I’m ashamed to admit that through my pre-college years, the Holocaust was a ghost. It was something I heard of, but never — not once — studied. My elementary teachers taught me the most by taking our class to a theater performance of The Diary of a Young Girl / The Diary of Anne Frank. But we can talk about Texas public school curriculum another time.
In Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut mixes his own story within a story of a crazed man — Billy Pilgrim. Vonnegut begins the novel in his own voice than moves to Pilgrim’s story. On several occasions, Vonnegut makes special cameos which create a sense of nonsense throughout the novel.
Pilgrim slides in and out of time, seamlessly falling into the past where he was a prisoner of war during WWII to middle age where he interacts with his overweight wife and good children. Just as easily, Pilgrim slips into the future and travels space with the Tralfamadorians, aliens that resemble characters from a science fiction novel Pilgrim read while institutionalized. Pilgrim’s character is by no means a steady source of information and neither is the author.
The reader knows the atrocities of war and of WWII. The insanity of Pilgrim mirrors the senselessness of war. When the book was published, in 1969, there was still no official death count for the bombing of Dresden. Vonnegut writes that 135,000 people were killed. In 2010, an official report states that up to 25,000 people were killed.
I liked the book when I was younger because it was honest and brutal. Still now, I love it because it does not hide our aging flesh and our continual rot. It makes me think about the wars we can fight but how we do not feel war in our every day lives. It makes me wonder how the vanity of our culture has gained such an upper hand.