The Plot

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Slaughterhouse-Five: Or, The Children’s Crusade, A Duty-Dance with Death is a framed narrative in which Kurt Vonnegut himself appears in the first and last chapters, explaining how and why he wrote the novel. He also pops up occasionally in the action itself, because he was—like his protagonist Billy Pilgrim, as he tells readers in the frame chapters—a prisoner of war in Dresden, Germany, when Allied bombers incinerated the city on February 13, 1945.

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The novel proper opens in 1944, when Billy, a chaplain’s assistant and inept foot soldier, is captured by the Germans. He and his fellow prisoners of war are taken by railroad boxcar to Dresden as forced laborers. Housed in a slaughterhouse bunker below the city streets, Billy is one of the only survivors when the city of Dresden is destroyed by incendiary bombs dropped in a ring around the ancient city, causing fires to burn toward its center. Billy emerges from the slaughterhouse to witness a moonscape.

The novel hardly moves in such a straight line; its structure rather mirrors Billy’s time travel. Chapter 2 opens with Billy coming “unstuck in time,” and thereafter the novel moves jerkily among its three plots: the story of Billy’s life, before and after the war; the bombing of Dresden; and life on Tralfamadore, a planet to which Billy was carried in 1967.

With the exception of World War II, Billy’s life is quite bland. Born in 1922 and drafted in 1940, after the war Billy marries the daughter of the founder of the Ilium School of Optometry he attends. He becomes a wealthy and conservative optometrist living in upstate New York. His imaginary life is much richer: Not only is he able to travel back and forth in time, but he claims he was kidnapped on the night of his daughter’s wedding and taken to a zoo on the planet Tralfamadore, where he and the voluptuous film star Montana Wildhack are representatives of the earthling species on view.

In 1968, Billy is the only survivor of the crash of a chartered flight of optometrists headed for a convention. His wife, Valencia, is killed in her car rushing to visit Billy in the hospital. Soon after these tragedies, Billy starts to write letters to the newspaper and appears on an all-night radio show in New York City detailing his interplanetary and time-travel experiences. His life will end, he claims, when one of his fellow prisoners of war, Paul Lazzaro, assassinates him, in the future of 1976. His life story ends in the novel, however, on the planet Tralfamadore with his beautiful lover Montana Wildhack nursing their new baby.

Slaughterhouse-Five

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The Work

Slaughterhouse-Five: Or, The Children’s Crusade, A Duty Dance with Death, highlights Billy Pilgrim, who, like Vonnegut, survived the firebombing of Dresden, Germany, by finding refuge in a meat locker under the slaughterhouse where he was employed as a prisoner of war. After the war, Pilgrim marries and becomes a successful optometrist in Ilium, New York; however, he cannot escape the horror and atrocity of war. Believing himself to be “unstuck in time,” Billy alternates among his memories of World War II, his life as a civilian in a world grown desensitized to violence and brutality, and a rich fantasy life on the planet Tralfamadore. On display in a Tralfamadorian zoo, Billy is mated with an Earthling named Montana Wildhack, a pornographic film star with whom, unlike with his real-life wife, Billy can share his memories of Dresden. While reliving his war experiences, Billy meets Roland Weary, a cruel and sadistic foot soldier who glorifies in the gruesome aspects of war and an ironic perception of himself as heroic, and Edgar Derby, a high school teacher who volunteered his service because he believed in the nobility of the Allied cause. Vonnegut’s brilliant characterization further adds to his picture of war as a brutal, dehumanizing force.

Impact

When Vonnegut dramatized his World War II experiences, including the February 13, 1945, firebombing of Dresden, then a cultural haven, by the Allied forces, he spoke to a nation torn, outraged, and struggling with its involvement in the Vietnam War. In chapters 1 and 10, Vonnegut directly addresses the reader and echoes the rallying cry of college students across the nation; he reminds us that nothing sensible can be made of war, no revelation, no absolution, nothing to further the evolution of humans. By presenting us with Billy Pilgrim, a man incapable of passion and who can no longer embrace life’s trivial joys or sorrows, Vonnegut mourns the annihilation of the human spirit by the brutal mechanisms of war. An instant success, Slaughterhouse-Five was praised by The New York Times and Time and Life magazines, forcing literary critics to reevaluate Vonnegut’s five earlier novels. While Vonnegut was signing contracts with the film industry, students all across the United States were touting the novel as evidence that U.S. involvement in Vietnam could result in nothing but senseless brutality, slaughter, and the ultimate death of hope or salvation.

