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Kurt Vonnegut's well known Slaughterhouse Five is not only a work of fiction which describes the absurdity of war, it may also be called an anti-novel as to its narrative technique. The traditional devices of chronology and causality have lost their value, and the chaotic situation in war is reflected in a seemingly arbitrary collection of mental associations. In the following paper Anja Welling tries to meet the scholarly and didactic challenges of this novel and to develop ideas for its use in the advanced foreign language classroom.

Discussion of Narrative Technique in
Kurt Vonnegut's Novel Slaughterhouse Five

Anja Welling


1. Introduction

2. The narrator

3. Trivial versus 'high' literature

4. Repetitions

5. Is Billy schizophrenic?

6. Didactic considerations

7. Notes

8. List of works cited

1. Introduction

Slaughterhouse Five is a novel dealing with the destruction of Dresden in the Second World War and social reality in the 1960s as well as with the imaginary Tralfamadorians and their view of the world. Thus Kurt Vonnegut combines in his novel the past, the present and futuristic elements. This in itself is nothing new. But the way in which Vonnegut presents these different thematic and structural elements of his novel is worth looking at. The text cannot be interpreted by using traditional approaches to literature. Thus new approaches must be found.

As the novel is neither based on the principle of chronology nor on the principle of coherence, the reader cannot analyse the novel chapter by chapter. The reader must order the novel according to several different focal points.

One important aspect of Slaughterhouse Five is its narrative structure. In order to analyse the novel, and in order to understand its underlying principles, I have concentrated my analysis of the novel on several devices Vonnegut employs in his narrative technique.

At first it is important to look at the narrator, or rather at the two narrators of the story. As the narrator has got a great influence on the reader and on the way in which the reader perceives and evaluates his story, it must be shown how the traditional conception of the narrator is turned upside down and why this is the case. It is also important to convey what effect this conception of the narrator has on the reader of Slaughterhouse-Five who expects a conventional anti-war book.

Having analysed the narrator, it is now important to identify and evaluate some of the stylistic devices Vonnegut employs. In this case the technique of collage will be of interest, as well as the various repetitions. Both devices are prevalent throughout the whole novel and function as a connecting link between the different thematic levels of the plot. The last important aspect which will be discussed is the question whether Billy Pilgrim is schizophrenic. As the topic of schizophrenia is closely linked with Billy's time-travels, the aspect of schizophrenia will be discussed together with the question whether Billy's time-travels are real or whether he only imagines them to happen.

As a conclusion, the adjacent passage will then deal with didactic considerations the teacher will have to face when opting for Slaughterhouse Five as a novel to be discussed in class.

2. The narrator

The first sentence of the novel is: "All this happened, more or less." (1) This must strike the reader as rather peculiar as the book is defined as a novel, and a novel usually has the characteristic feature that it is fictitious. The first question the reader is confronted with is the question of truth.

Vonnegut, on the one hand, claims that his novel is not fictitious, but, on the other hand, he also states that everything only happened "more or less" thus restricting the truth of the story. Vonnegut also calls his novel "a failure." (p. 31) By depreciating his own work, he again calls the truth of his reported facts into doubt. Does the story depict reality or even truth, or is it a work of fiction? Vonnegut intentionally leaves this question for the reader to answer by himself.

He also comments upon the difficulties he faced when writing his novel: "I thought it would be easy for me to write about the destruction of Dresden, since all I would have to do was report what I had seen." (p. 14) But this does not seem to be the case. Vonnegut was not able to just report what he had seen. This shows that the mimetic principle does not apply to the events which happened in Dresden. For Vonnegut, literature is not able to depict the cruelty of reality. This is typical of literature which has been written after a great catastrophe such as World War I, World War II or Chernobyl. Authors ask themselves if it is possible and sensible to write literature with regard to such horrible events. This is also explicitly expressed in the novel: "It is so short and jangled, Sam, because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead". (p. 29)

In chapter two, the story itself begins. Billy Pilgrim is introduced, and it is described how Billy travels in time. But every expression Billy utters is commented upon with the words "he says". (p. 37) This again hints at the question of truth. Does Billy really travel in time, or does he only claim to? This is the question Vonnegut implicitly asks when he repeats the words "he says", which seem unimportant at first sight.

