“Slaughterhouse-Five” PR – The Complexity of Time & War

Slaughterhouse-Five is an anti-war novel written by American humorist, Kurt Vonnegut in 1969. This novel explores the complicated nature of time through its unique narrative technique. I particularly enjoy reading this novel due to the infusion of science fiction elements, such as the presence of extraterrestrial creatures (the Tralfamadorians) and time travel. Although the timeline of the book was confusing in the beginning, as the plot progressed, I was able to make connections between each event. Vonnegut indirectly references and displays the cruelty of war through the lens of our protagonist, Billy Pilgrim. Vonnegut raises the public’s awareness of the cruelty of war and provokes a sense of anti-war sentiment through unique narrative techniques: a combination of third and first-person perspectives, collage, and non-linear narrative.

Vonnegut utilizes a combination of third-person and first-person narration. The whole story, except chapter 1, is written primarily in the third-person perspective. Meanwhile, chapter 10 shows a clear combination of both first and third-person narrations. Chapter 1 is written from Vonnegut’s own perspective which briefly describes his struggles after the war and while writing this book. The rest of the chapters are written from Billy’s perspective. But there are multiple times when Vonnegut jumps out in these chapters to make a connection between his experience and Billy’s. This allows Vonengut to inform the readers that this is part of his experience too. However, this narrative technique raises the question, “To what extent does Billy’s experiences parallel, or perhaps, overlap with Vonnegut’s stories?”

“I was there. So was my old war buddy, Bernard V. O’Hare.” (p. 67)

“Somebody behind him in the boxcar said, ‘Oz.’ That was I. That was me. The only other city I’d ever seen was Indianapolis, Indiana.” (p. 148)

The above quotations are evidence that Vonnegut attempts to insert his presence when portraying Billy’s stories during WWII. This illustrates the subtle, intertwined connection between Vonnegut and Billy’s characters. Also, allows us to assume that Billy’s character and experiences might be, to a great extent, based on Vonnegut’s real-life experience.

Vonnegut also utilizes a collage narrative to highlight wars’ traumatizing effects on the psychological aspect of soldiers. This novel is composed of stories that illustrate Billy’s experiences in various stages of life: before the war (childhood and teenage), during the war, and after the war (his marriage life, optometry clinic, and his experience on Tralfamadore). The inclusion of events from various life stages provides profound insights into Billy’s character arc. We can see how war pushes a teenager to achieve maturity in a short period of time. Billy was once experiencing a normal childhood although he appears to be shy. However, after the war, he becomes introverted and has trouble sharing his feelings openly with others.

“Later on, as a middle-aged optometrist, he would weep quietly and privately sometimes, but never make loud boohooing noises.” (p. 197)

When Billy is middle-aged, he is depicted as reluctant to talk about anything related to the war openly to Valencia and Montana Wildhack. However, it is shown that other characters in the novel never bring up topics related to war easily, constructing a sense that people are seemingly avoiding talking about the negative impacts that war has created on soldiers. This narrative highlights the traumatizing effects that war has on soldiers’ psychology.

Moreover, Vonnegut utilizes a non-linear narrative technique to scramble the chronological order of events, thus, constructing a sense of complexity in the story’s timeline. Billy often comes “unstuck in time”.

“Billy blinked in 1958, traveled in time to 1961.” (p.46)

“Then he swings back into life again, all the way back to an hour after his life was threatened by Lazzaro – in 1945.” (p. 143)

The above quotations show Billy often traveling back and forth in his life experiences. Billy’s ability to time travel makes this novel’s timeline extremely complicated. Billy could be in Dresden but in Tralfamadore the next moment. This shows that Billy, or perhaps, Vonnegut has a vague sense in interpreting time. Thus, emphasizing the main idea valued by the Tralfamadorian: all moments are eternal, they appear to be the past or future because we are not living in them at this current moment. This idea could be interpreted as a “coping mechanism” where Billy consoles himself that no one is actually dead, they are just not in good condition at this moment. Billy’s repetitive mention of this Tralfamadorian accentuates the traumatizing effects that war has on soldiers’ psychology.