Related Work

Slaughterhouse-Five, the 1972 film written by Stephen Geller, directed by George Roy Hill, and starring Michael Sacks as Billy Pilgrim, provides a Hollywood version of the novel.

Bibliography

Giannone, Richard. Vonnegut: A Preface to His Novels. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1977. Astute reading of Slaughterhouse-Five, marking the biblical references and Vonnegut’s personal testimony. Devotes similar attention to other novels by Vonnegut.

Klinkowitz, Jerome. Kurt Vonnegut. New York: Methuen, 1982. Explains Slaughterhouse-Five as one of Vonnegut’s “personal” novels, as opposed to the earlier ones that adhere to the stricter forms of science fiction. Draws correlations among the Vonnegut novels.

Klinkowitz, Jerome. Slaughterhouse-Five: Reforming the Novel and the World. Boston: Twayne, 1990. A complete study of the novel. Criticism is taken from sources that reviewed Slaughterhouse-Five when it was published. Numerous passages of Slaughterhouse-Five are explained in depth, as well as Vonnegut’s philosophy as it was seen by the reviewers of his time.

Mayo, Clark. Kurt Vonnegut: The Gospel from Outer Space (or, Yes We Have No Nirvanas). San Bernardino, Calif.: Borgo Press, 1977. A short book with considerable insights into Slaughterhouse-Five and other novels by Vonnegut. The wit, sarcasm, and style of Vonnegut is prominent in the writing of this text.

Schatt, Stanley. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Boston: Twayne, 1976. Explores the construction, plot, and structure of Slaughterhouse-Five and considers Vonnegut’s sense of aesthetic distance from the work. Chapters include the contribution of Slaughterhouse-Five to the genre of science fiction and the Tralfamadorian philosophy.

Places Discussed

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*Cape Cod

*Cape Cod. Massachusetts setting of the novel’s present-time autobiographical frame in the first and last chapters, Cape Cod is where author Kurt Vonnegut lived while writing the novel during the 1960’s.

Ilium

Ilium. Fictional New York city where the main action unfolds. Modeled on New York’s upstate city of Schenectady, where Vonnegut once worked for General Electric, Ilium (after the Greek name for ancient Troy) is the place where protagonist Billy Pilgrim grows up, returns after serving in World War II, marries the daughter of the founder of his optometry college, and has a successful career as an optometrist.

The novel’s present-day setting of the late 1960’s is heavily middle-class and suburban and, in Vonnegut’s satirical prose, is revealed to be empty of such important American values as compassion and diversity. The novel’s loose plot turns on Billy’s waning enthusiasm for living. His sudden and inexplicable weeping episodes suggest that he is a victim of delayed stress syndrome, due to his horrific wartime experiences. His stress is manifested by his claim that in 1944 he became “unstuck in time.” Since then, he has traveled back and forth throughout time and interstellar space.

Vonnegut’s frame makes clear that the novel’s larger meaning applies to the late 1960’s, when Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were assassinated, riots were tearing cities apart, “and every day my Government gives me a count of corpses created by military science in Vietnam.” Scenes set in Ilium—such as Billy’s speaking at the Lions Club or driving through a black ghetto in his Cadillac with the windows rolled up tight—reveal an American city whose leading citizens seem oblivious to the country’s real problems.

*Dresden

*Dresden. German city destroyed by Allied bombing toward the end of World War II. The novel’s most intense action takes place during the war, in which Billy is captured by Germans and taken to Dresden and housed with other American prisoners in an abandoned slaughterhouse (which gives the novel its title)—a real place in which Vonnegut himself had been kept as a prisoner of war. While the city is leveled by an Allied firebomb attack that kills 135,000 inhabitants, both the prisoners and their guards are safely sheltered in a deep underground meat locker, which is “hollowed in living rock under the slaughterhouse.” The novel ends with Billy being freed. While the setting is the historical Germany of World War II, its action is clearly meant to remind readers of the war in Vietnam, where U.S. forces rained napalm firebombs on suspected enemies during the late 1960’s.

