In the novel Slaughterhouse-Five, one of the major themes is the theme of death. The second title of the novel is The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death, in which the author mentions the word death. It is known that the novel was written in 1969 as an anti-war literary work because Kurt Vonnegut describes his own war-time experiences in World War II, one of the most murderous wars in the world history. The novel tells about the life and death of the main character of the novel, Billy Pilgrim. In the novel, the theme of death can be found in many chapters. For example, in Germany, Billy becomes a witness of the terrible firebombing of Dresden during which about 135,000 people were killed. The author calls this event the greatest mass killing of humans and the most horrible example of the tragic absurdity of humanity.
On the planet Tralfamadore, Billy learns the philosophy that helps him to cope with war experiences in Dresden. According to this philosophy, past, present and future can exist simultaneously.Ā One of the aspects of the novel is the treatment of death, which is not the end of life in Billy’s philosophy. Death is not the end because the dead are still alive somewhere in time. He says: “the most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past”¯(Vonnegut, 2010, p.26). The laconic expression “so it goes”¯ which follows every death in the novel means that death is the rule of human life. Billy’s death is described in the chapter 6 of the book. Surrounded by the crowds, Billy is ready to die and he goes to his death at the hands of Paul Lazzaro. As a soldier, Billy knows that he may die at any time, without any warning. Nevertheless, Billy’s dance with death is voluntary.
The Tralfamadorians explain their way of writing: There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects (Vonnegut, 2010, p.112). Kurt Vonnegut’s novel itself embodies some of these traits. In other words, Kurt Vonnegut imitates their literary style and suggests that the Billy’s philosophy and the philosophy of Tralfamadorians have the so-called role model character for him. In fact, Vonnegut’s novel is lacking linear chronology because the narrator follows Billy Pilgrim’s time travel. Thus, the novel has no a traditional structure which consists of the following parts: the beginning, the middle part and the end. That is why it is very difficult for the readers to realize the causal sequence of the main events in the novel.
In addition, there is no suspense because the author of the novel gives away the climax in the chapter 1 of the book. The novel consists of “clumps and symbols separated by stars”¯ which are described as the main characteristic feature of the Tralfamadorian literature. The paragraphs in the novel are short. Moreover, there is no immediate relation between the paragraphs and the order of paragraphs. Vonnegut’s paragraphs are established through the use of repetitions.Ā The time shifts that can be found in the novel prevent the readers to develop causes and effects. For example, there is no explanation of how the bombing of Dresden could be justified, as well as there is no chronological order of this event.
Moreover, the plot of the novel includes both the narrator’s stories and Billy’s stories, in other words, both the autobiographical and fictional sections. However, both of them emerge form one and the same part of the novel ”“ the firebombing of Dresden. On the whole, the structure of the novel reminds the readers of the fact that Billy Pilgrim is a so-called fictional device that is used to discuss the trauma of war and the issues about life and death.