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The Slaughter House Five
The Use of Literary Devices in Kurt Vonnegut?s Slaughterhouse-five
Kurt Vonnegut used many literary devices in his novel Slaughterhouse-five. These different devices serve to carry his varying themes through the story. He uses a system of two narratives that separates himself from the story, also there is the repetition of certain phrases which cycle you through the tale. A major device that is used is non-linear time, which emphasizes Vonneguts cylindrical theories.
Within Slaughterhouse-five there are two narratives. The first is of Vonnegut himself. In the first and last chapters Vonnegut talks of himself and sets the reader up for the absurdity of the main character, Billy Pilgrim. This first narrative also tells how Vonnegut came to write the story and what it took for him to put it on paper. (Vit) The second narrative is that of Billy Pilgrim whose war story of Dresden is almost identical to that of author?s. Vonnegut points this fact out "That was me. That was I. That was the author of this book."(Vonnegut, p.125)
In the novel there are a few phrases that are repeated to pound out Vonnegut?s message. One of these phrases is "so it goes". These three little words are found over a hundred times within Slaughterhouse-five. "So it goes" is a Tralfamadorian philosophy. The Tralfamadorians believe that life is just a series of non-linear moments and that if someone is dead in one moment they must perfectly happy in another moment somewhere else.(Vonnegut) Every time someone in the novel dies "so it goes" is used to help the reader accept the death of that person. It also tells us that there is nothing we can do about it and to get on with living. (Phillips) This little saying is even used when Billy Pilgrim himself dies "In the next moment, Billy Pilgrim is dead. So it goes." (Vonnegut, p.143)
The structure of Slaughterhouse-five relies heavily on the idea of non-linear time. Billy Pilgrim could be twelve years old as the local YMCA and then in the next paragraph he is in WWII sleeping a in a nest of pink cloth. Billy Pilgrim calls this being "unstuck" in time. " He got out of bed, said, "Excuse me," went into the darkness of the bathroom to take a leak. He groped for the light, realized as he felt the rough walls that he had traveled back to 1944, to the prison hospital again." (Vonnegut, p. 123) The moments in the novel may be non-linear but there is one part of Billy?s life that is told in a line, all be it a broken one. Every time in the novel when you come to a part of the story about the war it picks up where the last moment of the war left off. With this Vonnegut defeats the whole purpose of non-linear time in the novel. He had wanted to get away from writing a war story, but in all truth that is exactly what he wrote. (Vit)
Vonnegut used many literary devices to tell his story of war. These tools shed light on his philosophies and fears. He tries to pull himself out of the story by using two story lines. In using the phrase "so it goes" he says that death is not a thing to fear. (Vit) Vonnegut also uses non-linear time. With this technique he tries to escape writing a war story, yet that is what he ended up with. A novel telling of the ghastliness of war, or as Mrs. O?hare would like it to be called, "the children?s crusade" (Vonnegut)
Phillips, Leslie. So It Goes. 28 October 1999
Vit, Marek. The Themes of Kurt Vonnegut?s Slaughterhouse-Five. 28 October 1999
Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-five. New York: Dell. 1969.
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