Tralfamadore

Tralfamadore (trahl-fahm-ah-DOHR). Imaginary distant planet that provides a setting for this and other Vonnegut novels. On the night of his daughter’s wedding in 1967, Billy is kidnapped by aliens and flown on a flying saucer to Tralfamadore. He is not missed on Earth, he explains, because the Tralfamadorians take him through a time warp that permits him to spend years on their planet, while being away from Earth “for only a microsecond.”

In contrast to his bland suburban life in Ilium and his horrific experiences in Dresden, Billy’s life on Tralfamadore is pleasant. The Tralfamadorians display him naked in a zoo they have built for him, and there he lives contentedly with another earthling, beautiful film star Montana Wildhack. On Tralfamadore Billy learns that “all moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist.” This relativistic philosophy apparently allows him to live perpetually in the present. His uncontrollable weeping, however, suggests that something is amiss beneath his surface. Perhaps the controlled “zoo” setting and human free will—which Tralfamadorians say is a notion that exists only on Earth—are incompatible.

Historical Context

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The Firebombing of Dresden
The most important historical event which informs Slaughterhouse-Five took place almost a quarter of a century before the novel was published. On February 13 and 14, 1945, allied aircraft dropped incendiary bombs on the German city of Dresden—a so-called ‘‘open city’’ with no significant military targets. The bombing raid created a firestorm that destroyed the city and killed an estimated 135,000 people, almost all of them civilians. This was nearly twice the number of people killed by the first atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The Dresden bombing remains the single heaviest air strike in military history. The raid remains controversial to this day, as many historians have suggested that the raid served no real military purpose and did nothing to hasten Germany's defeat. Approximately one hundred American prisoners of war, captured at the Battle of the Bulge, were in Dresden during the bombing. Vonnegut was one of them.

The Vietnam War
The war between communist North Vietnam and non-communist South Vietnam began in 1954 and ended in 1975 with a North Vietnamese victory and the reunification of Vietnam under communist rule. This same time period also covered most of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, a political conflict which led to the United States entering the Vietnam War on the side of South Vietnam. The year before Vonnegut's novel was published, 1968, saw the American presence in Vietnam peak at 543,000 troops. As American involvement increased, so did opposition to the war among Americans. By 1969, a sitting President, Lyndon Johnson, had chosen not to run for reelection because of his role in prosecuting the war. Also, antiwar sentiment had taken the form of mass demonstrations and the migration of thousands of young American men to Canada, Sweden, and other countries in order to avoid the draft.

Although Vonnegut's novel is centered on events which took place in the 1940s during World War II, it is very much a product of the Vietnam era. Vonnegut even makes direct references to Vietnam in Chapter Three, when Billy Pilgrim, in 1967, listens to a speech by a Marine urging increased bombing of North Vietnam. And in Chapter Ten Vonnegut refers to the 1968 assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy while observing that ‘‘every day my Government gives me a count of corpses created by military science in Vietnam.’’ It is perhaps no surprise that a novel which faced head-on the horrors of war, as well as American responsibility for some of those horrors, struck a chord with the reading public at a time when many Americans were beginning to think their country had made a terrible mistake.

The UFO Phenomenon
An important element of Slaughterhouse-Five is Billy Pilgrim's abduction by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. In the 1990s, ‘‘alien abduction’’ has become a well-recognized cultural myth, as countless individuals claim to have been abducted by aliens from outer space. Public speculation about UFOs (Unidentified Flying Objects) and the possibility of life on other planets is at an all-time high, fueled by both popular entertainment (television shows such as Star Trek and The X-Files, movies such as E.T. and Independence Day), scientific discoveries (the identification of planets outside our solar system), and news events (the Heaven's Gate mass suicides of 1997).

Although Vonnegut's novel predates the current wave of popular awareness of UFOs, the phenomenon was already well-documented when Slaughterhouse-Five appeared in 1969. Beginning in 1947, reports of UFOs came in waves from all over the world. Between 1965 and 1967, the U.S. Air Force received almost three thousand reports of UFO sightings. In 1966, there was even a congressional hearing on the subject, and the Air Force appointed scientist Edward U. Condon to investigate the matter. Condon's conclusion—that there was ‘‘no direct evidence whatever’’ that UFOs were in fact extraterrestrial spacecraft—was the subject of great controversy.