Comparing the narrative technique in Slaughterhouse-Five to The Awakening, they are both primarily written in the third narration. However, Chopin only offers a third-person perspective when describing Edna Pontellier’s awakening process. There is a limiting perspective when interpreting Edna’s inner thoughts and feelings because their character arc is primarily described from others’ perspectives. This contradicts with Slaughterhouse-Five where Vonnegut often introduces his own perspectives and association with Billy’s experience. Overall, both novels utilize a third-person narrative, but Vonnegut’s novel is more successful in displaying the protagonist’s emotional depth.

Also comparing Slaughterhouse-Five to The Color Purple, they both incorporate first-person narration. This similarity allows both novels to excel in illustrating the emotional depth and inner thoughts of their protagonists. However, Walker only shows Celie’s perspective at the beginning of the novel. This makes the reader oblivious to other characters’ thoughts and feelings. Also, Walker utilizes a linear narrative to showcase Celie’s character arc. This makes her novel’s timeline comparatively easy to interpret but less intriguing compared to the time-traveling and non-linear narrative in Vonnegut’s novel.

I enjoy reading Slaughterhouse-Five and The Awakening more than The Color Purple. All author displays masterful narrative in their novel, it is a personal preference based on the elements incorporated within the novel. To conclude, Slaughterhouse-Five provides unique perspectives for understanding historical events in WWII outside of history textbooks. It successfully raises anti-war sentiment and awareness of soldiers’ mental health by depicting the cruelty of war through a combination of third and first-person perspectives, collage, and non-linear narrative.

“The Color Purple” PR – Gender Roles & Self-love

The Color Purple is a novel written by Alice Walker in 1982. The epistolary novel is innovative in terms of the story plot, setting, language, and structure. I am intrigued by this novel since I have never read one in a similar format. Walker’s novel displays the racism and injustice that African Americans are constantly facing in the lowest hierarchy in American society. At the same time, criticizes the gender stereotypes and conflict between men and women in the same race. Due to the novel’s unique format, it raised a variety of questions, from societal gender stereotypes, and racism, to personal love life. Walker raises these questions (the desired effects that she produces) mainly by the way she characterizes Celie through unique narrative devices: language and structure in the novel.

Walker characterizes Celie and shows her character arc through the unstandardized and comparatively informal English writing.

“I ast him to take me instead of Nettie while our new mammy sick. But he just ast me what I’m talking about.” (p. 7)

“Us both be hitting Nettie’s schoolbooks pretty hared, cause us know us got to be smart to git away.” (p. 9)

When Celie is writing and speaking in the novel, she often utilizes informal spellings like “ast” and “git” to replace the stardarized spellings “ask” and “get”. These words are a more vivid reflection of Celie’s thoughts and words spoken. Compared to Nettie’s standardized speaking and writing, Celie is comparatively uneducated. As Celie gets impregnated by Mr._ at such a young age, she is forced to drop out of school while Nettie continues her academics. This event marks the first misfortune in Celie’s life and increases our sympathy for Celie. However, Celie’s life does not start getting any better after she is forcefully married to Mr._. She is still facing violent treatment and being disrespected in the new household by Mr._ and his children.

“He say, celie, git the belt. The children be outside the room peeking through the cracks. It all I can do not to cry. I make myself wood. I say to myself, Celie, you a tree. That’s how come I know trees fear man.” (p. 22)

At the beginning of the novel, Celie is a timid little girl who is afraid of speaking up for herself and would only do what the male characters tell her to do. Her self-worth is primarily based on what the male characters think of her. Her existence is also centered on chores within the household. Celie’s first-person narrative of her own experience makes us sympathize with her situation. Her calming voice of reciting her experience and Mr._ demanding tone when speaking to Celie show physical and verbal abuse toward women is normalized in Celie’s family, which is, the epitome of the colored community. It seems that the misfortune that Celie experiences have erased her ability to feel, as a human being. Instead, Celie is merely living as a machine that works and lives for other people. The language that Walker uses in the novel highlights the fixated, normalized societal norm of men dominating the powers in the household while women should be obedient and submissive. However, this stereotypical gender role is not only mentioned from the men’s perspective,

“I’m sick of her too, say Kate, letting out her breath. And you right about Celie, here. Good housekeeper, good with children, good cook. Brother couldn’t have done better if he tried.” (p. 20)

This quote is spoken from Mr._’s sister’s perspective which she compliments Celie because Celie does what people think she should do without questioning. This highlights the fact that stereotypical gender roles are ingrained in both genders’ minds. Women are subconsciously agreeing that they should be constrained by such social conventions. From this, Walker once again raises questions, such as “Does my gender shape the way I am supposed to act?” Also, to explore the possibilities of reversing gender roles in society (which is later explored in Celie’s self-discovery process).

