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Past BOTM discussions > Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut

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message 1: by Kristel (new)

Kristel (kristelh) | 4116 comments Mod
Host, Kelly


message 2: by Kelly_Hunsaker_reads (last edited Dec 02, 2018 03:22PM) (new)

Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments Some Discussion Questions:

1. The author starts the book with “All this happened, more or less.” How does this affect your perception of the novel? Are you more inclined to think of this as a fiction, or a nonfiction? Do you think that Vonnegut will prove to be a reliable narrator?

2. Why do you think the author chose to tell the story with time-traveling instead of in chronological form? Do you think the constant change of setting is confusing? Does it add or take away anything from the story?

3. Rosewater remarks, “That’s the attractive thing about war. Absolutely everybody gets a little something” (pg 111). Do you think Vonnegut agrees with this statement? If not, why do you think he chose to include it?

4. What effect does Vonnegut create by started chapter six with “Listen:”

5. When the author writes things like, “Nothing happened that night. It was the next night that about one hundred and thirty thousand people in Dresden would die” (pg 165), does it spoil anything for you? Or does it add to the book?

6. How do you feel about the use of “So it goes” after any mention of death?

7. After finishing the novel, what is your opinion on the author’s writing style and the message? Some people say that Vonnegut was under the influence of drugs/alcohol while writing this novel. Do you agree with this? Do you think PTSD also influenced him?


message 3: by Kelly_Hunsaker_reads (last edited Dec 02, 2018 03:22PM) (new)

Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments My thoughts:

1. The author starts the book with “All this happened, more or less.” How does this affect your perception of the novel? Are you more inclined to think of this as a fiction, or a nonfiction? Do you think that Vonnegut will prove to be a reliable narrator?

I struggle with the science fiction parts of this book as I do not read or comprehend that genre. Perhaps this quote indicates that those parts didn't actually happen? That is my wish ... because I loved the historical fiction bits.

2. Why do you think the author chose to tell the story with time-traveling instead of in chronological form? Do you think the constant change of setting is confusing? Does it add or take away anything from the story?

The constant change of setting didn't bother me at all. I thought of it as dreaming. And I found it believable that a POW/veteran would have vivid dreams that took him away from where he was.

3. Rosewater remarks, “That’s the attractive thing about war. Absolutely everybody gets a little something” (pg 111). Do you think Vonnegut agrees with this statement? If not, why do you think he chose to include it?

I think that Vonnegut was anti-war and that this bit was straight up sarcasm.

4. What effect does Vonnegut create by started chapter six with “Listen:”

???

5. When the author writes things like, “Nothing happened that night. It was the next night that about one hundred and thirty thousand people in Dresden would die” (pg 165), does it spoil anything for you? Or does it add to the book?

For me it added to the book ... it built tension and expectation. It also reminded me of how big it was.

6. How do you feel about the use of “So it goes” after any mention of death?

I loved it. I found it extremely powerful and really drew my attention to the fact that people were dying. In fact, this was my favorite part of the book.

7. After finishing the novel, what is your opinion on the author’s writing style and the message? Some people say that Vonnegut was under the influence of drugs/alcohol while writing this novel. Do you agree with this? Do you think PTSD also influenced him?

I have no idea about drugs/alcohol. But some of the best American classics were fueled by alcohol so why not? Also, PTSD? Probably.


message 4: by Kristel (new)

Kristel (kristelh) | 4116 comments Mod
I read this a long time ago and hope to maybe read it again now but doubt that I will get it. I look at this book as a PTSD (post traumatic experience) and therefore what is real and what is not gets messed up and cannot be known for sure. Am I on the right track?


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments Kristel wrote: "I read this a long time ago and hope to maybe read it again now but doubt that I will get it. I look at this book as a PTSD (post traumatic experience) and therefore what is real and what is not ge..."

I think so. Though the sci-fi bits went over my head. I felt like those were escapist dreams or daydreams. Perhaps a lot of the historical bits too, but I felt those were the things that he was escaping from.

Hopefully a smarter reader than me will chime in.


message 6: by Pip (new)

Pip | 1411 comments 1. It primed me to not expect verisimilitude. The way James Franco read the book made me wonder if he was adding his own words to the story because his laconic reading so aptly interpreted the words. When I was listening I was not aware that Vonnegut had actually been in the Battle of the Bulge and transported to Dresden, although as the book progressed I concluded that he must have been there because the writing was so vivid. Having expressly visited Dresden this last summer to see the city's reconstruction, I was intrigued.