Science Fiction
Slaughterhouse-Five is, among other things, a science fiction novel, and it is also a novel with a strong awareness of the history of science fiction. Vonnegut began his writing career labeled as a science fiction writer, a classification he never fully escaped until the 1960s. In its use of the alien Tralfamadorians, his novel shows a keen awareness of the staples of both written ‘‘pulp’’ science fiction of the 1930s and 1940s and the popular movies of the 1950s. The character of Kilgore Trout is especially interesting in this regard. Some critics have seen Trout—a visionary writer doomed to poverty and obscurity because of his work in a literary genre considered to be inferior to ‘‘real’’ literature—as a projection of Vonnegut's own fears of how he might have wound up if he had not escaped the ‘‘science fiction’’ label. Others have suggested that Trout is modeled on actual science fiction writers of the 1950s, especially Philip K. Dick and Theodore Sturgeon.

Setting

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For many years categorized strictly as a writer of science fiction, Vonnegut has a propensity for mixing the ordinary and the otherworldly in his fiction. Structured in "the telegraphic schizophrenic manner of tales of the planet Tralfamadore," Slaughterhouse-Five jumps backward and forward in time, and back and forth across the universe in setting. Snippets of events, seemingly unconnected either chronologically or geographically, follow one another; Vonnegut suggests that the cataclysmic devastation of modern warfare has deadened human sensitivity and that modem technology has outstripped the reach of human comprehension. The novel follows Billy Pilgrim, who "has come unstuck in time," to the battlefields of World War II, the slaughterhouses of Dresden, the suburban comforts of Ilium (modeled after Schenectady), and the zoos of distant Tralfamadore. In an age when progress frequently means destruction, the Tralfamadorian concept of time—which, essentially, states that all moments exist and always have existed, all at once—seems the only antidote to a maddening sense of helplessness.

Literary Style

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Structure
Perhaps the most notable aspect of Slaughterhouse-Five's technique is its unusual structure. The novel's protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, has come ‘‘unstuck in time’’; at any point in his life, he may find himself suddenly at another point in his past or future. Billy's time travel begins early on during the major experience of his life—his capture by German soldiers during World War II and subsequent witnessing of the Allied firebombing of Dresden, Germany. Both the centrality of this event and its radically alienating effect on the rest of Billy's life are represented by the novel's structure. Billy's experiences as a prisoner of war are told in more or less chronological order, but these events are continually interrupted by Billy's travels to various other times in his life, both past and future. In this way, the novel's structure highlights both the centrality of Billy's war experiences to his life, as well as the profound dislocation and alienation he feels after the war.

Point of View
Another unusual aspect of Slaughterhouse-Five is its use of point of view. Rather than employing a conventional third-person ‘‘narrative voice,’’ the novel is narrated by the author himself. The first chapter consists of Vonnegut discussing the difficulties he had in writing the novel, and Vonnegut himself appears onstage as a character several times later in the novel. Instead of obscuring the autobiographical elements of the novel, Vonnegut makes them explicit; instead of presenting his novel as a self-contained creative work, he makes it clear that it is an imperfect and incomplete attempt to come to terms with an overwhelming event. In a sentence directed to his publisher, Vonnegut says of the novel, ‘‘It is so short and jumbled and jangled, Sam, because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre.’’

Symbolism
Slaughterhouse-Five is, among other things, a work of science fiction. As such, both Billy Pilgrim's travels through time and his abduction by aliens are presented as literal events. However, as in the best science fiction, these literal events also have symbolic significance. Billy's being ‘‘unstuck in time’’ is both a literal event and a metaphor for the sense of profound dislocation and alienation felt by the survivors of war, while the aliens from the planet Tralfamadore provide a vehicle for Vonnegut's speculations on fate and free will.

Style
Style—the way an author arranges his or her words, sentences, and paragraphs into prose—is one of the most difficult aspects of literature to analyze. However, it should be noted that Slaughterhouse-Five is written in a very distinctive style. In describing overwhelming, horrible, and often inexplicable events, Vonnegut deliberately uses a very simple, straightforward prose style. He often describes complex events in the language one might use to explain something to a child, as in this description of Billy Pilgrim being marched to a German prison camp:

A motion-picture camera was set up at the border—to record the fabulous victory. Two civilians in bearskin coats were leaning on the camera when Billy and Weary came by. They had run out of film hours ago.