Walker characterizes Celie’s self-discovery and self-love process through the epistolary structure of the novel. In Celie’s “awakening” process, Shug Avery has a catalytic effect on influencing Celie to embrace her own feelings and break off social constraints regarding gender roles.

At the beginning of the novel, Celie only writes and vents her unhappiness to God. As she stated on p.1 of the novel

“You better not ever tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy.” (p.1)

This quotation shows that she does not feel comfortable expressing these feelings to the surrounding people.

“Dear God,

Harpo went and brough Sofia and the baby home. They got married in Sofia sister house.” (p. 33)

In her letters to God, her writings are monotonous, simply recording the events in other people’s lives. This also reflects the fact that Celie does not feel like she has her own life but living for other people.

However, as the plot progresses, she does not write to God as much as she used to. She either expresses her feelings and thoughts to Shug or writes to her sister, Nettie.

“Dear Nettie,

My heart broke.

Shug love sombody else.” (p. 245)

In her letters to Nettie, we can see that she is expressing more human emotions, happiness, sadness, anger, etc. showing that she is not oblivious to the ongoing events surrounding her. She embraces her emotions and pursues her love life. Her braveness allows her to stand up for herself against Mr._, which buys her respect from the men in the family. Since Celie starts fighting for her own life, she gains more control over what she wants to do in her life. Celie’s self-discovery process also fosters reversing the gender role in the family. While Celie is playing a more dominant role in decision-making, men in the family seem to become more submissive and have fewer say. This further leads us to explore and reflect on the possibilities of events that will potentially happen in society when male and females swap their fixated roles. Walker gradually induces more perspective in the letter writings (from solely Celie’s perspective to incorporating both Celie and Nettie’s perspectives) is a brilliant way to display the “awakening” process of Celie. Walker also induces Shug Avery’s contemporary views in lots of aspects of life:

“Naw, she say. God made it. Listen, God love everything you love-and a mess of stuff you don’t. But more than anything else, God love admiration.” (p. 195)

This quotation spoken by Shug Avery has consoled Celie’s conflicted mind while Celie is trying to discover her self-worth and interests in life. Shug’s presence has a positive influence on Celie’s character development. In letters written by Celie, Walker is able to show the importance of self-love through the influence of Shug’s words and actions on Celie.

I have to admit that I found the book quite dull and monotonous in the beginning. However, the book gets better as it progresses. I especially enjoy the part where Celie rediscovers her self-worth is not primarily based on how the male character perceives her, but rather, based on how she perceives herself. Celie’s optimistic character allows her to love people unconditionally after all these life-long traumas. This inspires me to always be my true self and embrace my emotions. Just as Shug Avery says:

“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somwhere and don’t notice it.” (p. 195)

This novel will forever serve as a reminder for me to be optimistic and appreciate the serendipity in my life.

“The Awakening” PR – Prejudices & Constraints

The Awakening is a novel written by Kate Chopin in 1899. I particularly enjoy reading this novel. Edna Pontellier’s awakening and self-discovery process from her own perspective is indeed intoxicating and enlightening. I also admire Chopin’s courage to criticize such a conventional society. Though first I have to admit, I thought the story is going to have a happy ending. I have not, in any way, expected the ending of the story. Due to the complexity of the character’s personalities and plots, the reading process raises a lot of questions related to societal constraints, gender stereotypes, and love. Commenting on the story plot, the story is sophisticated. The authorial choices are brilliant in terms of summarizing and infiltrating Chopin’s personal opinions in the plots. Every single detail that Chopin has written matters and contributes greatly to Edna’s coming-of-age.

