Slaughterhouse Five is known as one of great anti-war novels of our time. War can destroy a life, even after that war is long over. Vonnegut, himself a prisoner of war and survivor of the fire bombing of Dresden, acts as narrator and witness to the strange life of Billy Pilgrim -who is unstuck in time. Billy randomly moves from one event to another with past, present and future scenes blending together in strange but somehow logical patterns…prisoner of war, optometrist, husband, rotarian, father, plane crash survivor, dog owner, and kidnap victim of an alien race from the planet Tralfamadore. Billy is given the opportunity to reflect on the different parts of his life as he relives them. He has to learn, like the Tralfamadorians, to accept that “this moment simply is.” Death does not exist because all things are taking place at the same moment. Billy uses this philosophy to accept the difficult and horrific events he has experienced.
What the Armchair Critics Thought:
This short novel is written in a deceptively simple way, but it is filled with social commentary and insight. Apart from a desire never to hear the phrase “So it goes” again, most of us enjoyed the book. We discussed whether the entire novel is Billy’s shell-shocked dream, the dated role of women, the strange passivity of the main character and whether this was a result of the lack of free his strange sense of time gives him. We also noted similarities and differences in the 1972 movie.