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English 9 GT Pd. 6
1/3/13
Slaughterhouse-Five
Kurt Vonnegut
Dial Press Trade Paperbacks
1969, 2009 Dial Press Paperback Edition

Summary: Slaughterhouse-Five, written by Kurt Vonnegut, is a combination of memory and


fiction, truth and imagination. The book is introduced from the point of view of the author,
describing how the book came to be, and bringing up the major point, the fire-bombing of the
city Dresden. After, there is a swing to a curious man, Billy Pilgrim, an optometrist who was
once a soldier in the Second World War He would have been well off, had he not had the
interesting and confusing gift of involuntary time travel, referred to as being unstuck in time.
The story covers many parts of Billys life, from birth, to WWII, his life after on earth, and his
life on a distant planet called Tralfamadore. His journeys are unbelievable, yet he has no interest
in living. The tales that this book tells touch on the very origin and purpose of life, and question
humanity and modern culture, all connected with the hilarious and awkward story of Billy
Pilgrim.

Point-of-View: The book has two points of view, first person and third person limited. The first
person portions consist of the introduction and other occasional inputs from the author, and the
third person portion is the telling of Billy Pilgrims life. This creates a very interesting and
connected view point, as there are occasions where the author and Billy will cross paths, and the
author will point out his presence. The portions from the author also serve as almost a memoir,
leaving some of his life teachings and own experiences in the writing. Billys story is told with
all the events he was involved in and his thoughts are fully revealed as well, which allows the
reader to truly understand his tales.

Setting: There are many settings throughout the entire story. Pertaining to Billy, in America,
there is his birthplace and home after the war, Ilium, New York, a hospital in Vermont, and some
areas in New York City. During his service in Europe, he travels through Luxembourg, finds
himself captured and imprisoned in Germany, and the city of Dresden. His extraterrestrial
adventure puts him on the distant planet of Tralfamadore. As for the author, he visits Dresden in
1967, a friend in New York in 1964, Chicago when he was in college, and a prison camp in
Germany during the war. The significance of the authors locations is that they establish the
foundation of the book. All of his locations are present later in the book, and all the locations
have something relating to the war. Before the main story begins, most of the major settings have
already been established. Billy travels to all these places, though not at the same time as the
author (except the parts in Germany). There are several time periods, from 1922, 1941, 1945,
1963, 1967, and even some years in between. The setting that has the true impact upon the story
is the planet Tralfamadore, where he learns many important lessons that will guide and change
his life as well as his view of it. All other settings are obviously the place of action, but what
truly holds the importance is the swift and rapid changes between locations and time. These time
shifts are what really cause the suspense of the story, revealing parts of Billys life in what seems
to be a random order. There is nothing to spoil because of this, yet there is still interest. The true
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genius of the setting is that everything connects; things that happen or lessons learned in one
time and place appear again in subtle ways in all others.

Theme: People often disbelieve in stories of alien planets or aliens.


People are often changed by war.
People are often disliked and avoided when they appear to be insane.
People often retain their culture in foreign lands during times of stress.
People often believe in free will and the ability to change their fate.

Quotable Quotes:
So it goes. (There would not be a point in quoting a page number, since almost every page
contains this phrase at least once) This quote is the only way Tralfamadorians respond to the
death of anything or anyone, and is used abundantly by the narrator.

Everybody turned into a baby, and all humanity, without exception, conspired biologically to
produce two perfect people named Adam and Eve, he supposed (95). This quote is the result of
Billy becoming unstuck in time and watching a war movie backwards, and causes him to explore
the human race in backwards motion.

Ive visited thirty-one inhabited planets in the universe, and I have studied reports on one
hundred more. Only on Earth is there any talk of free will (109). This questions the existence of
free will, and comes to define Billy himself and his actions throughout his life.

