Slaughter House Five

A motif is a reoccurring subject theme or idea.  Many writers use them to relay a certain point in their work. The main motif in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughter House Five is the reoccurring theme of death.  This book is one of Vonnegut’s most popular novels.  Often categorized as a science fiction book, for its ability to travel through time, it serves as a good window into the sociological elements of war.  It centers on the bombing of Dresden, Germany during World War II.  Vonnegut made this massacre more public through this novel.  The main message he means to express is an awareness of the horrors of war.

The novel centers around American soldier Billy Pilgrim, who is captured by the Germans and forced to live in a prison.  Due to mild brain damage, Billy is unstuck in time.  This means he jumps to and from different moments in his lifetime.  He also claims to be kidnapped by aliens.  These aliens named the Tralfamadore, quite coincidentally, can see in four dimensions.  The ideal of time all existing at once and being non-linear is a concept that the books strives on, but it is also awake argument presented by the book.  Bill is aware of his own preeminent death, and there is nothing he can do about it, but he is also allowed to travel from moment to moment, by him being able to do this it adds value to the moments and devalues death.

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Death is most commonly considered to be the main motif of this novel because it is everywhere throughout the book.  Death is treated within the novel as a cliché, every time it’s mentioned the narrator responds by stating and so it goes. This is the most reoccurring phrase of the novel it is seen at every moment when death appears.  It also holds true to the main point of view of book, which is that death is inevitable.  This apathy towards death is indirectly preached through Bill’s ranting every time the topic of death comes up.  The irony of the novel is the title.  Vonnegut corresponds it with the children’s crusade of the 13th century, in which children were sold as slaves.  It is Vonnegut’s belief that the men who were drafted and convinced to fight in World War II were virtually sold into slavery, and in essence sold into their own slaughter.  The description of death is very fluent throughout the book.  There are many dialogues describing death and how it appeared after mass destruction very fluently and poetically.  His is seen in the book when Billy says, The legs of those who stood were like fence posts driven into a warm, squirming, farting, sighing earth. The queer earth was a mosaic of sleepers who nestled like spoons (Vonnegut, pg70). Death is viewed as no more than a common occurrence, within the war and within life in general.  Bill is desensitized by the sight of the massacre.  The contrast between his desensitized perception and that of a normal person can be seen in an Englishman’s reaction to the violence done o a young boy. ‘My God–what have they done to you, lad? This isn’t a man. It’s a broken kite (Vonnegut, pg97). This seen best display the level of delusion Bill suffers from in contrast to those around him.  It also give the reader an even better understanding of the extreme gory outcome of war.

Another reoccurring motif and major tool used by the novel is the concept of time. This is represented as a motif in the Tralfamadorians. Time is non-existent and ever existent in the fact that past, present and future all exist at once. Moments that occurred in the pat occur in the present including the lifetime of those who are already dead and gone.  This also applies to the future events formally considered to yet have happened, they exist alongside the past and present. I am a Tralfamadorian, seeing all time as you might see a stretch of the Rocky Mountains. All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is (Vonnegut, pg 86). Though Bill states it’s the Tralfamadorian who can see all the dimensions of time, he narrates the novel like he has the perception himself.  Like was previously stated, by time being a jumbled and compressed, it makes the one moment which people abhor the most, death, become insignificant.  Now hat death is no longer feared, the reader is confronted with a void to fill.  This is where the author’s message comes into play.  Neither, time or war, have any consideration for one single human life, this idea is constantly inferred to throughout the novel.  The novel is very apathetic in this sense.  The phrase so it goes is the ultimate proof of this ideal.  What the novel does seem to want the reader to care about is the value of life’s moments, and the beauty of life in contrast to the gruesome horrific products of war.  This is shown by all of the graphic imagery and the psychotic reaction Bill has to his environment.

In sum, the motif of so it goes, symbolizing death and the Tralfamadorians, who symbolize time are both used in connection to relay the message of an appreciation for life’s moments and the condemnation of war.  Time and space all blending together, combined with the horrific incidents that Bill experiences, like the capture of his wife, and witnessing the bombing, give the reader the feel that they have gone to the very extreme end of misfortune and there is nothing left but to be numb.  There is also the psychotic aspect of Bill’s psyche.  The book forces the reader to question whether Bill is a lunatic, or he is just suffering from a normal human reaction to unfathomable devastation.  As poetic as Bill is, his descriptions can never truly equate actually witnessing the human desecration with one’s own eye.  In light of this, the reader is in the position to decide whether Bill’s behavior is perfectly natural for his situation.  I fear it might be.