Discuss the Narrative method of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five is a that in no way can be treated as one-dimensional one. It deals with the historical events like the bombing of Dresden, socio-cultural reality of America in the 1960s and the alternative world of Tralfamadorians. Although three different realms are combined, the novel does not present anything that could be perceived as unseen. Its exceptionality comes from a less explored perspective – the novel’s unique narrative structure.
It seems obvious that the text could not have been interpreted with the use of traditional interpretational tools therefore Vonnegut introduced a new method of narration. The main focus of the analysis are several devices Vonnegut uses to create his narration. First of all the story has in fact two narrators not one. In this way the reader sees more clearly that he narration technique is in a way turned upside down. The narrator not necessarily loses his traditional role and still influences the way readers perceive the plot but a slight difference can be noticed.
What is more, contrary to the potential assumptions of the reader, Slaughterhouse-Five not entirely breaks out with the convention of an anti-war book. The second issue that needs to be looked upon are the stylistic devices use by the author. Those are: the collage technique, the foreshadowing of some of the events and multitude of repetitions. These tools can be traced in every chapter of the novel. Moreover both of them connect different levels in the plot. The third aspect of the novel is Vonnegut’s attempt to explore the subconscious of the protagonist with the use of Tralfamadorian reality.
It might be argued whether the author’s intention was to make the reader believe in alternative world or to present the main character as schizophrenic. By the matter of fact such question is legitimate as the topic of schizophrenia can be easily associated with Billy Pilgrim’s travels in time and space. From the first sentence in the novel the reader becomes aware that it is impossible to state whether the story is true or fictitious. “All this happened, more or less. ” (p. 5) Throughout those words the reader is confronted with is the question of truth.
In this way Vonnegut gives the reader a thrill and achieves the effect of reality. On the one hand the reader feels that the story is a fiction on the other however some parts of the story seem to be far too realistic to be artificial. Moreover Vonnegut calls his novel “a failure. ” (p. 14) With this expression he again brings it into question the truthfulness of the reported facts. The question whether the novel tells a real story or is only a successful mystification is left to the reader to answer by himself. The story begins in chapter II.
The author introduces the protagonist named Billy Pilgrim who describes his time travels. As the story unfolds the reader gets more details about the alternative world of the Tralfamadorians. The idea of time traveling as well as the utopian life on another planet is, by the matter of fact, just a renewed and transferred to the modern versions of topics introduced to literature centuries earlier by Thomas More or Jonathan Swift. There is however one aspect, which is worth a particular amount of attention – the way the story is presented.
Taking into consideration the fact that it is Billy who describes what happened it is odd that every expression, Billy utters, is commented on with the words “he says”. (p. 20) At first sight this may not seem important but it points to the question of truth. Does Billy travel to remote areas, or does he only say so? Vonnegut asks this question every time he repeats those words. Another device used by the narrator is the foreshadowing of important events. As an example one may look at the following expression: “Billy sat down in the waiting room. He wasn’t a widower yet. ” (p. 4) By foreshadowing some of the important events in the story the author breaks with the concept of time. He deliberately upsets the chronology in the novel. It is visible especially when Vonnegut places the first and the last sentences of the novel next to each other. That procedure forces the reader more focused while reading the novel, more careful in search of full understanding. What is more not only the concept of chronology but also tension is rejected in the novel. Vonnegut avoids tension by anticipating some of the events which are connected with a given character, for example: “His name was Howard W.
Campbell, Jr. He would later hang himself while awaiting trial as a war criminal. ” (p. 63); Next technique used by Vonnegut repetition of some phrases. The repetitions appear throughout the novel in different contexts. “I drive my wife away with a breath like mustard gas and roses. ” (p. 6) This quotation occurs in the first chapter which describes the genesis of his novel. It is used again in chapter four, when Billy imagines that he can smell somebody’s breath and once again in the war episode when the protagonist describes the bodies: “rotted and liquefied” and the smell was “like roses and mustard gas. (p. 105) The smell is a kind of a sign which links the past with the present. The repetitions also join several episodes of the novel in order to make it less chaotic and incoherent and introduce a kind of structure. That in turn makes the novel more coherent and easier to follow. Apart from stylistic devices which Vonnegut, with all his mastery, uses to create the unique atmosphere Slaughterhouse Five turns out to be also a in-depth study of human psyche. The psychological aspect of the book is, however, deftly disguised with the use of alien society of the Tralfamadorians.
The symbolic meaning of this alternative reality is in fact more than a symbol, as it becomes true to some extent at some of the points of the novel. What is more Billy’s stay also make the reader raises more questions than it would be possible to provide answers to. Who or what are Tralfamadorians? Are they a symbol of an ideal society that is a far cry from the one known and used on Earth? A morality which just like many which preceded it should show us the way?
