Wed. Jul 24th, 2024

The Sequence of Interruptions

Apart from having a non-linear narrative, the events that occur in Slaughterhouse-Five, written by Kurt Vonnegut, take place outside the sequence of events. With a non-linear plot due to cause and effect, the protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, is not bound by time. Taking as its model is the Tralfamadorian novel, which has no beginning or end. The protagonist will travel between different moments in his life.

He cannot decide where he will go next. In the narrative, he goes with it. If the end comes before the beginning, then the tension is absent, and only non-linear storytelling helps achieve that. With such a narrative structure, the book is both jarring and jumbled. On the other hand, there is no cause and effect, even if the effect comes before the cause. As Vonnegut writes directly in the first chapter, there is nothing intelligent for the reader to say about the massacre.

Such a non-linear structure reinforces his message about how terrible war is. At first, Vonnegut always closed and opened the chapters that directly discussed his own experiences of war. He also discussed his struggles in writing the book we are currently reading. On the other hand, he tells Billy’s story with occasional interruptions, relating his war experiences to Billy’s in between chapters.

Secondary Protagonist

Vonnegut’s narrative voice is so strong, and he is so similar to Billy that he acts as the secondary protagonist. The main conflict in Slaughterhouse-Five is not external but internal; neither Vonnegut nor Billy is fighting traditional antagonists or villains. Instead, they are trying to make sense of the trauma they witnessed as prisoners of war during WWII. Vonnegut struggled with writing a book about Dresden, not romanticizing the war other than understanding such experiences.

The incident moves the story forward for both characters, incorporating the Dresden bombing into the book’s narrative. As the action leads to a climax and becomes the two main narrative threads, the story of Billy’s placement and his arrest in Germany begins to get intense. He and his fellow prisoners went to a camp and a slaughterhouse in Dresden. Among the prisoners were Paul Lazzaro and Edgar Derby.

Paul is the man who would kill Billy for years to avenge the death of an ex-soldier named Roland Weary. On the other hand, Edgar is a teacher who suffers the same fate as Billy after stealing a teapot. The second thread follows Billy’s life after the war as an ophthalmologist, father to Barbara and Robert, and husband to Valencia.

Non-linear Structure

Billy appears as one of two survivors after a disastrous plane crash. After stating that years ago aliens kidnapped him and brought him to Tralfamadore, they elongated him in the orchard. They also married him to Montana Wildhack, a celebrity. By adopting their view of time, Billy promotes their idea in public forums. Tralfamadorians have the power to see both the past and the future at the same time.

They also know there is no such thing as free will. In the eighth chapter, the narrative begins to reach a climax when Billy celebrates his wedding anniversary. He becomes sad when he sees the barber quartet singing, running upstairs until he realizes why the quartet affected him in such a way. He began to recount his memories of the Dresden bombing, despite not having arrived in time for the event.

Billy remembered brilliantly, while time travel did not. When he remembers the events, suggesting that he is facing them for the first time, Slaughterhouse-Five’s non-linear structure also plays a part in the book’s climax. In the ninth chapter, Billy is in the hospital recovering from a head injury following a plane crash. He started talking about Tralfamadore and time travel just after his wife’s death and accident.

Billy’s Experiences

A plane crash echoes Billy’s experiences in Dresden, where he was the lucky survivor of an event that killed almost everyone. Valencia, his wife, died of carbon monoxide poisoning after accidentally losing the exhaust pipe to a dented fender. When the fact that such traumas later resonate with the Dresden tragedy is pointed out, it points back to the tragedy as the main trauma for the protagonist.

By demonstrating Billy’s idea of time travel as a trauma coping mechanism, it triggers his subsequent trauma. In the last chapter, Vonnegut begins addressing the reader once more in the first person. However, his experiences merge with Billy’s. Slaughterhouse-Five ends with a funny ending that doesn’t make sense. On the other hand, it’s a bit hopeful until the war ends and the birds come out in the spring.

In short, the description of Billy’s actions is determined by the writer’s ability to engage in dialogic relationships. Such a relationship is subject to manipulation of the character’s interactions in the text to become a postmodern text. However, the book introduces authorial intrusion into a text. It can be seen from the way Vonnegut controls his character that people say the technique acts as dialogism in the study of discourse.


When all textual interactions between characters appear for ideological purposes, the author determines the character’s position in the text. In other words, praise gives the author’s voice for not understanding a text from a literal point of view, even the author herself. Thus, the textual relationship between dialogues is synonymous with polyphony. It incorporates the author’s abstract ideological mode, depicting it through the interactions of the characters in the text.

Warnings about the negative consequences of war are dialogically introduced by Vonnegut throughout Slaughterhouse-Five. It includes an apocalyptic satire by the author on the disastrous consequences of war spreading to other parts of the world. All issues with a threatening tone in the book are related to America’s position in the war. It is because the protagonist represents American individuality.

In discourse, the conventions of focalized fiction can reveal a relationship between the essence of critical and self-reflexive messages through an authorial perspective. When the metonymic connotation of the author’s voice finds its way into his vision, the projection into the speech of the characters in the text, both the characters and the setting, cannot fully convey the author’s vision. Simply put, it serves as an important manifestation of the author’s textual message.

