All this happened more or less.
Billy Pilgrim became unstuck in time. Billy Pilgrim is ,was and always will be a friend of Kilgore Trout, kidnapped by Aliens and a prisoner of war who witnessed the fire bombing of Dresden . Billy Pilgrim survived to tell the tale. This is a novel somewhat in the telegraphic schizophrenic manner of the tales of the Planet Tralfamadore, where the flying saucers come from. Peace.
A review must address the question: What is Slaughterhouse-Five ? Slaughterhouse-Five is not an anti-war book. Vonnegut expounds his position in chapter one, “that writing an anti-war book is like writing an anti-glacier book,” both being futile endeavors, since both phenomena are unstoppable. Slaughterhouse-five is not just science fiction, the author keeps the protagonist rooted in existential reality. It is certainly not funny, how can a massacre be funny? It is a funny book at which you are not permitted to laugh, a sad book without tears. The best way out would be to go and read the book ofcourse. Then why the review?
“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 lady bugs embedded in it.
“Well here, we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why. “
Vonnegut explores the themes of fatalism and irrationality in his somewhat meta-fictional and post-modern (whatever that means) account. The encounter with the aliens leave Billy Pilgrim more accustomed to “non free will”.
On an average 191,000 new babies are born each day in the world. The population Reference Bureau predicts the worlds’ population will double to 7,000,000,000 before the year 2000.
“I suppose they will all want dignity,” I said.
“I suppose,” said O’Hare.
Most of humanity is insignificant. They do what they do, because they must. That is the way the moment is structured. To the tralfamaldorians everything exists simultaneously. They suffer from wars and tragedies and mishaps just like the earthlings, but choose to concentrate on the happy moments. Human action is irrational. Wars have been and always will be there. There’s one thing thing the earthlings might learn to do , if they tried hard enough. Ignore the awful times and concentrate on the good ones.
My favorite character in the book, by far is the author Kilgore Trout. The alter ego of Vonnegut, Trout writes about the craziness of humanity in his own highly fictionalized style. I have this notion that all great works of Science fiction are the ones most deeply rooted in reality (Asimov etc). Pure fiction would be too boring. According to Trout, the Gospels Teach us – Before You kill somebody make absolutely sure he isn’t well connected.
The flaw in Christ’s stories said the visitor from outer space, was that Christ, who didn’t look like much, was actually the sun of the most powerful being in the Universe. Readers understood that, so when they came to the crucifixion, they naturally thought, and Rosewater read out again:
Oh boy- they sure picked the wrong to lynch that time!
And that thought had a brother: “There are right people to lynch.” Who ? People not well connected. So it goes.
[From the Gospel From Outer Space by Kilgore Trout]
The destruction and oppressiveness of the war dominates the book. The inhuman sufferings and the widespread destruction, the ubiquitous poverty and deprivation torment the soul of Billy Pilgrim. Amongst all this brutality and suffering, the death of Edgar Derby underlines the bizzareness in our actions. Time is taken to punish one man. Yet, the time is taken, and Vonnegut takes the outside opinion of the bird asking, “Poo-tee-weet?” The same birdsong ends the novel God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, as the protagonist gives away his fortune to the plaintiffs of hundreds of false paternity suits brought against him.
Billy Pilgrim is depressed and suffers, suffers for his own unchangeable fate, the obscenity pervading the fabric of society, Human desire too rot out all evil in the world by using nuclear bombs. Billy pilgrim never cried during the war. However when he saw the state of the horses transporting the American prisoners of war, he burst into tears. Later on in life, Billy cried very little, though he often saw things worth crying about, and in that respect atleast he resembled the Christ of the Carol :
The cattle are lowing,
The Baby Awakes.
But the little lord Jesus
No crying he makes
In all his moments of torments Billy Pilgrim always found solace in one thing :
God grant me
The serenity to accept
The things I cannot change
To change the things I can
And wisdom always
To tell the
I don’t believe in God. So it goes.
PS: If you happen to visit Cody, Wyoming , don’t forget to ask for Wid Bob.
Rosewater said an interesting thing to Billy one time about a book that wasn’t science fiction. He said that everything there was to know about life was in the The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky.
“But that isn’t enough anymore”, said Rosewater.
Credits: The italicized stuff is the genius of Vonnegut. The other rudimentary misunderstandings are all mine.