Language/Writing Style: In general, the book is written in a normal fashion. There are
instances of all different sentence types and phrases. It is fairly easy to read, and is structured in a
manner that does not confuse the reader. The vocabulary is fairly common, though in some cases
it can be pretty sophisticated. Something that does stand out is the common usage of and
repeatedly, called polysyndeton. Vonnegut will often write things that resemble something like
this: One of them will be Russian Baroque and another will be No Kissing and another will
be Dollar Bar and another will be If the Accident Will, and so on. The amount of quotes
from other text, songs, and other materials is impressive and interesting, and it provides a
background for some of the events in the book. There is an abundant use of dialogue as well as
Billys thoughts, which play an important role in the book. There is also an abundant use of
profanity, which adds humor and a casual feeling to the book even in dark situations, and defines
the authors voice. Overall, the style is simple and casual.

Connections to Previous Reading: This book relates to all of the books we have read so far this
school year. In the memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, there is an exploration of a
culture, more specifically American culture. Slaughterhouse-Five describes multiple different
cultures and their behavior, and there is a period in the book where it focuses on a group of
Americans and through the journey describes and questions their culture. The memoir Night
describes a Jewish boy, Elie Wiesel, who is brought to a concentration camp near the end of
WWII, and the dreadful life he lives in his capture. Not only does Slaughterhouse-Five cover
similar themes, it has extremely similar events. Billy is an American soldier captured in
Luxembourg and shipped on a train to a prison camp in Germany, similar to how Wiesel was
shipped on a train to concentration camp. Both books describe a life in the prisons, and both
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characters are eventually freed from captivity after the war ends. The novel Things Fall Apart
is the story of an African man, Okonkwo, who builds a life of fame and riches from nothing, but
later, becomes exiled and his life and culture are changed forever. Billy, Vonnegut, and
Okonkwo all come to a life of where they are well off monetarily, and started in a much worse
state. Okonkwo becomes exiled by his people, just as Billy was rejected by almost all those
around him. There is a culture battle in Things Fall Apart, and there are multiple in
Slaughterhouse-Five, though not as impactful. There are culture clashes amongst the people in
the prison camp in Germany which is very evident and causes hatred and conflict, and there is
another clash between the alien culture and human culture, which is only known by the aliens
and Billy. Slaughterhouse-Five covers many themes that also appear in many other novels.

AP Literature Questions:
2004: Critic Roland Barthes has said, Literature is the question minus the answer. Choose a
novel or play and, considering Barthes observation, write an essay in which you analyze a
central question the work raises and the extent to which it offers any answers. Explain how the
authors treatment of this question affects your understanding of the work as a whole. Avoid
mere plot summary.

In Slaughterhouse-Five, the question raised is whether or not free will exists, and thus,
whether or not we as humans have the ability to control or change the course of our lives. Mr.
Vonnegut brings this question in near the middle of the novel, but it plays a part throughout the
entire book. When Billy Pilgrim is kidnapped by the aliens known as the Tralfamadorians, he
learns they do not believe in free will, and that they would not have understood the idea if they
had not discovered Earth, the only planet known to have the concept. The aliens see the past,
present, and future all at the same time, and believe that everything has already happened; they
are just watching it over. This belief guides them to thus believe that they can change none of the
events they will witness, meaning there is no free will. Billy, after he understands, uses this
principle to guide the rest of his life, and changes his entire lifestyle and personality.
This question defines the whole book. Billy is passive, worthless, and pushed aside
because he does not care for life since he believes there is nothing about he can change, having
seen it all through random time traveling. The author establishes a physical, noticeable conflict
through Billy and those around him, who believe he is crazy and worthless. One world believes
there is fate and nothing to change, while the other believes fate is what a person makes of it, and
Billy becomes the transport of ideas. The question defines Billy, it defines the aliens, and it
defines humanity in such a clear way. The author points out humanitys stubborn will, its strong
and passionate differences, and its warring nations, as well as the cherished peace. The alien
planet is also similar though; it has wars, it has peace, and there are its citizens and culture, and
so on. Both planets inhabitants live in fairly similar situations, yet one believes in free will, and
the other does not. Throughout the entire book, the questions, is there such thing as free will?
Are our fates unchangeable? And whether there is or isnt free will, would it make a difference?
are asked, and it makes the reader think, given two answers in the book, which answer is true?