One of them singled out Billy's face for a moment, then focused at infinity again. There was a tiny plume of smoke at infinity. There was a battle there. People were dying there. So it goes.

In writing this way, Vonnegut forces the reader to confront the fundamental horror and absurdity of war head-on, with no embellishments, as if his readers were seeing it clearly for the first time.

Black Humor
Black humor refers to an author's deliberate use of humor in describing what would ordinarily be considered a situation too violent, grim, or tragic to laugh at. In so doing, the author is able to convey not merely the tragedy but also the absurdity of an event. Vonnegut uses black humor throughout Slaughterhouse-Five, both in small details (the description of the half-crazed Billy Pilgrim, after the Battle of the Bulge, as a ‘‘filthy flamingo’’) and in larger plot elements (Billy's attempts to publicize his encounters with the Tralfamadorians), to reinforce the idea that the horrors of war are not only tragic, but inexplicable and absurd.

Literary Qualities

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Vonnegut's title page statement that Slaughterhouse-Five is written in a "telegraphic schizophrenic manner" is a fairly accurate description of the novel's stylistic approach. Drawing on the literary devices of "flashback" and "flash-forward," Vonnegut ignores the restrictions of linear time and fixed space to fashion a novel that, despite its sometimes extraterrestrial setting, displays less affinity with science fiction than it does with psychological drama. Vonnegut, the writer-narrator, moves freely through narrative time, mixing descriptions of historic Dresden and his personal wartime experiences with Tralfamadorian fantasy and characters from his earlier fiction. Playing Tralfamadorian time against sequential Earth time allows Vonnegut to establish the psychic disorder of both Billy and the society that has produced him.

Vonnegut denies being a science fiction writer, and some critics have argued that Slaughterhouse-Five is a novel of "science reality" rather than science fiction. Vonnegut describes a world in which technology has rendered an event such as the annihilation of 135,000 people both possible and almost beneath notice. Although Slaughterhouse-Five does not fit neatly into any one genre, it stakes a place for itself in the literary canon with a combination of startling originality and thought-provoking literary allusion. Billy Pilgrim's name implies a connection to John Bunyan's seventeenth-century allegory, Pilgrim's Progress. Like Bunyan's Christian explorer, Billy is exposed to the evils of the world, but unlike Bunyan's pilgrim, Billy is not supported by the vision of a Celestial City at the end of the journey. Instead, he envisions the moment of his own death. Vonnegut's adaptation of this famous Christian allegory, combined with his ironic references to the ill-fated Children's Crusade, clearly indicates his belief that modern religion has failed humankind. As for the novel's protagonist, it is unclear whether Billy has really become "unstuck in time," or whether, like so many madmen in literature before him, he has merely denied reality and has thereby released himself from the horrors of his world.

Social Sensitivity

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The 1960s produced a string of novels of the absurd that reflect the bleakness of a time when unabated optimism was checked by the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968. By the end of the decade, the Vietnam War had reached its height, and the mood of the country had sunk to one of abject pessimism. Many people believed that society had gone berserk and that a few world leaders exercised control over the destiny of millions. Vonnegut's expressed theme in Slaughterhouse-Five is the madness of war. In his novel he uses the senseless bombing of Dresden as the symbol of such madness, but he has stated that his purpose in writing the novel was to make Americans more aware of the absurdity of the Vietnam War. Vonnegut consciously wanted to avoid writing a novel that glamorized the brutality of war and thus, as the subtitle suggests, portrays war as fought by young and uncomprehending innocents.

Although Slaughterhouse-Five remains an enormously popular novel some two decades after its publication, it has not been without its critics. Some readers are offended by the book's black humor and irreverent attitude, and charge that Vonnegut's view of life is so slanted by his personal experiences that he is incapable of serving as a legitimate social critic. Vonnegut uses vulgar slang, but before condemning Vonnegut's books parents and teachers should note that the vulgarity serves the stylistic purpose of interjecting humor and flippancy into discussions of dark situations.

Compare and Contrast

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  • 1940s: World War II was a decisive victory for the United States and its allies and was widely supported by Americans. Americans’ knowledge of the war came from delayed accounts in newspapers, on radio, and in newsreels shown in movie theaters. By the end of the war, the United States was the top military and economic power in the world.