At the beginning of chapter two, the reader will recognize another characteristic feature of the novel. It has got two narrators: in the first chapter Vonnegut is himself a character in the story, and he becomes the first-person narrator for the remainder of the novel. In the second chapter he begins narrating his novel, that is, the novel by Vonnegut as a character in the novel by Vonnegut the author. Thus in chapter one we get biographical information about Vonnegut and his life after the war: "when I have become an old fart with his memories and his Pall Malls, with his sons full grown". (p. 14) We also get to know that Vonnegut had a friend called O’Hare, who went to war with him. In the following chapters, Vonnegut as a character in the novel disappears, but we remain aware of him throughout the whole novel by his remarks. When he talks about Billy's experiences in the war, Vonnegut intervenes: "I was there. So was my old war buddy, Bernard V. O'Hare." (p. 82) This authorial voice remains present till the end of the novel: "It would make a good epitaph for Billy Pilgrim and for me, too." (p. 141); "That was I. That was me. That was the author of this book." (p. 145); "I was there. O'Hare was there." (p. 237).

But it is important to say that the character of Vonnegut in chapter one is not identical with the author of the novel Slaughterhouse Five. The character in chapter one might have the same experiences and friends as Vonnegut, the author, but he is still a character within the story of an author. This is an example of a technique called regressus in infinitum. The author removes himself from the plot as far as possible to gain distance from the horrible events he experienced in the war.

Another device, the narrator makes use of is irony or black humour. When Billy and Weary are attacked by enemies, and a bullet misses Billy by inches, the narrator says: "Billy stood there politely, giving the marksman another chance. It was his addled understanding of the rules of warfare that the marksman should be given a second chance." (p. 46) This expression might seem comical at first, but the topic the narrator comments upon, war, is a serious one. Using such ridiculing comments in a context of war, the narrator seems to neglect the seriousness and cruelty of war at first sight, but taking a closer look at these scenes, I think that they even seem more cruel and serious by these comments. This is also the effect Vonnegut wants to achieve concerning the reader. To my mind he wants to make the reader smile at these situations at first sight. The reader realizing what he has presently laughed about will possibly be shocked by his own reaction to Vonnegut's story. He will immediately understand the cruelty of the scenes depicted.

When the prisoners are on their way to Dresden, the Englishman says: "You need not worry about bombs, by the way. Dresden is an open city. It is undefended, and contains no war industries or troop concentrations of any importance."(p. 171) Especially this expression emphasizes the senselessness of the attack on Dresden. As often stated in the text, the war is, at that point, nearly over, and another attack on a city with many civilians is not necessary to defeat the Germans. By this dramatic irony the narrator creates, the events seem even more atrocious to the reader who already knows that Dresden will eventually be destroyed and that thousands of innocent people will die.

The same effect is achieved by the movie which Billy sees before he is taken to Tralfamadore (p. 93/94). It is a movie about American bombers in the Second World War, which is seen backwards. Thus everything that is seen as destroyed in the beginning is repaired in the end. This also emphasizes the cruelty of war, as the reader knows that the events depicted in the movie are happening the other way round. It is not true that "German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody as good as new." (p. 94) On the opposite: The result is complete destruction.

But the narrator does not only use ironic comments to underline and express the seriousness of the situation, he also uses solemn expressions to convey the conclusions he has drawn from his experiences during the war:

      I have told my sons that they are not under any circumstances to take part in massacres, and that the news       of massacres of enemies is not to fill them with satisfaction or glee. I have also told them not to work for       companies which make massacre machinery, and to express contempt for people who think we need       machinery like that. (p. 29)

In this part of the novel, the reader experiences Vonnegut in the role of the educator. Considering the fact that Vonnegut has been to war himself, one can conclude that his experiences have led him to this statement, which the reader is to take seriously. Another example of this kind is to be found in chapter ten. In this particular situation O'Hare and Vonnegut are reading from a notebook about the world's population, which seems to increase in a rapid degree: "The Population Reference Bureau predicts that the world's total population will double to 7,000,000,000 before the year 2000. 'I suppose they will all want dignity,'I said." (p. 237) In this part of the novel, the reader sees Vonnegut in the role of the friend.

Such implications can only be found in the first and the last chapters. In these parts of the novel Vonnegut functions as a character himself, as pointed out before. Thus, such comments as mentioned above must be considered authorial.

