Dave Russell's Reviews > Slaughterhouse-Five

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
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Dec 04, 2013

it was amazing
bookshelves: novels

Why do I love this book? I love it because of the villains. Not just the obviously villainous Paul Lazzaro--although he's one of the great villains of modern fiction. During the hellishness of war all he can think about is his own petty need to avenge slights done to him--but the larger, less obvious villains in this book: the Tralfamdorians. They’re not the type of villainous space aliens you see in most science fiction, arriving in flying saucers and hell bent on enslaving humanity, only to be stopped by some intrepid space cadet. (Vonnegut hated being categorized as "science fiction" because most science fiction at the time was just juvenile male wish fulfillment, which he clearly was not interested in. In fact he kind of satirizes that kind of thing in this book.) His aliens are much more fascinating than that.
The Tralfamdorians aren't much interested in Jesus Christ's message of universal love. They're more interested in the message of Charles Darwin, that beings die to improve the species. (At least that's the message as they see it. Like I said they're villains.) To them the idea of free will is silly. (Well, villains can be right sometimes.) The world is structured in a way that everything that happens is meant to happen and there's nothing we can do about it. Concern for human feelings is useless and therefore we shouldn't give a second thought to massacres and slaughter. Just say "and so it goes," and move on. This was certainly the feeling of the Nazis with their belief in the destiny of the everlasting Reich (or whatever the phrase is,) and the Communists with their belief that the road to the future must be built on the corpses of the present. (Stalin’s most famous saying—"One death is a tragedy. One million deaths is a statistic.")
To Billy--like Vonnegut, a witness to the slaughter at Dresden--they provide an escape. They put him in an enclosure where all his needs, material and sexual, are met and where he is protected from the poisonous gas outside. To mankind their philosophy provides an escape from moral responsibility.
In the first chapter of the book Vonnegut tells his friend he is writing an anti-war book. His friend responds that he "might as well write an anti-glacier book," and Vonnegut kind of agrees with him. Wars, like glaciers, can’t be stopped. And yet he wrote the book anyway. Yes, death is inevitable, but to Vonnegut humanity is also worth mourning. What happened to Edgar Derby is worth relating, and we should be moved by it. Vonnegut is not satisfied to sum up Edgar’s death with the phrase, "and so it goes." I love this book because Vonnegut conjures up this fascinating alien race with a view of life that provides an opportunity for escape, but then punctures the illusion by showing that it is as facile as it is attractive.
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04/05 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-12 of 12) (12 new)

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message 1: by RandomAnthony (new)

RandomAnthony Excellent defense of your point of view, sir. I struggled on a re-read of this, though, with Vonnegut's writing style. While he seems to aim for simplicity he came off as, well, too simple.

Shelly Yes, good job.

Chris Great review.

Daniel This is a thoughtful, well-reasoned review. Nicely done, Dave.

message 5: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell Really well-done!

Carol Storm If the Tralfamadorians are such villains, why do they hook Billy up with a stunning beauty like Montana Wildhack? Why didn't they just make him go back to his wife? "This is hire and salary, not revenge . . ."

Dave Russell Brian, thank you.

Lily, didn't they do it as an experiment, not as a kindness?

Howard Billy's "philosophy" which he claimed to have learned on Tralfamadore, is meant to be a pathetic loser philosphy. It's funny how many people think Vonnegut is seriously promoting it as an enlightened way of life! It's really very sad & meant to be pathetic.

Carol Storm That's an interesting idea, Howard, but it's clear that Vonnegut heartily detests all the opposing philosophies presented in the novel. He especially hates heroic types who believe in traditional male values such as courage, self-reliance, and anything that implies accepting responsibility for one's actions . . . something Billy never does.

message 10: by Max (new) - rated it 5 stars

Max Williams Just want to say-I think the glaciers will all be gone and we'll still be fighting wars. Gonna need a new analogy.

Charli Dave your review has been copied and pasted, word for word, to Emma Mason's account at Amazon.com:
You may want to contact Amazon and let them know your review was plagiarized by this person.

message 12: by Dave (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dave Russell Weird. Thanks for the heads-up.

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