2. I didn't find it confusing, it was the sort of book that one felt, listening, that one had to just be along for the ride and not try too hard to piece everything together, trusting that understanding would arise. Each piece was self-contained, amusing in a dark kind of way and not necessarily to be taken literally.
3.Vonnegut is being deeply sarcastic. Of course most people get nothing out of war except death. He is highlighting the futility of war by this statement.
4. I really did not register this as important, because, of course, I was listening! Wikipedia suggests that the use of "Listen" mimics Beowulf, which would have never occurred to me!
5. I was well aware of what happened in Dresden, and I would expect most readers to know, too, so it hardly detracted from the story, which has been building up to the firestorm from the moment Billy Pilgrim is sent there.
6. "So it goes" was one of the expressions that James Franco said with such black humour every time a death is described, that I began to wonder if it was his personal interpretation, because it fitted the explanation of the inexplicable so exactly. It was an irreverent remark that emphasised the whole antiwar theme of the book.
7. I compared the novel to Catch-22 in my mind, as a vivid, new, didactic but humorous way of making the reader think about the absurdity of war. The way that Billy Pilgrim escaped into the presumably fictional planet of Tralfamadore seemed entirely logical (and I loathe science fiction as much or more than Kelly) and it seemed more reasonable than the other books I have read which have people as exhibits in theme parks. I wonder whether Vonnegut has been copied? I do believe that PTSD was involved, but I am not sure that the term was current when the book was written.


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments Pip wrote: "1. It primed me to not expect verisimilitude. The way James Franco read the book made me wonder if he was adding his own words to the story because his laconic reading so aptly interpreted the word..."

Thanks for all your thoughts. I really enjoyed reading them. How cool that you just visited Dresden! I think I need to go read more about Vonnegut's life story now.


message 8: by Daisey (new)

Daisey | 257 comments 1. The author starts the book with “All this happened, more or less.” How does this affect your perception of the novel? Are you more inclined to think of this as a fiction, or a nonfiction? Do you think that Vonnegut will prove to be a reliable narrator?

I knew almost nothing about this book until it was chosen for this month. The little bit I read about the science fiction aspect led me to go into it expecting specifically a cross between science fiction and historical fiction. I expected some true details, but only as I would in any other historical fiction novel.

2. Why do you think the author chose to tell the story with time-traveling instead of in chronological form? Do you think the constant change of setting is confusing? Does it add or take away anything from the story?

I adjusted to the time traveling change of setting more quickly than I expected. It was clearly stated each time it happened and therefore not confusing to me. I think it added to the story in that it seemed to demonstrate to me how experiencing these types of atrocities during war can then effect the person's thinking for the rest of their life and many things can trigger them to think of and relive them again.

3. Rosewater remarks, “That’s the attractive thing about war. Absolutely everybody gets a little something” (pg 111). Do you think Vonnegut agrees with this statement? If not, why do you think he chose to include it?

I don't know what to say about the first sentence, but the the second makes sense to me, in that war can impact anyone and everyone, even if that is through a ripple effect over time.

4. What effect does Vonnegut create by started chapter six with “Listen:”

I don't know why he starts both the first and sixth chapter in this way, and I didn't notice it in my listening to the audio at all until I went back to the chapter beginnings after reading this question.

5. When the author writes things like, “Nothing happened that night. It was the next night that about one hundred and thirty thousand people in Dresden would die” (pg 165), does it spoil anything for you? Or does it add to the book?

I don't think that this really added or spoiled anything for me. It just kept me constantly aware of the shifting time in the story. He could say things like this because he had been back and forth through his own life experiences multiple times.

6. How do you feel about the use of “So it goes” after any mention of death?

I really loved this aspect. It completely worked to point out each mention of death, while at the same time showing the overall insignificance of any individual death in the grand scheme of things. I especially appreciated that it applied to all death, even the death of the lice.

7. After finishing the novel, what is your opinion on the author’s writing style and the message? Some people say that Vonnegut was under the influence of drugs/alcohol while writing this novel. Do you agree with this? Do you think PTSD also influenced him?

This book felt very unemotional in a way that was meant to emphasize the great futility of war. I listened to an audiobook version read by Ethan Hawke, and his tone of voice further accentuated this for me. I don't know that I can say I enjoyed this style, but it worked perfectly to convey the message of the book.

I don't have enough knowledge of the author to comment on the probability of any of these influences on his writing, but I agree it's possible. It also makes me think about a few of the people in my life, who as far as I know have never had a diagnosis of PTSD and I doubt would be willing to consider it at this point in time, yet I know they absolutely have triggers which produce reactions and bring back memories from their time in war. I don't know that it needs to be labeled as anything specific, other than to recognize that his personal experiences absolutely make it what it is.


message 9: by John_Dishwasher (last edited Dec 09, 2018 04:44PM) (new)

John_Dishwasher John_Dishwasher (johndishwasher) | 12 comments I read Billy Pilgrim as a sort of Everyman and his trauma as something all of us as humans are subject to at any time. I see Vonnegut using the bombing of Dresden, and war in general, as a metaphor for life itself -- how savage and impersonal it can be. He calls humans ‘the listless playthings of enormous forces.’ I saw Pilgrim’s swinging in time and space partly as an example of all the coping mechanisms we use to stay sane in such a life. The Tralfamadorian ideas might even parallel religion, as both are ‘higher truths’ that one person might profess while another might mock. ‘So it goes’ seemed to me the best expression of the fatalistic theme running through the book. The book suggests that we have little to no control over the savagery surrounding us, even as we originate it. ‘Everything is alright,” he writes. “And everyone has to do exactly what he does. I learned that on Tralfamadore.’


message 10: by John_Dishwasher (new)

John_Dishwasher John_Dishwasher (johndishwasher) | 12 comments I was just reading through reviews of this book and people keep referring to it as 'an anti-war book.' I never thought of the book that way as I was reading it. To me the war aspect is just the context he is using to comment on life in general. Not just that war is bad. But that life is like war, which is bad. That's not the same thing. Maybe it was thought of as an anti-war book in its day, since it was published in the middle of the Vietnam era.