Another device the narrator makes use of, is the foreshadowing of important events. "Billy sat down in the waiting room. He wasn't a widower yet." (p.56) This method of foreshadowing important events corresponds with the novel's general concept of time. Vonnegut deliberately breaks the system of chronology in Slaughterhouse-Five right at the beginning when he puts the first and the last sentences of the novel next to each other: "It begins like this: Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time. It ends like this: Poo-tee-weet?" (p. 31) This is basically the same technique. Just as the concept of chronology is rejected in the novel, so is the concept of tension. Vonnegut does not want any tension to arise in his novel, so he anticipates all the important events. Other examples are: "His name was Howard W. Campbell, Jr. He would later hang himself while awaiting trial as a war criminal." (p. 147); Derby's son would survive the war, Derby wouldn't." (p. 102)

3. Trivial versus 'high' literature

Reading the first chapter of Slaughterhouse-Five, the reader easily realizes one important device Vonnegut uses, namely the combination of trivial and 'high' literature. Traditionally, these two levels of literature are not combined, as they are not considered to be commensurate. Both these types of literature usually represent different levels of style, language and meaning. In using them together, Vonnegut deliberately breaks with this distinction and implicitly criticises the concept.

He already starts with this technique in the first chapter. On the first two pages Vonnegut introduces several examples of trivial or low literature. The postcard written by the taxi driver is quoted, as well as the obscene limerick and the cyclical story about Yon Yonson. (p. 14) The limerick and the song about Yon Yonson are alluded to several times throughout the novel so that the reader easily recognizes them. The interesting thing about these quotations is that Vonnegut plays with them using them in the same paragraph in which he quotes from Horace's Odes: "Eheu, fugaces labuntur anni. My name is Yon Yonson. There was a young man from Stamboul." (p. 22) As Horace must be counted among the category of 'high' literature, it becomes obvious that Vonnegut deliberately puts the quotation from Horace next to the trivial Yon Yonson-poem to achieve his aim. To my mind Vonnegut wants to overcome the distinction between 'high' and trivial literature. He wants to show that 'high' literature is not necessarily better than low literature and that both are able to convey the same meaning:

      Sogenannte triviale Texte werden in der Schule zumeist als stark motivierende Beispiele eines Ist-, Texte       der sogenannten hohen Literatur als Hinführung zu einem angestrebten Soll-Zustand gelesen. [...] Jeder       Literaturdidaktiker wünscht sich Texte, welche die Motivationskraft der trivialen mit dem erzieherischen       Wert der hohen Literatur verbinden, die Lesbarkeit der einen mit dem künstlerischen Rang der anderen       Ebene verknüpfen und das Ideal der Doppelung von prodesse aut delectare auf zeitgemäße Weise       verwirklichen. Kurt Vonneguts Roman ist ein solcher Text."(2)

It becomes clear that Vonnegut combines the didactic level of 'high' literature with the motivating effect of trivial literature, uniting two different kinds of literature in an attempt to create an exemplary model no author has ever created before. Reading the quotation by Goethe, who comments upon the destruction of Dresden, the reader becomes aware of the consequences caused by the attack on Dresden, Vonnegut thus achieving the didactic effect, reading the limerick or the postcard written by the taxi driver - and many other examples could be quoted -, the reader might be amused, Vonnegut thus achieving the motivating effect. In other words: Vonnegut combines art and entertainment in a new and revolutionary way. But Vonnegut not only uses these examples of trivial literature to motivate the reader. Even those passages involving trivial literature serve a purpose. Reading the obscene limerick for example, the reader might find a parallel between the protagonist of the limerick and Vonnegut himself:

      There was a young man from Stamboul,
      Who soliloquized thus to his tool:
      "You took all my wealth
      And you ruined my health,
      And now you won't pee, you old fool." (p. 14)

This could be paralleled to Vonnegut in the following way: Vonnegut's war experiences have completely dominated his life, even his health has been affected. Now he wants to free himself from these dreadful experiences by writing a book on the topic, but he is not able to produce something sensible. His brain is not willing and not able to present a sensible a story depicting the horrible events which took place during the war. By writing his book, Vonnegut wants to attempt an auto-therapy, but obviously he fails.