Love is one of the main issues explored in this novel. The relationship between Edna and Robert Lebrun is one main factor that propels and perhaps, initiates Edna’s desire to awaken. Moreover, to pursue what she truly wants deep inside after living and sleeping in the dream that society sets for women. Edna’s emotions are complicated, and so are the other characters. Their emotions are always contradicting, which confuses me sometimes. I could neither figure out what is their ultimate intention for carrying out specific events nor answer the question “What is love?”. Robert’s inconsistently leaving Edna is a great example. Mademoiselle Reisz is the one who guides and accompanies Edna during her awakening. Also, the one who points out the reason for Robert repetitively leaving her is because he loves her. It seems to me, if you truly love a person, you would do anything to protect her, be together with her, and not hurt her feelings. There are some phrases that indicate Robert’s romantic feelings toward her through his body language and facial expression. But does Robert truly loves Edna?

“The house was empty. But he had scrawled on a piece of paper that lay in the lamplight: ‘I love you. Good-by —- because I love you.'” (p. 133)

This quote shows the last time Edna sees Robert before she commits suicide. Robert is leaving Edna again even after Edna has expressed to him that the idea of him leaving again and again is making her suffer and depressed. Robert does not accompany Edna when she is depressed and needs him the most. Instead, leaving to escape his feelings every time. Robert is the one male character that interacts most with Edna. He has way more intimate communication with Edna than Léonce Pontellier and Alcée Arobin do. So, if he understood his leaving has hurt Edna’s feelings over and over again, why would he keep leaving and breaking her heart? This action shows he cares about society’s impression of him more than his desire to be with Edna. Robert is practicing this desperate action to save his appearance and reputation. Since he does not want to give the impressions that Arobin gives (Arobin always flirts and seduces married women, so he has a bad reputation). He would rather choose his reputation over Edna. So, if Robert truly loves her, he would have embraced her identity as Léonce Pontellier’s wife and stayed with her.


Societal constraints and gender stereotypes are interrelated in Edna’s awakening process. These two factors are interrelated and raise a lot of questions, for example, “Is Edna a bad person? A bad wife? A bad mother?” and “What obligations do parents have to their children?”.

“‘The trouble is,’ sighed the Doctor, grasping her meaning intuitively, ‘that youth is give up to illusions. It seems to be a provision of nature; a decoy to secure mothers for the race. And Nature takes no account of moral consequences, of arbitrary conditions which we create, and which we feel obliged to maintain at any cost.'”(p. 132)

This quote is spoken by Doctor Mandelet. The 19th century was a patriarchal society that was dominated by men’s privileges while women have no rights. Most men in that society only care about their personal interests and simply treat women as their business possessions. So, it confuses me how a male doctor is able to successfully summarize Edna’s perspective. Other than that, it shows Edna does not understand why women must follow the constraints set by society. The societal constraints are greatly related to gender stereotypes. Since the 19th century hopes people to obligate to the arbitrary moral standard that society creates without questioning it. And the moral standard for women is to be good wives and mothers to take care of the family because according to Mr. Pontellier,

“If it was not a mother’s place to look after children, whose on earth was it?” (p. 6)

This quote shows that society has normalized and set a particular type of “job” that each gender should be responsible for within a family. This societal constraint is set by men’s prejudices toward women. Men think that women are unable of doing anything, except take care of the family. Edna does a good job in terms of pleasing and serving her husband, and family. So, this shows Edna is a good wife. During the awakening, Edna prefers to be alone and away from her family. But that doesn’t mean she is a bad mother because she still goes to visit her children in Iberville and replies to their letters cheerfully.

“‘I would give up the unessential; I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn’t give myself.'” (p. 56)

In this quote, Edna states that she would give up all things for her children, except her freedom. Her unwillingness of giving up her freedom does not make her a bad mother. Although she has obligations to take care of her children, she attempts to find the balance point between having alone time and spending time with her children.

Overall, I have reflected on how society’s views have changed toward the above societal issues in the past two centuries. The 21st century is comparatively less constrained, conventional, and more open. Though, some people are still affected by those issues because they still exist nowadays. One thing I greatly admire is Chopin’s courage to freely express herself and set standards for a new women’s generation.  In the novel, Edna’s courage to pursue what she wants even under tons of social constraints greatly encourages me to pursue what I value and allows me to speak for myself more often.