1991: Many plays and novels use contrasting places (for example, to countries, two cities or
towns, two houses, or the land and sea) to represent opposed forces or ideas that central to the
meaning of the work. Choose a novel or a play that contrasts two such places. Write an essay
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explaining how the places differ, what each place represents, and how their contrast contributes
to the meaning of the work.

Slaughterhouse-Five contrasts two planets, and the way of life upon those planets. One
planet is Tralfamadore, home of an alien race. The other is Earth, home of the human race. Both
live fairly similar lives. There are zoos on both, there are books, there are languages and
writings, there are wars, there is peace, and so on. Only, the details are quite the same. But what
plays the biggest part is the fact that one race believes in free will, while the other does not. The
basic lifestyles on each planet are so similar, that it doesnt seem to make a difference whether it
does or not. However, when Billy Pilgrim is converted to this belief and lives his life in such a
way on his planet, he is cast out. Separately, the planets and their inhabitants are similar, but
when their beliefs are combined, it creates conflict. From the perspective of humanity,
Tralfamadore represents the forces of the universe, or everything that happens around us. Earth,
therefore, represents independence, the forces that individuals can control, and free will. The
contrast between the two creates the question that defines the book itself, and thus gives the book
a thought provoking insight into humanity and life.

Vocabulary:
Extrapolating (95)
a. To infer something unknown from something that is known.
b. Billy was extrapolating.
c. After only hearing half the story, Donovans mom correctly extrapolated the ending.

Magnanimity (20, 64)


A. the quality of generosity and nobility of mind
B. Romance, on the other hand, dilates upon their piety and heroism, and portrays, in her most
glowing and impassioned hues, their virtue and magnanimity, the imperishable honor they
acquired for themselves, and the great services they rendered for Christianity (20).
C. The magnanimity of the man is what pushed him to donate to charity.

Titillated (27)
A. To excite or arouse; tempt, tease
B. The truth is death, he wrote. Ive fought nicely against it as long as I coulddanced with it,
festooned it, waltzed it arounddecorated it with streamers, titillated it
C. The jar of the most delicious chocolate chip cookies locked in a glass case titillated him to no
end.

Lugubrious (134)
A. Mournful, dismal, or gloomy.
B. Derby now came to lugubrious attention.
C. The children were lugubrious after their house was destroyed in the hurricane.

Psychosomatic (220)
A. Involving both the mind and body (usually negative reactions)
B. Billy had powerful psychosomatic responses to the changing chords.
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C. The children were psychosomatically filled with despair as they heard of their parents death
resulting from their heroic acts to save their kids.

Additional Comments: I absolutely loved this book, and it will be one of my favorites forever.
The novel is hilarious, creative, clever, and genius. Slaughterhouse-Five is an impactful book.
There is much to learn from it, and it really does provoke a great amount of thought. So many
questions are asked by the book, and I find myself asking even more. It explores the very
meaning of life, it explores our culture as human beings, and in some cases Americans. The
aliens are strange creatures that are vastly intelligent, and they come across the finding of free
will. The question of free will still exists today, and it is very evident that the book asks that
question. Billy Pilgrim has come to accept the philosophy that free will does not exist, and thus
creates his passiveness, which results from the combination of seeing the past, present, and
future, and the belief that he can change nothing that will come. It is very strange; he clashes
with everyone around him which causes his rejection. There are two forces fighting in the novel,
one being Billy and the other all of humanity. Humanity has a natural ability to hope, cling to
survival, and believe that they can control their lives. However, Billy has none of these
attributes; it is stated clearly that he does not care to live, and he believes there is nothing to do to
change his fate. But he doesnt live in despair knowing this; he is perfectly content. Thats what
creates the question, thats what makes this book so great in my opinion. In order to explore the
meaning of life, culture, and free will, Vonnegut creates an unbelievable and humorous tale of
the impossible. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who is thoughtful, anyone who asks
questions, and anyone with an open mind. I believe this book is extremely valuable to the 9th
grade curriculum, and that it should be taught in schools. This book has certainly become a new
favorite.