Vonnegut even explains why his attempt to write an accurate depiction must fail. In chapter one, Vonnegut reads the story about Sodom and Gomorrah in the Bible: God destroys the two cities, and Lot's wife is told not to look back at this scene of destruction. But Lot's wife does look back, and she is consequently turned into a pillar of salt. Vonnegut comments upon this story in the following way: "People aren't supposed to look back. I'm certainly not going to do it anymore. [...] This one [i.e. Slaughterhouse Five] is a failure, and it had to be, since it was written by a pillar of salt." (p. 31)

In this passage Vonnegut compares himself with Lot's wife, that is with a pillar of salt and states that nothing good can emerge when looking back at a scene of great misery and destruction. The reason Vonnegut presents for the failure of the novel thus is that he has become lifeless and paralysed looking back at the horrible events which happened during the war.

Another interesting point is the fact that the passage quoting Goethe is itself also embedded in another quotation. Thus Vonnegut quotes a quotation in a quotation. This device - like the song about Yon Yonson - is a typical example of a technique called regressus in infinitum. Vonnegut wants to point out that there is no real starting point, no prima causa for anything."(3) He also makes this obvious by putting the first and the last sentences of his novel next to each other thus claiming that time is not linear but cyclical or spiral. This is explicitly confirmed in the text when Vonnegut says: "And so on to infinity." (p. 15)

Vonnegut employs the same technique when he quotes the fictitious novels written by Kilgore Trout."(4) Kilgore Trout - like Rosewater - is a character out of Vonnegut's novel God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, and he is himself an author who invents fictitious characters. Thus introducing the character of Kilgore Trout, Vonnegut wants to convey that every author of a fictional character is himself a character in the imagination of another author."(5)

Another function of Kilgore Trout within the novel might imply an allusion to Vonnegut's own career as an author. Trout, who is not depicted as a very popular and famous character in the novel having only one real friend, Billy Pilgrim, might be a parody of Vonnegut's own career as a science-fiction writer. Before Vonnegut has been acknowledged as a writer of literature, he himself had to struggle hard to be accepted. His works were not appreciated, on the contrary, in the 1970s Slaughterhouse-Five even was a censored novel.

Another important fact is that Trout is the author of a novel called The Big Board dealing with "an Earthling man and woman who were kidnapped by extra-terrestrials. They were put on display in a zoo on a planet called Zirkon-212."(p. 225) Here Vonnegut alludes to the fact that his novel also deals with the abduction of two human beings to a planet inhabited by aliens. Thus Trout can be seen as a character paralleled to Vonnegut according to his profession, his ideas and also according to his reputation.

4. Repetitions

Another technique Vonnegut uses is the technique of repetition. His repetitions occur in different contexts. "I drive my wife away with a breath like mustard gas and roses." (p.16) This quotation is taken from chapter one, a chapter which deals with the character of Vonnegut and the genesis of his novel exclusively. The next scene where this comparison is used is in chapter four, when Billy thinks that he can smell somebody's breath: "There was a drunk on the other end. Billy could almost smell his breath - mustard gas and roses." (p. 93) The next time the comparison is used is in a war episode: "But then the bodies rotted and liquefied, and the stink was like roses and mustard gas." (p. 239)

The smell of mustard gas and roses becomes a sign linking the past and the present and even the narrator, Vonnegut, and the protagonist, Billy. "(6) The several episodes the novel consists of might seem chaotic and incoherent at first sight, but they are obviously structured according to a well devised principle.

Another example of this technique, which is prevalent throughout the whole novel, is the topic of the three musketeers. In chapter one a woman writer who is a colleague of the narrator, eats "a Three Musketeers Candy Bar." (p. 20) In chapter five Billy's wife Valencia eats the same sort of candy (p. 129). Thus there is a link between the narrator in chapter one and Billy Pilgrim's life. Weary calls his little group in the war "The Three Musketeers" (p.53, 59, 61 ...). Again Vonnegut establishes a link between the war episodes and Billy's as well as the narrator's private life after the war. Of course, the allusion to the famous novel The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas must be taken into account, too. This is another example of Vonnegut including allusions to 'high' literature in his work. Again the complexity of the whole novel becomes obvious as Vonnegut does not use every single technique on its own, but as he also combines different kinds of narrative techniques - here he combines the technique of repetition with the allusion to 'high' literature.

Another striking example of this technique is the expression "blue and ivory feet". Billy has "blue and ivory feet" because the heating is damaged (p. 41), and the feet of the corpses after the firebombing in Dresden are blue, too. (p. 80) Although the connection between the narrator in chapter one and these two scenes is missing this time, the story nevertheless combines two levels of the plot with each other and reminds the reader of this connection several times.

