The book was written by American humorist Kurt Vonnegut in 1969.
The narrative technique of Slaughterhouse-Five is non-linear, which means that the timeline of the story frequently jumps back and forth in time rather than being told in a chronological order. It is also a combination of third-person and first-person narration.
The story is broken into many sections and told from the characters perspective, Billy Pilgrim who becomes “unstuck in time” and as if tells or remembers the events from his memories through sections. Billy Pilgrim, a traumatized kid and later soldier who fought in WW2.
This sci-fi and fantasy story creates a dreamlike atmosphere in the book, the narrative technique that wants us to mess with the perception of time, which compared to the other novels we read earlier in clas, the The Awakening and The Colour Purple which are told in a chronological and structural way; filled with elements of bitter reality that some may unfortunately relate to and therefore drowns us in the reality of the scenario and pin points us to a specific timeframe. These two novels as readers set us in a harsh-reality, as if making us survive with the main character, keeping us on our toes, yet the Tralfamadorians moral of life in Slaughterhouse 5 suggests us to forget about the sense of time for a moment and look at life as is.
“There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvellous moments seen all at one time” (p.88).
And “one thing earthlings might learn to do if they tried hard enough is ignore all the awful times and focus on the good ones” p.117
And this felt freeing to be honest. For the first time I felt like I had one less of a responsibility to keep track of something “so insignificant” like the aliens say, time.
The sense of freedom leads me to my next point, religion.
Billy does not follow any religion, unlike Celie in the Color Purple, where the book starts with the line “Dear God..”
“Billy wasn’t catholic, yet had a gory crucifix hanging in his room as a child. His father had no religion..” p.38
But we see him later form a prayer on his office wall which expressed his method for keeping going even though he was unenthusiastic about living:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change courage to change the things I can and wisdom always to tell the difference” p.60
God was Celie’s outlet, her companion and friend ever since she was little and taught to only tell God about the darkest secrets while Billy never told anyone about his struggles, never spoke about his pain. This made me think about how many men still refuse or are too scared to be vulnerable and tend to keep it all inside themselves for years. The “a man is supposed to be tough” really speaks out to me as I see close relatives of mine whom I never saw cry and probably never will. We see the earlier traumatic event of Billy’s life when his father taught him how to swim by throwing him in water, causing the poor boy to develop severe anxiety while standing near water like the canyon. And yet this is described as a memory, where even “in Billy’s head” he doesn’t address the situation and never vents,
Celie begins to write to her sister Nettie at one point, when she overthinks her concept of religion. Why is God a man with a white beard in her eyes, why does she feel the need to write to him? And with the help of her lover Shug she is able to obtain those answers. Celie only has one life, and she is not about to waste another year keeping quiet. I found that when Billy learns to put aside the concept of time after his encounter with the aliens, it is as if he also finds the answer, or at least, some comfort in his being now. Travelling back and forth in time as he knows that
“I, Billy Pilgrim, will die, have died, and always will die on February 13, 1976” p141 which he records on a tape and leaves it locked up with some other valuables.
As I continue my journey in life, I find that both approaches suit me; Celie’s determination to live her best life without wasting it on anyone other than her own wellbeing and Billie’s tranquility, as we know that all things come to an end one day.
“So it goes” the famous line Billy says throughout the book, and interestingly enough, the Tralfamadorians use it too. Usually, when a person passes or an unpleasant event occurs that makes us have this uneasy feeling, a pit in our stomach as we wonder how to react to this new information, waiting to see if Billy will react in any way, but his answer to it is a simple “so it goes”. This leaves us room and a sense of independence over our own feelings and how we should react to things like misfortune and even death, which is described many times in Slaughterhouse 5.