    1960s: American involvement in the Vietnam War eventually lost the support of most citizens, perhaps in part because of extensive television news coverage, which brought the realities of war into American living rooms. The war concluded in 1975 with the United States withdrawing from Vietnam—the only war America ever lost. While still the ‘‘leader of the free world,’’ the Vietnam War deals a strong blow to American prestige around the world.

    Today: The United States most recent military conflict, the Persian Gulf War against Iraq, was an overwhelming victory, in part because of American determination to avoid ‘‘another Vietnam.’’ The war enjoyed widespread support among Americans. However, media coverage was carefully controlled by the military. Although the end of the Cold War after the collapse of the Soviet Union left America as the only true ‘‘superpower,’’ its economic supremacy is being challenged by countries like Japan, China, and Germany. There is a reluctance within the U.S. government and the populace to commit U.S. troops to military conflicts overseas.

  • 1940s: Before the first wave of UFO sightings begins in 1947, popular awareness of ‘‘aliens from outer space’’ was mostly confined to the readers of pulp science fiction magazines.

    1960s: The U.S. Air Force reports almost three thousand UFO sightings between 1965 and 1967; congressional hearings on the issue are held in 1966. The science fiction movies of the 1950s and 1960s, television shows such as Star Trek and The Invaders, and the American space program all dramatically increase public awareness of the possibility of life on other planets.

    Today: Claims of ‘‘alien abductions’’ become almost commonplace. Popular television shows and movies, such as The X-Files and Independence Day, and extraordinary public events, such as the Heaven's Gate mass suicide, in 1997, bring public awareness of the UFO phenomenon to an all-time high. The first planets outside the solar system have been discovered, and scientists, led by such astronomers as the late Carl Sagan, now seriously speculate about the possibilities of life on other planets.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Sources
Allen, William Rodney. Understanding Kurt Vonnegut. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1991.

Aldiss, Brian, with David Wingrove. Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction. Victor Gollancz, 1986.

Broer, Lawrence R. Sanity Plea: Schizophrenia in the Novels of Kurt Vonnegut. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1994 (1989).

Clareson, Thomas D. Understanding Contemporary American Science Fiction: The Formative Period (1926-1970). University of South Carolina Press, 1990.

Crichton, J. Michael. Review of Slaughterhouse-Five, in New Republic, April 26, 1969.

Giannone, Richard. Vonnegut: A Preface to His Novels. Kennikat Press, 1977, pp. 82-97.

Hicks, Granville. ‘‘Literary Horizons,’’ in Saturday Review, March 29, 1969, p. 25.

Klinkowitz, Jerome. Kurt Vonnegut. Methuen, 1982, pp. 63-69.

---. ‘‘Slaughterhouse Five’’: Reforming the Novel and the World. Twayne, 1990.

Klinkowitz, Jerome, and John Somer, eds. The Vonnegut Statement. New York: Delacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence, 1973.

Klinkowitz, Jerome, and Donald L. Lawler, eds. Vonnegut in America: An Introduction to the Life and Work of Kurt Vonnegut. Delacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence, 1977.

Loeb, Monica. Vonnegut’s Duty-Dance with Death: Theme and Structure in ‘‘Slaughterhouse-Five.’’ Sweden: Umea Universitets bibliotek, 1979.

Lundquist, James. Kurt Vonnegut. Frederick Ungar, 1977, pp. 69-84.

Merrill, Robert, ed. Critical Essays on Kurt Vonnegut. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1989.

Mustazza, Leonard, ed. The Critical Response to Kurt Vonnegut. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1994.

Schatt, Stanley. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Boston: Twayne, 1976.

Scholes, Robert. Review of Slaughterhouse-Five, in New York Times Book Review, April 6, 1969, pp. 1, 23.

Tanner, Tony. City of Words. Harper & Row, 1971, pp. 194-201.

Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five. New York: Delacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence, 1969.

Further Reading
Mayo, Clark. Kurt Vonnegut: The Gospel from Outer Space; or, Yes We Have No Nirvanas. Borgo Press, 1977, pp. 45-52. Discusses Slaughterhouse-Five as a response to ‘‘the horror and absurdity of war’’ with emphasis on the novel’s unconventional structure.

