Kurt Vonnegut's novel Slaughterhouse-Five; or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death is, as suggested by the title, a novel describing a crusade that stretches beyond the faint boundaries of fiction and crosses over into the depths of defogged reality. This satirical, anti-war piece of literature aims to expose, broadcast and even taunt human ideals that support war and challenge them in light of their folly. However, the reality of war, the destruction, affliction and trauma it encompasses, can only be humanly described by the word “war” itself. Furthermore, oftentimes this term can only be truly understood by those who have experienced it firsthand. Therefore, in order to explain the unexplainable and humanize one of the most inhumane acts, Vonnegut slants the hoarse truth about war by extrapolating it to a fantasy world. Through this mixture of history, reality and fantasy, Vonnegut is able to “more or less” describe what he believes truly happens in war yet, at the same time, reveal a greater truth about humanity's self-destructive war inertness. Vonnegut's use of fantasy in Slaughterhouse-Five unveils mundane war misconceptions as it rallies action against war through a comparison and contrast between the Tralfamadorian world and philosophy and Billy Pilgrim's existence and war experiences.
Slaughterhouse-Five is filled with scenes that seem absurd and ridiculous and invite the reader to chuckle; Tralfamadore falls short to the appeals of human reason and logic, highlighting the war scenes that also fall short to the englorious posters of military propaganda. Billy Pilgrim embodies all the characteristics that are not desirable in a soldier; his appearance and skill causes disillusion, pity and mockery, instead of the expected value, admiration and respect usually attributed to soldiers. This is particularly perceived when he entered the regimen:
Last came Billy Pilgrim, empty-handed, bleakly ready for death. Billy was preposterous-six feet and three inches tall, with a chest and shoulders like a box of kitchen matches. He had no helmet, no overcoat, no weapons, and no boots. On his feet were cheap, low-cut civilian shoes which he had bought for his father's funeral. Billy had lost a heel, which made him bob up-and-down, up-and-down. The involuntary dancing, up-and-down, up-and-down, made his hip joints sore. ... He didn't look like a soldier at all. He looked like a filthy flamingo. (33)
With this description, Vonnegut vastly distances Billy from the ideal, strong and mighty image of a soldier, yet Billy is a soldier nonetheless. Not only is this weak and ungracious character fighting and representing the honour of his country but also he is one of the few soldiers who survive the war; he outlives many of the other soldiers that could be considered better suited for war. Furthermore, Vonnegut compares Billy to a filthy flamingo, highlighting the distance that exists between society's soldier ideal, graceful and admirable, and...