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments JohnDishwasher wrote: "I was just reading through reviews of this book and people keep referring to it as 'an anti-war book.' I never thought of the book that way as I was reading it. To me the war aspect is just the con..."

This is one of the things I love most about reading -- we pick up on different things.


message 12: by Diane (new)

Diane Zwang | 1248 comments Mod
Daisey wrote: "1. The author starts the book with “All this happened, more or less.” How does this affect your perception of the novel? Are you more inclined to think of this as a fiction, or a nonfiction? Do you..."

Daisey, I also listened to the Ethan Hawke version. Did the whispering parts bother you? I wasn't sure why he was whispering.


message 13: by Leni (new)

Leni Iversen (leniverse) | 459 comments I just started chap. 6, but I’ll start answering some questions. But I’m using the app, so I can’t scroll back while I’m writing to remind myself what the questions were. :P

The opening made me expect the book to be a fictionalised account of real events, but it only took a paragraph or two to make me revise that to “fictional, allegorical story loosely based around real historical events”.

Like the rest of you I love the “so it goes” part. It says so much. It seems to shrug off each death, but actually serves to highlight them.

The sci-fi parts don’t actually read as sci-fi to me. I mean the time travel, maybe. If we accept that he is actually jumping in and out of himself at various points of his timeline, which is one interpretation. But it can equally just be dreams/fantasies or the narrator looking at all the aspects of his character’s life. The Tralfamador parts on the other hand we are clearly not meant to take at face value. So many things the aliens say and do crop up in other parts of the story, you can tell they are a construct made up by either Billy or the narrator to help him come to terms with helplessness, futility, and death. And no, I’m not finding the jumping around confusing. In a way it’s nice to know that Billy will survive the war (even though Billy is not real, possibly not even within the fictional world of the story, it’s nice to know he won’t die in the POW camp or in Dresden).

The “Listen” opening didn’t signify anything special to me. The narrator addresses the reader all the time. “Listen” makes it sound like we’re about to shift focus maybe; move on to a different part of the story, or take a detour.


message 14: by Leni (new)

Leni Iversen (leniverse) | 459 comments Btw. In 2005 Norwegian alt rock band Madrugada released an excellent live album called “Live at Tralfamadore”. I highly recommend it. No other link to this book though.


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments I am finding this book has stayed with me. And you comments have really made me think about it again. Thanks for the music recommendation also!


message 16: by Daisey (new)

Daisey | 257 comments Diane wrote: "Daisey wrote: "1. The author starts the book with “All this happened, more or less.” How does this affect your perception of the novel? Are you more inclined to think of this as a fiction, or a non..."

No, I can't say that the whispering bothered me at all. Overall, I thought the narration fit the book well.


message 17: by Leni (new)

Leni Iversen (leniverse) | 459 comments This was actually my first Vonnegut. I'm looking forward to reading more. I loved how, in this book, serious themes were rendered a bit absurd but not ridiculed, and further highlighted through understatement. Like the bombing of Dresden. We get the description of the destruction, the moon landscape, but what really drove the devastation home for me was the blind innkeeper who was unable to see the destruction but prepared for refugees. The way they waited and waited, but only the American POWs and their guards came. Everyone else were dead. Somehow that had more of an impact on me than the description of how they later dug through the rubble to recover the bodies.


message 18: by Diane (new)

Diane  | 2044 comments I read this a few years ago and loved it. It is by far my favorite from Vonnegut. I had hoped to re-read it this month, but it doesn't look like that will happen. Definitely worthy of its place on the list.


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments Leni wrote: "This was actually my first Vonnegut. I'm looking forward to reading more. I loved how, in this book, serious themes were rendered a bit absurd but not ridiculed, and further highlighted through und..."

Those parts about Dresden were so vivid and made me want to find some good nonfiction about this particular part of the war.


message 20: by Dree (new)

Dree | 243 comments I finished this last night, and don't really have time to contribute much right now. I enjoyed the book, and I also saw it as PTSD-influenced. However, I was confused about who the narrator is supposed to be. First I thought it was Billy Pilgrim himself, but then through much of the book he talks about Pilgrim, but not in a first-person-pretending-to-be-in-third-person kind of way. I thought. Then I thought maybe it is a third person (the author) who talks about his two friends O'Hare and Pilgrim.

This was the only thing that confused me, and I am still confused.


message 21: by Leni (new)

Leni Iversen (leniverse) | 459 comments Dree, he does mention himself as a nameless other soldier who was one of the other POWs at Dresden. It's sort of an I was there, so this is all true but it's not autobiographical because the story isn't about me. He's chronicling the events, like a good old fashioned bard, or a Norse skald. And of course the bards always embellished, so the story is only mostly true. But ironically he is, unlike the bards, not telling a heroic or romantic tale.


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