Book Review: Slaughterhouse-Five

Editor’s Note:  One of my favorite little aspects of this, one of my favorite books, is the secondary title: “The Children’s Crusade.”  And now on to one of my favorite class-written reviews of this oft-student reviewed classic…

By Casey T.:

The life story of Billy Pilgrim, a joke of a soldier and a prisoner of war caught in the bombing of Dresden Germany in 1945 is told from an outer perspective highlighting Pilgrim’s experiences coming unstuck in time and detangling the meaning of his unique past.

Slaughterhouse-Five is a haphazard tale told from a third person point of view. This outer opinion, however, works quite well in the context of the events that take place in this stunning novel.  Since the author was physically present at certain times of this book, the third-person aspect was not at all invisible.  In other well-known novels that use the same point of view, the author lurks behind the true occurrence of the story, thus disguising its authenticity.  On the contrary, Vonnegut weaves the experiences of Pilgrim right past his own, clearly stated by following the quoted material of other, unseen characters with phrases like “That was I. That was me. That was the author of this book.”

Starting a book only aware of its historical appeal and overall prose offers a sense of surprise and discovery that the reader does not fully understand until the first chapter is completed.  The motives and purpose of the book are expressed quite clearly in Chapter 1, told entirely by the author.  Initially confusing, through Chapter 1, wonder yet also frustration is experienced.  Although it is interesting to see how the idea of writing such a book was obtained and how each event is strung together, this aspect is at first puzzling.  However, Vonnegut uses this technique flawlessly, allowing for a smoother transition from the story’s mechanics to its composition.

The science fiction aspect of the narrative is originally hard to grasp. Time traveling is not an easy subject to catch onto quickly, especially when incorporated into what the reader may have thought was purely a historical fiction novel. This alluring spin adds another level of interest, which balances out the murk of how each piece of the story comes together. Towards the beginning, the reader is still new to the plot, yet their interest stabilizes the strong influence of befuddlement.

Deep beneath the shady satirical humor and far beyond the printed words lays the deceiving demeanor of its main message.  Each small event and section has a way of uniting to create the story as a whole.  Slaughterhouse-Five tests the imagination by feeding it an abundance of information and insisting the reader understands and becomes a part of the ideas, opinions, and experiences told.  Its disorderly manner acts as a loop-hole to the seemingly simple mind track we, as humans, stick to.  By jumping back and forth to bits and pieces of events and experiences, as a whole, the book is a failure according to our mind set. Yet, those willing to stick with the confusion and muddle their way past it due to interest develop the creativity that is needed to organize and find familiar themes in each smaller piece. With this, the reader learns to respect how cleverly Vonnegut has combined the plethora of small, meaningless acquaintances.

Vonnegut’s masterpiece is self-distinguished from the typical fiction layout most commonly seen. Often fiction tales, especially in third person start off light and “normal” until a disruption occurs and a problem must be handled.  The climax of the tale comes, then settles back down quite nicely onto a happy ending all told discreetly by an invisible author, loosely connected with the events of the story. These entertain the reader, take them on a small adventure, and return them safely satisfied.

It is rare to see fiction work that requires equal effort from the reader. One who takes a stab at this novel is not encompassed by the typical story flow seen widely in fiction.  In order to receive the satisfaction at the end, the reader must give the thoughts and time needed to complete the book.  This tale is not to be read out of boredom or for pure enjoyment for this reason. To really soak in what all this story has to offer, the reader must put an equal amount of  their energy to allow the story the chance to push the boundaries of one’s understanding.  This isn’t the type of energy commonly seen in fiction that sprouts from the  entertainment one’s mind is receiving from the story; then used to maximize that sense of amusement.

Books such as The Diary of Anne Frank are in part similar to this narrativeas opposed to  other well known non-fiction pieces. Historical aspects are used in that tale too, yet the standard story flow is still present, thus making Slaughterhouse-Five a masterpiece in its own category. Expansion by examining how Vonnegut’s writing style is not a classic example of outstanding American literature, such as Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird is possible. Thus, Slaughterhouse-Five is hard to categorize and is quite different from the rest.

Vonnegut had indeed created a novel well fitting of its A-list classification.  For such a story to stir so many unique opinions and distinct ways of interpreting the adventures told in Slaughterhouse-Five and to not have the recognition it deserves would be a frivolous waste of esteemed literature.

Through a combination of strewed events, Slaughterhouse-Five is meant to work itself only into the minds of those willing to analyze and aid the story in its delivery. How else would we think outside the course of our regular, set mind track without given the perfect opportunity to do so in a subtle manner?





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