Other examples of this technique are the use of "orange and black" (p. 92, 84), the expression "nestling like spoons" (p. 85, 92, 145, 169, 172), the comparison of Dresden with the surface of the moon (p. 75, 202) and the expression of the "radium dial" (p. 113, 114). Many other examples of this kind could be quoted, sometimes referring to each single level of the events.

But Vonnegut goes even further. He not only links the different levels of his story with each other, but he also links the whole novel to the title page. His story is not only called Slaughterhouse Five but also The Children's Crusade. A Duty-Dance with Death (p. 11).

Vonnegut takes up the topic of the children's crusade in chapter one, discussing with Mary O'Hare about the progress he is making with his novel and the senselessness of war. He promises Mary to call his novel The Children's Crusade, and afterwards Bernard and Billy look up the term in a book by Mackay - again Vonnegut achieves a combination of narrative technique.

The subtitle A Duty-Dance with Death is also referred to many times throughout the novel, in most cases in connection with war: "Billy had lost a heel, which made him bob up-and-down, up-and-down. The involuntary dancing [...] made his hip joints sore." (p. 45) "The Americans had no choice but to leave trails in the snow as unambiguous as diagrams in a novel on ballroom dancing - step, slide, rest - step, slide, rest." (p. 51) In these examples - and many other examples could be quoted - Vonnegut connects Billy's war experiences with the title. He thus constantly reminds us of the title of his novel, and although some of these episodes might be considered to be comical by the reader at first sight, he is instantly reminded of the seriousness of the topic.

But the topic of dancing is not only mentioned in connection with war episodes. In chapter three Billy observes several old men selling subscriptions to magazines. These men are described as follows: "There was a crippled man down there, as spastic in place as Billy was in time. Convulsions made the man dance flappingly all the time [...]" (p.78). In this context, the topic of dancing is mentioned with regard to Billy's private life.

It becomes obvious that Vonnegut again links the different levels of his story with the title page containing the prevalent and very important topics of the whole novel. Especially in this quotation Vonnegut even establishes a link between the topic of dancing and Billy's time-travels, as the men were "as spastic in place as Billy was in time." (p. 78)

5. Is Billy schizophrenic?

Do the Tralfamadorians and their planet emerge from Billy's imagination, or is the reader supposed to believe that this world exists in Billy's reality? The question behind this really is whether Vonnegut wants to make the reader believe that Billy is schizophrenic or whether he wants to convince the reader that the Tralfamadorians exist in his reality.

In this context it is important to notice that Vonnegut himself uses the word schizophrenia in his novel right at the beginning. "This is a novel somewhat in the telegraphic schizophrenic manner of tales of the planet Tralfamadore, where the flying saucers come from." (p. 11) It can be concluded that Vonnegut himself wants the reader to believe that schizophrenia is an important element in his novel.

First, however, it is necessary to define the meaning of schizophrenia. In his article on Vonnegut's novel, Pütz quotes R. D. Laing's definition of schizophrenia: "a special strategy that a person invents in order to live an unlivable situation."(7) This definition is a new one compared to the traditional view of schizophrenia stating that people suffering from schizophrenia have a split personality. In this context it is also important to stress that this definition does not imply that schizophrenia is an illness. According to this definition it is rather a normal and understandable reaction to the negative environment. It is also interesting to consider that in this definition by Laing the Tralfamadorians themselves must be defined as schizophrenic because they always neglect the negative implications of life by exclusively focussing on the good moments.

With regard to Billy, the reader of Slaughterhouse Five will easily realize that his life consists of very negative and depressing phases involving a series of personal catastrophes which include the death of Billy's wife, his negative childhood, difficult children, the plane-crash and most of all Billy's experiences in the war. These negative experiences are present throughout his whole life starting with his childhood. Thus his life could be described as unlivable, and escape seems a possible if not logical consequence for Billy. The expression Rosewater utters in the hospital even corroborates the assumption that life seems to be unbearable for some people. "Another time Billy heard Rosewater say to the psychiatrist, 'I think you guys are going to have to come up with a lot of wonderful new lies, or people just aren't going to want to go on living.'" (p. 123f.) It seems to be possible that Billy wants to escape from his negative experiences to live a better life on another planet.

But it is also possible that his mental state can be derived from the physical consequences of the plane-crash. As Billy is the only survivor, and as he seems to suffer from severe injuries of the head, one might also consider the existence of Tralfamadore a consequence of brain damage.

