by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

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The following paper topics are designed to test your understanding of the book as a whole and analyze important themes and literary devices. Following each question is a sample outline to help you get started.

  • Topic #1
    The argument that the message of Slaughterhouse-Five is to withdraw from the world has occasionally been predicated on the assumption that Vonnegut believes man is essentially evil. What view does Slaughterhouse-Five take of the nature of man—that we are good, evil, or amoral? How does the firebombing of Dresden fit in to your conclusion?

    I. Thesis Statement: Although Slaughterhouse-Five depicts man as naturally good, the military’s code of amorality strips away natural compassion.

    II. Humane actors
    A. Edgar Derby
    B. German civilians
    C. German soldiers at rail yard

    III. Cruel actors
    A. “Rabid” Paul Lazzaro
    B. German soldier at prison camp
    C. Bertram Rumfoord

    IV. Dresden
    A. Residents are sympathetic
    B. Lack of morality in Trout’s The Gutless Wonder
    C. Bombing only possible when sympathy “circuits” are cut

  • Topic #2
    Vonnegut’s characters have been described as flat. Accepting the hypothesis that this is an authorial decision designed to emphasize the ideas of the text, delineate the symbolic roles of three of the lesser characters of Slaughterhouse-Five.

    I. Thesis Statement: Valencia Pilgrim, Edgar Derby, and Bertram Rumfoord each serve primarily symbolic roles within Slaughterhouse-Five.

    II. Valencia
    A. Obsessed with silver pattern when Billy is hospitalized
    B. Makes little attempt to understand her husband
    C. Wants party guests to admire her ring
    D. Symbol of shallowness and materialism in American culture

    III. Edgar Derby
    A. Pulls strings to get into army
    B. Unfailingly kind to everyone
    C. Stands up to Campbell
    D. Gets shot for petty theft
    E. Symbol of good, but mistakenly based patriotism and injustice of war

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