Manipulating the Discourse

On the other hand, the text requires a pragmatic mode of understanding the author’s message. Slaughterhouse-Five manipulates discourse in character interactions with the author’s vision. Billy’s allegory is more representative of actual events outside of the text throughout the book, embodying the author’s timeless portrayal of WWII’s negative consequences. In addition, it also affects the character’s behavior and illustrates the protagonist’s transformation in the course of the book.

When Billy stopped being friendly as usual, he used a threatening agent as a form of resistance. Thus, the events during the Dresden tragedy caused him to become restless or tired. It shows a certain view of the world that requires a different reaction. In narratological terminology, the interaction between the writer and the narrative in the text acts as a metafictional device. By the same token, Vonnegut’s primary concern was the unavoidable consequences of WWII.

It is also about how such things destroy American individuality. More than acting out the author’s abstract voice in a text, the book incorporates it. When the concern for ideology found its way through the technical qualities of a representative text, Billy left his room. He wanders the streets, feeling that everything is normal.

Multi-voiced Perspective

Despite not representing the truth, the normal entities around him become false facades of the reality that surrounds them. For Billy, for example, the Statue of Liberty is fake because it only serves as a model and not a real one. The model with an iconoclastic thermometer of the American Majesty symbol represents Vonnegut’s abstract voice symbolically. In addition, discourse with multiple voices is close to the author’s voice, so it is subject to the aspect of discourse classification or category.

However, the text does not directly bring the author into the game. It plays an important role in determining the author’s position in the text. In such cases, a dual-voiced vision emerges as the text progresses. It presents a textual voice and how the sound begins, with the author’s abstract voice concretizing the fictitious context. Thus, the technique of double-voiced dialogue links the author’s perspective with the textual scenario that Vonnegut describes.

So, all the text-related devices draw out the main narrative voice. Critically, the primary voice of the text serves as the narrative point of view. The narration begins at a certain point in a text, from a multi-voiced narrative perspective, to be sure.

The Cubist Fiction

The voice participates in the narrative to emphasize certain ideologies in cubist fiction. In addition to sound, Slaughterhouse-Five created an informal concept that varies in meaning among people. It differs, however, in that both individuals and groups are involved. In the book, aliens kidnap Billy and take him to a planet called Tralfamadore. He learns about Tralfamadorian life and philosophy when aliens detain him.

Although the concept appealed to both Vonnegut and Billy, both attempted to incorporate it into their philosophy of life. However, the significant differences between the Tralfamadorians and society’s abilities limited their success. Thus, their inability to fully practice foreign doctrines shows the extent to which it is unrealistic to suppose that humans can adopt similar life philosophies.

Simply put, Tralfamadorian philosophy is rooted in the idea that all moments are eternal. Therefore, no one moment is more important than any other, whether bad or good. When the aliens attempt to explain their perceptions of life and time to Billy, the aliens doubt Billy’s ability to understand their higher perspective. They say that all time is equal; therefore, it doesn’t change.

Simply put, it provides neither explanation nor warning. Their capacity to see the fourth dimension enables them to see time as something that exists or does not change. Regardless of one’s efforts to see the fourth dimension, such an achievement is completely impossible for humans.

Tralfamadorian Philosophy

This fact alone limits the ability of Billy and other humans to understand the Tralfamadorian doctrine. On the other hand, the importance of free will on Earth hinders the human acceptance of such philosophies. It completely removes free will. Billy relies on Earthlings’ sense of free will to make decisions at various moments. Despite experiencing random moments, Billy gives up a sense of free will to those who play an important role in Earth’s society.

It is impossible for humans to fully apply the Tralfamadorian philosophy in their lives, let alone without sacrificing free will. However, such sacrifices do not reap the benefits of Earthlings by weighing the value of humans in favor of their free will. At such a moment, Vonnegut uses Tralfamador’s interaction with Billy to highlight the differences. In such a way, he seems to imply that living as an insect trapped in amber creates more constraints than alternatives.

Aspects of Tralfamador’s life philosophy appeal to Vonnegut and Billy. However, their position as earthlings limits their ability to fully practice the philosophy. The Tralfamadorian view prevents humans from easily adopting the doctrine. On the other hand, the human brain makes instinctual associations between emotions and moments. Billy’s connection between his happiest and most unpleasant moments is difficult for him to make out.

The Vision of Reality

The more he hinders the full application of Tralfamadorian philosophy, the more he enters into the idea of a life’s alternative philosophy that Billy does not even recognize. Vonnegut was able to describe an interesting alternative approach, advocating a flexible yet comprehensive view. By promoting the appeal of the Tralfamadorian philosophy, it explains the limitations that humans face in trying to fully adopt such a doctrine of life.

Broadly speaking, Vonnegut stated the reasons why such a view could not be widely practiced by the public. However, he leaves the reader with a multifaceted dilemma. He ponders the advantages versus disadvantages associated with possibly adopting aspects of the Tralfamadorian philosophy into Earth society. Slaughterhouse-Five acts as a recapitulation of modern literature, becoming a reincarnation of critical fiction into modern literature.

In broad terms, the book is a work of fiction that explores the tragic consequences of WWII. It becomes a depiction of reality beyond its specific textual structure, lacking contextuality but imitating earlier literary techniques or styles. In the book, Vonnegut uses a literary experiment on the techniques inherent in it, carried out by changing the point of view of the characters, setting, and narrative.

Depending on the author’s perspective on modern categorical change, such manipulation also produces relatively postmodern visions of reality.


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