Pütz also quotes Laing's definition of what happens in a state of schizophrenia. "The person who has entered this inner realm ... will find himself going, or being conducted ...on a journey ... We respect the voyager, the explorer, the climber, the space man."(8) It is easy to realize that this can also be projected on Billy. Billy either travels in time to Tralfamadore, or he is abducted by a flying saucer. The thesis of Billy being in a state of psychological illness is also confirmed by the narrator:

      Billy Pilgrim was having a delightful hallucination. He was wearing dry, warm, white
      sweatsocks, and he was skating on a ballroom floor. Thousands cheered. This wasn't
      time-travel. It had never happened, never would happen. It was the craziness of a dying
      young man with his shoes full of snow. (p. 59)

It is important to realize that the narrator states that Billy is hallucinating, and that he is evidently crazy. The topic of his being crazy is taken up again later in the novel, in chapter five. "Nobody else suspected that he was going crazy. Everybody else thought he looked fine and was acting fine. Now he was in hospital. The doctors agreed: He was going crazy." (p. 122) It is obviously important for the narrator to show that he believes in Billy's being crazy, but that also other people, even doctors, consider him crazy. Throughout the novel, it becomes clear that even his own daughter, Barbara, believes in his state of mental disorder.

Another hint to the question whether Billy only imagines his time-travel experiences or not, are the novels written by Kilgore Trout. In his novel The Big Board (p. 224), the fictitious character Trout narrates the story of a man and a woman being abducted to another planet and being shown in a zoo. As Billy is a fan of this author, one might conclude that he has taken a story he has once read to be real, and that he has projected the situation of Trout's characters on himself. The narrator in chapter nine supports this belief. "So they were trying to reinvent themselves and their universe. Science fiction was a big help." (p. 123) Considering these statements by the narrator, Billy's daughter and even by the doctor, one can conclude that Billy is really in a state of schizophrenia. But the situation is not that unequivocal.

In some parts of the text, the narrator states that Billy really experiences these time-travels: "Billy travelled in time" (p. 72); "[...] and then he travelled in time" (p. 122); "Billy was unconscious for two days after that, and he dreamed of millions of things, some of them true. The true things were time-travel." (p. 182)

When reading these parts of the text, it becomes clear that the narrator wants the reader to believe that Billy is not schizophrenic, and that he does actually not imagine his travelling in time. The assumption that the narrator deliberately uses this device to confuse the reader can be proved by the fact that the narrator clearly differentiates between time-travel and fantasy in other parts of the text. "Valencia wasn't a time-traveler, but she did have a lively imagination." (p. 138)

The narrator also distinguishes time-travel and dreams, as well as between time-travel and memories. "Billy closed that one eye, saw in the memory of the future [...]" (p. 127); "He had had a wet dream about Montana Wildhack." (p. 152); "Under morphine, Billy had a dream of giraffes in a garden. [...] Billy was a giraffe, too. He ate a pear." (p. 121) It seems to be the case that dreams represent Billy's wishes or his imagination, but as the narrator insists - mentioned in the episodes above - time-travel constitutes an actual experience.

In conclusion one can say that "Vonnegut seems to supply internal evidence for a psychological explanation of Tralfamadore while at the same time denying that evidence with a contradictory narrative statement.""(9)

But what does this imply for the reader? When reading Slaughterhouse-Five, one can suspect that Vonnegut is not interested in an accurate subdivision between reality and fiction."(10) Vonnegut uses this novel to open up a realm of fiction which is contradictory in terms. In this realm it is possible for Billy to solve the conflicts he has concerning his identity.

      Billy Pilgrims Geschichte mag Vonnegut dazu gedient haben, einen phantastischen Zwischenbereich zu
      eröffnen, in dem eine Lösung aller leidigen Identitätskonflikte möglich wird. Spielerisch und mit der
      Vonnegut eigenen Gegensätzlichkeit von Entwurf und Konsequenz schlägt der Autor vor, daß alle Sorgen
      seines Helden um ein authentisches Selbst überflüssig seien, da er sich stets einer ungeliebten irdischen
      Realität durch seine Flucht in glücklichere Phantasien zu entziehen vermag."(11)

Considering the fact that the narrator of the story relates both theories, Billy's being schizophrenic as well as the actual experience of the time-travels, one can conclude that Billy can definitely be described as schizophrenic. But nevertheless we must ultimately assume that Vonnegut wants the reader to believe that Tralfamadore is a separate world in the novel which Billy really experiences.