Or maybe the planet exists only in Billy’s imagination and is nothing more than a plaint of a mind tormented by regret, a world existing in Billy’s reality only? It is difficult to state whether Vonnegut wants to impose the expression that Billy is schizophrenic or whether he tries to convince the reader that the Tralfamadorians really exist. It is essential to notice that Vonnegut does use the word schizophrenia from the very beginning of the novel. “This is a novel somewhat in the telegraphic schizophrenic manner of tales of the planet Tralfamadore, where the flying saucers come from. ” (p. ) Ambiguous as it is this statement still points out to the fact that the author’s intention was to mislead the reader a make him believe that schizophrenia might be the key issue, an element that should not be omitted. What is schizophrenia? According to R. D. Laing schizophrenia can be described as: “a special strategy that a person invents in order to live an unlivable situation. ” This definition contrary to the strictly medical, that is traditional view seems to focus less on the fact that schizophrenia is a serious mental illness and more on the opportunities a split personality provides.
According to this definition the fact that one’s personality can be torn apart because of the negative environment is a understandable defensive reaction. Might it be then a coincidence that the Tralfamadorians themselves might be treated as schizophrenic as they all the time neglect any negative implications in life and exclusively focus on the positive moments. Taking into consideration all the troubles Billy experiences during his lifetime, it seems obvious that Slaughterhouse Five tells a story of a man who can perceive his life as a failure.
The protagonist has a negative childhood, marries a woman whom he pities but not love, so he is relieved when he loses her. He experiences much during the war, almost dies in a plane-crash and his children are hard to raise and difficult to love. For those reasons Billy’s life might be described as unlivable. Can one find a better reason to break the identity in half and try to find shelter in the depths of one’s mind? It seems to be a logical consequence for the protagonist. Mental illness perceived as a kind of barrier is also referred to several times in the novel.
As an example Rosewater, one of the characters in the novel utters an assumption that life is too heavy a burden to be bearable for some eg. “Another time Billy heard Rosewater say to the psychiatrist, ‘I think you guys are going to have to come up with a lot of wonderful new lies, or people just aren’t going to want to go on living. ‘” (p. 50) Also one of the descriptions given refers to one of the characteristic feature of schizophrenia – hallucinations – by stating: “ Billy Pilgrim was having a delightful hallucination. He was wearing dry, warm, white sweatsocks, and he was skating on a ballroom floor.
Thousands cheered. This wasn’t time-travel. It had never happened, never would happen. It was the craziness of a dying young man with his shoes full of snow. ” (p. 26) Again the author uses those expressions not without a reason. With a few sentences he reveals the delicate inside of his character, makes him more approachable as if he felt obliged to provide an explanation to his visions of a better life on another planet. Vonnegut makes even a step further by deriving Billy’s illness from the physical consequences of the plane-crash.
Apart from the fact that Billy was the only person which managed to survive still he suffered from severe brain damages. This might have created the perfect mental environment for creating Tralfamadorians. Another device the author uses in narrating is placing information about novels written by Billy’s favorite author Kilgore Trout. The plot of those novels also influenced Billy’s “time travels” as one of them, entitled The Big Board (p. 105) tells the story of a couple which have being abducted by aliens and shown in a zoo.
It is than possible that Billy might have taken this story as a real one and projected the idea on himself. Vonnegut confirms this belief in chapter nine writing: “So they were trying to reinvent themselves and their universe. Science fiction was a big help. ” (p. 50) Nevertheless the mental state of the main character is in no way clear for some parts of the chapter are narrated as if the protagonist experienced the travel: “Billy was unconscious for two days after that, and he dreamed of millions of things, some of them true. The true things were time-travel. ” (p. 7) It seems obvious that the author deliberately makes the reader confused. This assumption can be proved as the narrator makes a clear distinction between time-travel and plain fantasy. However one can also say that “Vonnegut seems to supply internal evidence for a psychological explanation of Tralfamadore while at the same time denying that evidence with a contradictory narrative statement. ” (Harris 235) It can only imply that reading Slaughterhouse-Five, one can suspect that Vonnegut’s intention is far from being interested in accuracy as far as the subdivision between reality and fiction is concerned.
Only by such narration technique Vonnegut was able to allow the protagonist to solve the conflicts which thorn him apart, even if the only way to do it was to split his identity by introducing schizophrenia. Slaughterhouse-Five is obviously one of the novels that could not be forgotten for it differs to a large extent from other works from this genre. The author, on purpose, neglects all values and norms. What is more no principles of logic can be applied to the plot. Therefore just like the novel is narrated in a completely new way, it needs also to be read differently in order to fully understand it’s unique utterance.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: (1)Kurt Vonnegut. Slaughterhouse-Five. Great Britain, Jonathan Cape Ltd 1970 available in PDF version on: http://chomikuj. pl/Angouleme/e-booki/Kurt+Vonnegut+-+Slaughterhouse-Five,58449367. pdf (2)A quote by R. D. Laing found on: http://www. quoteland. com/topic/Madness-Quotes/538/ (3)Charles B. Harris, “Time, Uncertainty, and Kurt Vonnegut Jr. : A Reading of Slaughterhouse Five,'” Farmington Hills: Gale Group. October, 2001 Can be viewed at: http://infotrac. galegroup. com/galenet? cause=http%3A%2F%2Fgalenet. galegroup. com%2Fservlet%2FDC%2F%3FfinalAuth%3Dtrue&cont=&sev=temp&type=session&sserv=no
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