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What happens when Billy sees the movie going backwards in Slaughterhouse-Five?

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erica91 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted April 27, 2010 at 4:02 AM via web

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What happens when Billy sees the movie going backwards in Slaughterhouse-Five?

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erica91 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted April 27, 2010 at 4:15 AM (Answer #1)

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Vonnegut is constanly leavng his main narrative in order to briefly tell someone else's story, a story that generally ends in death. These digressions from the main story end with his mantra''so it goes.'' What do you think is Vonnegut's reason for these digressions? What do you think of the mantra ''so it goes.''

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e-martin | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted June 15, 2013 at 4:23 PM (Answer #2)

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Watching the war films in reverse, Billy Pilgrim sees war as restorative and peaceful. The film's action, going backwards, becomes truly inverted. Instead of planes shooting each other they suck bullets out of one another. Instead of dropping bombs to destroy cities, planes suck the bombs into their cargo chambers and make the cities safe. 

The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes.… The steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals … [which] were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again.
This passage demonstrates at least two things. First, the nature of warfare is subtly explored. War is seen to be mechanical and rather blindly destructive. The machines of war are shown to be products of a military-industrial system, "manned" by automatons. The violence of war is given a plain-spoken, factual treatment (albeit in reverse). Second, the role of perspective is emphasized. 
 
Perspective is a major thematic element of the novel. Here we see an implied statement that if only we could look at war differently, we may be able to avoid its horrors. If we could see the mechanisms of war clearly, perhaps we could assert our humanity against its machines. These concepts are only implicit, but are clearly present in the passage and can be found elsewhere in the novel as well. 

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