What is the moral or message of Slaughterhouse Five?

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munarriz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Slaughterhouse Five is a novel which defies categorization, yet its universal message is clear: war is destructive and dehumanizing, and it must be avoided at all costs. To begin, the protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, is "unstuck in time." He is suffering from PTSD as a result of his experience in Dresden, Germany. His life goes on after the firebombing, but nothing is the same.

He is unable to be a good husband or father. He believes he travels to the planet of Tralfamadore where he learns about fate and our lack of free will, liberating him from the responsibility to take action. He goes back and forth in time, from the war, to his home town, to the war again and back, never knowing which moment he will experience or re-experience next. Within his science fiction adventures, both a war story and the idea that WW2 was waged by young men is conveyed—it was a "Children's Crusade," as is noted in the subtitle of the novel. We have the warning from Mrs. O'Brien that the book the author is writing should not glorify the war, and the promise that it won't. We have the ironic refrain from Vonnegut himself, "So it goes," which is repeated after every death. And of course, we have the brutality of the firebombing alluded to in the title of the novel, the fact that the war was nearly over and the Allies had little to gain from it, and the carnage it left in its wake.

While Vonnegut does not directly state that war is destructive and dehumanizing, he certainly shows it. We learn that "there is nothing intelligent to be said about a massacre," and we know the only sound heard after the bombing itself is a bird's chirp: "poo tee weet." 

mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Kurt Vonnegut's novel Slaughterhouse Five, his main moral messages are connected to the death of individualism in the midst of the mass suffering and destruction of war.

First, Vonnegut says that war is inevitable.  Stopping a war, or writing an anti-war novel, is like stopping a glacier: it is an exercise in futility.  As a result, humans lose their free will and become victims in the machinery of war, casualties of political ends.

Second, Vonnegut says that soldiers are reduced to children when fighting a war, such is their lack of freedom and passivity.  The subtitle for the books is "The Children's Crusade," a reference to how children used to be sold into war by their leaders.

Third, Vonnegut says that the machinery of war (science and technology) reduce the individual to the role of victim, such is the widespread death and destruction it breeds.

Fourth, Vonnegut says that humans, caught up in the affairs of the state, only see time in a linear fashion, as a series of cause-effect relationships.  In short, they fail to see the big picture, namely the consequences of their actions.

thetall eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are a number of messages that can be obtained from the novel Slaughterhouse Five. One moral message of the story is there is no point attempting to focus on the troubled moments of human history, instead people should concentrate on the happy events. This is because some of these negative experiences have to happen, and it is the choice of mankind to find a way to understand such situations that can’t be changed.

Billy’s knowledge from the Tralfamadorians informs him of true human nature. According to the Tralfamadorians all moments in life must exist and thus there is no point in focusing one's energy on sad situations such as death. They live, passing through the phases, they don’t bother themselves with death, and they basically only live freely within the moments they have.