Novels that are banned tend to have one major thing in common and that is that people fear what they don’t understand. Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five does just that. It is uncomfortable to comprehend because of its unconventional style and plot. It presents to the us the ugliness of war and of the ability that American’s have “to sweep things under the rug” during tough and challenging times. This novel raises a lot of questions about war and the corruption involved. Including the experiences of some soldiers both before and after the war.
When the novel begins we are introduced to Vonnegut and he, still after many years being out of the war, has difficulty dealing with his experiences as a prisoner of war in Dresden during World War II. When we meet the protagonist, Billy Pilgrim we immediately connect him to Vonnegut himself and catch a glimpse of the life of an American soldier both during war and after. As we travel through Billy’s life, paragraph by paragraph, we begin to understand the effects of war on a person. Constantly faced with death and difficult decisions, Billy’s life in Dresden is not a particularly pleasant one. When we get chapter 10 Vonnegut’s voice comes back and we hear of what is presently going on during the time of publication of the novel. The entire novel is setup as a commentary to illustrate the wrongdoings of politics, capitalism, war, and religion.
The different times throughout Billy’s life correlate in an interesting way. We jump from an event in Dresden, back home with his wife, back to Dresden, back to his childhood, on Tralfmadore, back to Dresden again. Readers are encouraged to take a step back and look at life and death carefully. If we had the ability to travel through our own lives, we would probably do it, and we would know how we would die but as Vonnegut would say it’s inevitable and “so it goes”. Even if you leave war unharmed you still witness death and know that one day we all die regardless. It is a challenging concept which probably scares a lot of individuals which explains why such a novel would be banned.
Vonnegut also is very much an atheist. This novel brings out those atheist ideals: “On Tralfamadore, says Billy Pilgrim there isn’t much interest in Jesus Christ. The Earthling figure who is most engaging to the Tralfamadore mind he says, is Charles Darwin who taught that those who die are meant to die, that corpses are improvements. So it goes, (269.)” Religion is not a part of Tralfamadore mainly because of their ideals on death. There is no such thing as an afterlife, which goes against certain religious values making this novel potentially a threat to those values held dearly by many.
At the end of the novel we get this sense of hope with regards to death. Maybe a way Vonnegut perhaps dealt with the death and destruction he saw throughout his life. “If what Billy Pilgrim learned from the Tralfamordians is true, that we all live forever, no matter how dead we sometimes seem to be I am not overjoyed. Still-if I’m going to spend eternity visiting this moment and that, I’m grateful that so many of these moments are nice, (269).” This is promising for the end of the novel. It leaves readers with a sense of hope that regardless of all the destruction and corruption, there are nice moments in between, but it’s how we choose to interpret those moments and what we decide to focus on in life that make living worthwhile. By banning this novel many people, especially students may not fully understand that message. Ironically, this is a moral even if Vonnegut does not improve of finding the moral in the story. Perhaps reading this novel we can choose to take what we want from it and gain a better understanding of how war can affect people in so many different ways throughout all stages of life, and to also remember that although there is war and violence there are lot of pleasant moments shared every day between individuals.