In conclusion one can say that although the novel seems to be chaotic and incoherent at first sight, Vonnegut achieves order by using all the techniques mentioned above. Reading Slaughterhouse-Five thoroughly, the reader will be able to recognize the underlying principles structuring the novel.

6. Didactic considerations

By reading Slaughterhouse-Five it becomes obvious that the novel differs from other works of fiction to a great extent. Obviously Vonnegut has completely and deliberately neglected traditional norms and values. Logical principles do not apply to the novel. Considering these insights, it also becomes evident that different didactic approaches to the novel must be found in order to convey the structure and the inherent meaning of Slaughterhouse-Five to the pupils. The novel should be discussed by focusing on different thematic aspects like the topic of war, Tralfamadore, or social reality in the 1960s. Additionally, the teacher should devote several lessons to the topic of narrative technique. Discussing this topic, it would be useful for the students if the teacher prepared a handout containing different aspects of the technique Vonnegut makes use of and listing important key passages from the novel. The most important points of focus could be: the narrator, a collage of 'high' and trivial literature, the repetition of certain key phrases and the topic of schizophrenia. As these aspects are prevalent throughout the whole novel, it is not useful to discuss the novel chapter by chapter but to focus on central parts within the text.

Another consideration the teacher will have to make is the question of when to discuss the topic of narrative technique in class. Of course it is important for the pupils to understand the general and logical conception of the novel and also to understand the coherence of the several thematic levels of Slaughterhouse-Five, but as the discussion of narrative technique is a very complex and abstract topic, the teacher should not use it as an introduction into the whole novel. To my mind, this topic should be dealt with near the end of the sequence dealing with this novel. At the beginning of the sequence it is more important for the pupils to understand the different thematic levels of Slaughterhouse-Five in content. That means that the teacher should first discuss war, social reality in the 1960s and the futuristic topic of Tralfamadore before starting with such a highly complex topic as narrative technique. The pupils having understood the novel in content are then able to discuss the novel on a more theoretic level.

7. Notes

(1)  Kurt Vonnegut. Slaughterhouse-Five. Ed. Ruth Freifrau von Ledebur. 2nd ed. Berlin: Cornelsen, 1993, p. 13.

(2)  Peter Freese, "Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.: Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)", in: Peter Freese und Liesel Hermes (Hrsg.), Der Roman im Englischunterricht der Sekundarstufe II. Theorie und Praxis (Paderborn: Schöningh, 1977), p. 295.

(3)  Ibid. p. 300.

(4)  Maniacs in the Fourth Dimension (p. 126); The Gospel from Outer Space (p. 129); The Big Board (p. 224)

(5)  Cf. Peter Freese, "Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.: Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)", in: Peter Freese und Liesel Hermes (Hrsg.), Der Roman im Englischunterricht der Sekundarstufe II. Theorie und Praxis (Paderborn: Schöningh, 1977), p. 300.

(6)  Ibid. p. 301.

(7)  Manfred Pütz, "Who am I this time? Die Romane von Kurt Vonnegut", Amerikastudien 19:1 (1974), p. 120.

(8)  Ibid.

(9)  Charles B. Harris, "Time, Uncertainty and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.: A Reading of Slaughterhouse Five", The Centennial Review 20 (1976), p. 235.

(10)  Manfred Pütz, "Who am I this time? Die Romane von Kurt Vonnegut", Amerikastudien 19:1 (1974), p. 121.

(11)  Ibid.

8. List of works cited

Primary Literature

Vonnegut, Kurt: Slaughterhouse-Five. Ed. Ruth Freifrau von Ledebur. 2nd ed. Berlin: Cornelsen, 1993.

Secondary Literature

Freese, Peter, "Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.: Slaughterhouse Five (1969)", in: Peter Freese und Liesel Hermes (Hrsg.), Der Roman im Englischunterricht der Sekundarstufe II. Theorie und Praxis (Paderborn: Schöningh, 1977), pp. 294-317.

Harris, Charles B., "Time, Uncertainty and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.": A Reading of Slaughterhouse Five, The Centennial Review 20 (1976), pp. 228-243.

Pütz, Manfred, "Who am I this time? Die Romane von Kurt Vonnegut", Amerikastudien 19:1 (1974), pp. 31-42.

Last Updated by Dr. Willi Real on Monday, 22 July, 2002 at 2:27 PM.

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