrator is implying coming into close contact with death. This line is very significant to the narrator because he was constantly in close contact with death during the time he spent at war, in Dresden. Like Celine, the narrator also started writing after the war. Once again quoting from the same book, “The truth is death, I’ve fought nicely against it as long as I could … danced with it, festooned it, waltzed it around… decorated it with streamers, titillated it…” (21), the narrator is conveying to the reader his thoughts on death and how he deals with it. In the beginning, the narrator also fought against death, but later came to realize that there is no real way of conquering death. In contrast to the word ‘death’, dancing, festooning and waltzing are very positive words that suggest happy events. This shows that the narrator has learned to accept death and no longer fears it.
The narrator quotes the following from Death on the Installment Plan. “Make them stop… don’t let them move anymore at all… There, make them freeze… once and for all… So that they don’t disappear anymore!” (21). Here, despite the narrator’s acceptance of fate and death, he is alluding to his desire to stop the dying. This is because no matter what, the narrator is still human and he has human attributes. He is not a machine completely void of emotions. Lastly, the narrator alludes to the passage from the Gideon Bible. He talks about Lot’s wife looking back at the ruins of the destroyed city despite being told not to. She was turned into a pillar of salt. This just shows the nature of human beings. People always look back upon things that have happened. It is especially tempting to do things that we have been warned not to do. Lot’s wife was punished for acting the way all humans do.
The narrator ‘loves’ Lot’s wife for acting the way she did, because it showed how very much human she still was. This tells us that the narrator believes that people should not lose their human attributes no matter what. The narrator calls his own work a failure since it was written by a ‘pillar of salt’. He is calling himself a pillar of salt to show that he always looks back as well and to call attention to the fact that despite everything he still has not lost the characteristics that make him human. Since humans are inherently flowed and imperfect, his work cannot be perfect either. However, the narrator exaggerates and calls his work a failure to stress on it.
The narrator also uses irony to emphasize on the theme. When the narrator is talking about the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, he uses irony. “Those were vile people in both those cities, as is well known. The world was better of without them” (21). The narrator makes it seem as though their deaths were justified since they were nasty and horrible people, who were not worthy of living anyway. What the narrator is really trying to do is convince himself that what happened was all right, so that he can accept it and move on. The narrator also uses irony when he uses the excerpt from the Death on the Installment Plan. In the passage, Celine wants the people to stop moving and freeze, in order to stop them from dying. However, what he doesn’t realize is that if he freezes them, they will not be living either. The narrator is once again trying to convey to the reader the message that there would be no life without death.