A Pilgrim in a Strange Land: "Slaughter-House Five" abstract

Essay by midstreet1High School, 11th gradeA, June 2006

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The horrors of war have plagued mankind since the beginning of written history. In "Slaughterhouse Five", Kurt Vonnegut tries to convey the true essence of war and how it can disrupt very fabric of human existence. Vonnegut's protagonist Billy Pilgrim is the vessel through which he portrays the journey from the brink of death to the realization of something beyond human understanding. Billy's apathy for life stems from his realization of the extent to which humans can dehumanize, critics Tanner and Wymer continue to moderate and follow-up on the topic portrayed by Vonnegut.

Pilgrim begins his journey through war-torn Europe and phases in and out of narrative prose to several different periods throughout his life. This constant shift in position and story serves the dramatic effect of Pilgrim's inability to maintain composure and reality in his broken life. The Trafalmadorians, more or less creations of Pilgrim's imagination, most likely serve the purpose of Pilgrim's search for meaning in the loosely strung world he lives in.

The Trafalmadorians guide Billy through the hopeless understanding of life, their understanding of life is not based solely on the present but rather they can see time itself as a dimension. As one Trafalmadorian said, "[Pilgrim is like] a bug trapped in amber...and time does not lend itself to... [explain why he is there]" (85-86). Vonnegut uses this Trafalmadorian view of life along with the tragic moments of war to show just how dehumanizing and incessant war can become. At one point during the war, Pilgrim had been captured by German soldiers and was part of a propaganda campaign aimed at dehumanizing American troops. The German soldiers, under orders by the war correspondent, "took pictures of [Pilgrim] and [Weary's] feet," (58) however the photographer demanded more. The soldiers staged a capture scene with Pilgrim, "[emerging]...