Death in a slaughterhouse

From Ancient Greek playwright, Euripides, (“To die is a debt we must all of
us discharge” (Fitzhenry 122)) to renowned Nineteenth Century poet, Emily
Dickinson, (“Because I could not stop for Death/ He kindly stopped for me -/
The carriage held but just ourselves/ And Immortality” (Fitzhenry 126)) the
concept of death, reincarnation, rebirth, and mourning have been brooded over
time and time again. And with no definite answers to life’s most puzzling
question of death being given, it only seems natural that this subject is
further explored. Kurt Vonnegut is one of many modern writers obsessed with
this idea and spends many of his novels thematically infatuated with death.
His semi- autobiographical novel, dealing with his experiences in Dresden
during WWII, named Slaughterhouse Five, The Children’s Crusade or A Duty
Dance With Death, is no exception to his fixation. “A work of transparent
simplicity and a modern allegory, whose hero, Billy Pilgrim, shuffles
between Earth and its timeless surrogate, Tralfamadore” (Riley and Harte
452), Slaughterhouse Five shows a “sympathetic and compassionate evaluation
of Billy’s response to the cruelty of life” (Bryfonski and Senick 614). This
cruelty stems from death, time, renewal, war, and the lack of compassion for
human life; all large themes “inextricably bound up” (Bryfonski and Mendelson
529) in this cyclically natured novel that tries to solve the great mystery
of death for us, once and for all.
Billy’s life had revolved around these ideas from the time he was a child.
At the age of twelve Billy “had undergone the real crises of his life, had
found life meaningless even if he could not then articulate that concept, and
was in desperate need for reinventing himself and his universe” (Bryfonski
and Senick 615). These feelings stayed with Billy throughout the strange
occurrences of his life. When still a baby in the eyes of many people, Billy
was sent off to death’s symbiotic partner war, fighting World War II in
Europe. Here he is a depressed soldier who has seen too much death and
destruction in order to function like a human being and wants to die, but
like many other incidents in his life, he ironically manages to maintain his
life while those around him, who want to live, die. It is perhaps during
this time that Billy first visits Tralfamadore, a neighboring planet with a
time warp “so that he could be on Tralfamadore for years, and still be away
from Earth for only a microsecond” (Vonnegut 26). From them Billy learns:
that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive
in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All
moments, past, present, future, always have existed, always will exist It
is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another
one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone
forever. When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead
person is in bad condition in that particular moment, but that the same
person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when Billy himself
hears that somebody is dead, he simply shrugs and says what the
Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is “So it goes.” (Vonnegut
“Death becomes an occurrence that is neither good nor bad, it just
happens” (Butt 2). Learning this, Billy becomes unstuck in time, no longer
living life in consecutive order, and time travels back to the war where he
witnesses all sorts of deaths. Deaths of friends, deaths of people he has
known for years. Dresden is fire-bombed causing a 135,000 person massacre.
And how does he react? “So it goes” (Vonnegut 188), Billy says as he goes on
with his daily affairs. He spends much of the rest of his life “actively
disseminating that philosophy, first preaching it orally on the all-night
radio program and then writing letters to the Ilium New Leader” (Bryfonski
and Senick 615). But Vonnegut disagrees and “rejects the Tralfamadorian
philosophy and Billy’s total “incapacity to understand the significance
of the death of human beings” (Bryfonski and Senick 615). In Slaughterhouse


I'm Lydia!

Would you like to get a custom essay? How about receiving a customized one?

Check it out