Slaughterhouse-Five

by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

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Student Question

Is Slaughterhouse-Five a pastiche? Can you provide examples of temporal distortion, meta-fiction, and paranoia?

Quick answer:

Slaughterhouse-Five is a pastiche in that it assembles its narrative in a non-linear fashion from material from multiple timelines and literary genres.

Expert Answers

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Slaughterhouse-Five can be considered a kind of narrative pastiche in that it is written in a non-sequential way, assembling bits and pieces from different timelines which, in effect, also represent different genres. This can be seen, for example, in the sections dealing with the bombing of Dresden, as contrasted with the futuristic sections about the Tralfamadorians. As a pastiche, this juxtaposition blends elements of conventional historical fiction with science fiction, resulting in the constant subversion of reader expectations. One simply does not know, from page to page, what sort of book one is reading or how to react to it.

Your mention of "paranoia," metafiction, and temporal distortion point out some of the features that are connected to pastiche. For instance, the recounting of the production of the novel in chapter 1 is the sort of narrative strategy common to pastiche, which makes the novel's writing itself part of the story of the novel. Another example is Vonnegut's treatment of Kilgore Trout (a fictional author meant to be a stand in for Vonnegut himself), the inventor (or "historian") of the Tralfamadorians, who may or may not be fictional. Similarly, Billy Pilgrim is meant to be another stand in for Vonnegut as the war veteran. The "truth" or reliability of these narrative positions are always called into question by the text itself, resulting in a kind of "paranoia." By layering together material from different timelines and genres, Vonnegut both calls into question the validity of traditional narrative forms and suggests that pastiche is the closest approximation to representing human experience.

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