Mustazza, Leonard. Forever Pursuing Genesis: The Myth of Eden in the Novels of Kurt Vonnegut. Bucknell University Press, 1990, pp. 102-15. Discusses Slaughterhouse-Five in terms of Billy Pilgrim’s attempts ‘‘to construct for himself an Edenic experience’’ and the ‘‘linkage between Eden and Tralfamadore.’’

Reed, Peter J. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Crowell, 1972, pp. 172-203. Discusses Slaughterhouse-Five as ‘‘an effort to bring together all that Vonnegut has been saying about the human condition and contemporary American society.’’ Reed calls the novel ‘‘remarkably successful’’ and ‘‘one of Vonnegut's best.’’

Schatt, Stanley. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. G. K. Hall, 1976, pp. 81-96. A detailed summary and critique of the novel. The book also contains an extensive bibliography of critical works on Vonnegut.

Bibliography

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Giannone, Richard. Vonnegut: A Preface to His Novels. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1977. Astute reading of Slaughterhouse-Five, marking the biblical references and Vonnegut’s personal testimony. Devotes similar attention to other novels by Vonnegut.

Klinkowitz, Jerome. Kurt Vonnegut. New York: Methuen, 1982. Explains Slaughterhouse-Five as one of Vonnegut’s “personal” novels, as opposed to the earlier ones that adhere to the stricter forms of science fiction. Draws correlations among the Vonnegut novels.

Klinkowitz, Jerome. Slaughterhouse-Five: Reforming the Novel and the World. Boston: Twayne, 1990. A complete study of the novel. Criticism is taken from sources that reviewed Slaughterhouse-Five when it was published. Numerous passages of Slaughterhouse-Five are explained in depth, as well as Vonnegut’s philosophy as it was seen by the reviewers of his time.

Mayo, Clark. Kurt Vonnegut: The Gospel from Outer Space (or, Yes We Have No Nirvanas). San Bernardino, Calif.: Borgo Press, 1977. A short book with considerable insights into Slaughterhouse-Five and other novels by Vonnegut. The wit, sarcasm, and style of Vonnegut is prominent in the writing of this text.

Schatt, Stanley. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Boston: Twayne, 1976. Explores the construction, plot, and structure of Slaughterhouse-Five and considers Vonnegut’s sense of aesthetic distance from the work. Chapters include the contribution of Slaughterhouse-Five to the genre of science fiction and the Tralfamadorian philosophy.

Media Adaptations

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  • Slaughterhouse-Five was adapted for the screen by writer Stephen Geller and director George Roy Hill in 1972. The film stars Michael Sacks as Billy Pilgrim, Ron Leibman as Paul Lazzaro, and Valerie Perrine as Montana Wildhack. Available on MCA/Universal Home Video.
  • The novel is also available in abridged form as a sound recording, read by the author, on Harper Audio, 1994.

For Further Reference

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Giannone, Richard. Vonnegut: A Preface to His Novels. Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1977. Analyzes Vonnegut's novels, concentrating on his development as an artist.
Goldsmith, David H. Kurt Vonnegut: Fantasies of Fire and Ice. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1972. Examines visions of the Apocalypse in Vonnegut's writing.

Klinkowitz, Jerome. The Literary Character of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr." Modern Fiction Studies (Spring 1973): 57-67. Analyzes incidents and characters in Slaughterhouse-Five and shows how they are based on events from Vonnegut's life.

Vonnegut. London: Methuen, 1982. Surveys nine of Vonnegut's novels, emphasizing their relation to American culture.

Klinkowitz, Jerome, and John Somer, eds. The Vonnegut Statement. New York: Delacorte, 1973. Collection of essays that analyze Vonnegut's popularity.

Lundquist, James. Kurt Vonnegut. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1977. Argues for the essential midwestern quality of Vonnegut's work.

Reed, Peter J. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. New York: Warner Paperback Library, 1972. Biography and analysis of the novels through Slaughterhouse-Five.

Schatt, Stanley. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Boston: Twayne, 1976. Outlines the concurrent development of Vonnegut's style and language.

Tanner, Tony. "The Uncertain Messenger." In City of Words. New York: Harper & Row, 1971. Analyzes the themes and examines the ambiguity of communication in Vonnegut's first five novels.

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