The Poweful Message of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five
From Ancient Greek playwright, Euripides, ("To die is a debt we must all of us discharge" (Fitzhenry 122)) to renowned Nineteenth Century poet, Emily Dickinson, ("Because I could not stop for Death/ He kindly stopped for me -/ The carriage held but just ourselves/ And Immortality" (Fitzhenry 126)) the concept of death, reincarnation, rebirth, and mourning have been brooded over time and time again. And with no definite answers to life's most puzzling question of death being given, it only seems natural that this subject is further explored. Kurt Vonnegut is one of many modern writers obsessed with this idea and spends many of his novels thematically infatuated with death. His semi- autobiographical novel, dealing with his experiences in Dresden during WWII, named Slaughterhouse Five, The Children's Crusade or A Duty Dance With Death, is no exception to his fixation. "A work of transparent simplicity [and] a modern allegory, whose hero, Billy Pilgrim, shuffles between Earth and its timeless surrogate, Tralfamadore" (Riley and Harte 452), Slaughterhouse Five shows a "sympathetic and compassionate evaluation of Billy's response to the cruelty of life" (Bryfonski and Senick 614). This cruelty stems from death, time, renewal, war, and the lack of compassion for human life; all large themes "inextricably bound up" (Bryfonski and Mendelson 529) in this cyclically natured novel that tries to solve the great mystery of death for us, once and for all.
Billy's life had revolved around these ideas from the time he was a child. At the age of twelve Billy "had undergone the real crises of his life, had found life meaningless even if he could not then articulate that concept, and was in desperate need for reinventing himself and his universe" (Bryfonski and Senick 615). These feelings stayed with Billy throughout the strange occurrences of his life. When still a baby in the eyes of many people, Billy was sent off to death's symbiotic partner war, fighting World War II in Europe. Here he is a depressed soldier who has seen too much death and destruction in order to function like a human being and wants to die, but like many other incidents in his life, he ironically manages to maintain his life while those around him, who want to live, die. It is perhaps during this time that Billy first visits Tralfamadore, a neighboring planet with a time warp "so that he could be on Tralfamadore for years, and still be away from Earth for only a microsecond" (Vonnegut 26). From them Billy learns:
that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present, future, always have existed, always will exist... It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever. When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse,...