A&E: Panou’s Paper Panel

“All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist,” in the words of a Tralfamadorian in Kurt Vonnegut’s timeless classic, “Slaughterhouse-Five.” The Tralfamadorians live without a care in the world. They are an ancient race of aliens who hold a fatalistic view of the universe: all are dead, time only exists and freewill is pointless. Tralfamadorians do not busy themselves with the means and causes of anything. Such a life must be liberating! Yet, people concern themselves with matters of present and future, death and freewill.

Vonnegut mocked Modernism, free will and human progress in his 1969 Postmodern masterpiece. He tells the story of Billy Pilgrim, an American veteran of WW2 who becomes “unstuck in time” and experiences a fragmented concept of time. The novel frequently skips between decades at a time as he struggles to deal with the aftermath of the sheer destruction of the firebombing of Dresden and the catastrophic nature of war crimes. But despite the novel’s seemingly wacky and unintelligent nature, it carries many important messages that embody the spirit of America.

In a sense, “Slaughterhouse-Five” is the archetype of the American anti-war movement of the 1960s’ counterculture that took hold of Americans far and wide in the midst of the Vietnam War. Vonnegut lived through the Dresden fire-bombing, the American carpet-bombing operation that claimed the lives of thousands of Germans and reduced the historic city to rubble. He contends that war is useless through the symbolism of a bird who only chimes “Poo-tee-weet!” This represents the lack of anything intelligent to say about war.

Vonnegut goes further and states that there simply is no point behind death. Death is frequent in the novel, and whenever it happens, the narrator simply says, “So it goes,” mocking the Modernist view of human progress and the eternalist rage and fire of machinery in the deaths of millions in horrible wars such as WW1 and WW2.

The simplest of Vonnegut’s barbs are the ones that sting the most in his short, dry and satiric writing style. “Slaughterhouse-Five” marks the pinnacle of Vonnegut’s literary genius and his excellent Postmodern mind. He passionately argues for pacifism, for the rights of veterans and for more compassion and love in humanity. “Slaughterhouse-Five” should be remembered as the paragon of love, peace and pacifism.