Slaughterhouse - Five Themes

Essay by djartinCollege, UndergraduateC+, October 2009

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In this novel, the author explores some themes that prove to be the main ideas of the story. The main themes include the destructiveness of war, the importance of sight, and the illusion of free will. In addition, these themes are presented in a somewhat camouflaged way. The main character, Billy Pilgrim, is a successful optometrist who had been in World War II. He struggles to understand his own life and the reason why people cause destruction and war. In the story, Pilgrim has flashbacks of when he was a prisoner of war and gets transported back and forth through time. He also gets kidnapped by aliens, by whom he is taught about the fourth dimension, where time occurs and reoccurs infinitely. All of this is caused by his time in war and his witnessing of the bombing of Dresden. The main theme of this novel can be widely agreed to be the destructiveness of war.

When Billy Pilgrim was in the war, he witnessed the destruction of Dresden, Germany. This situation caused a kind of depression in his life twenty years later. Another incident that stayed with him throughout his life was when a soldier was shot by a firing squad for trying to steal a teapot from the rubbles of the fire, further emphasizing the pointlessness of war. He tries to make sense of all this and begins to fantasize about the Tralfamadorians who are an alien race. These aliens abduct Pilgrim and put him in a special place for humans to further study the human race. The Tralfamadorians tell Pilgrim about their knowledge of the fourth dimension and how time is always reoccurring. Since they know time occurs over and over again, they know the future and care less about things such as death and war since it is unalterable and inevitable. Tralfamadore, then, becomes Pilgrim's refuge from the real world since he doesn't have to worry about the bad things that happened in war. The importance of sight is another theme portrayed in the novel but it isn't as key as the destructiveness of war. Since Billy Pilgrim is an optometrist, he has the job of fixing other people's vision. On the other hand, he encounters many flashbacks and hallucinations, for example, the Tralfamadorians. "Such a view creates the irony that one employed to correct the myopic view of others is actually himself quite blind" (Sparknotes, 1). Another view of this theme, according to Sparknotes, is that Pilgrim gained knowledge about the fourth dimension further allowing him to cure other people's perception. The Tralfamadorians' view of time - that all moments of time exist simultaneously and repeat themselves endlessly is the same view Pilgrim holds on time (Sparknotes). The third theme present in this novel is the idea of free will. Since the Tralfamadorians have a comprehension of the fourth dimension, they believe that all situations in time have occurred and will occur again simultaneously. With this in their minds, they don't believe in free will but in predestined fate. They feel that only humans have the idea of free will since they have no idea about the fourth dimension and reoccurring time. Billy Pilgrim, throughout the novel, runs into many obstacles that challenge his free will. "When Billy is a child, his father lets him sink into the deep end of a pool in order to teach him how to swim. Much to his father's dismay, however, Billy prefers the bottom of the pool, but, against his free will to stay there, he is rescued" (Sparknotes, 1). In addition, he is later drafted into the war against his will giving more evidence to the illusion of free will. The themes presented in this novel are displayed faintly but they are laid out throughout the novel. The destructiveness of war can be agreed by a majority of people to be the most important of them all. Vonnegut does a splendid job of interweaving this theme with the other themes and the rest of the story. The importance of sight, on the other hand, is a theme that can be debated upon. One viewpoint is that Pilgrim can not only correct other people's vision through optometry but by his knowledge of the fourth dimension. The second perspective of this theme can be the irony of Pilgrim living in a world filled with hallucinations and flashbacks but still works as an optometrist. The third theme portrayed in this novel is the illusion of free will. The Tralfamadorians knew about the fourth dimension, where time occurs and reoccurs. This knowledge leads them to believe in fate rather than free will since whatever situation they are in has occurred before. This goes on to explain some incidents in Pilgrim's life proving free will to not be the cause. Slaughterhouse-Five is a very intricately designed story where many ideas help each other be understood. The main theme of this essay comes out powerful and meaningful. Vonnegut does a superb job in writing this novel.

sources"Slaughterhouse-Five." SparkNotes. Barnes & Noble. 7 Dec. 2008 .