Slaughterhouse Five (Part Three: 110–172)
So far, chapter five of Slaughterhouse Five is my favorite chapter. This is because of the crazy/ridiculous comments and events Vonnegut places in the chapter. There is everything from fourth wall breaks to continued interaction with the Tralfamadorians to informing readers about Billy’s “anatomy” (Thanks Vonnegut really appreciated that last one). So let me discuss those main points about the chapter in order least to most ridiculous. First, the fourth wall break. The fourth wall break comes when war-time Billy exits the “hospital” at the prison to urinate when he hears men crying out from the latrine. Billy, investigating, finds soldiers crowded into a cesspool of overflowing buckets and hears a man yell that he has excreted every organ including his brain. Then Vonnegut interjects, “That was I. That was me. That was the author of this book.” (160) (The lack of a brain must be why Vonnegut can think up something as crazy as this novel). Vonnegut uses this fourth wall break to subtly communicate to the reader that these events are truthful. Vonnegut wants the reader to know that the prison and the events that occurred are not fictional. He does this to remind the reader the book is focused on war, not time-traveling aliens that abduct people to watch them mate.
Second, post-war Billy’s interaction with the Tralfamadorians. The chapter starts with post-war Billy traveling through space but the novel quickly switches to war-time Billy. Vonnegut then describes an interaction between an American soldier and a German guard. The soldier asks, “Why me?”, and the guard responds, “Vy you? Vy anybody?” (116) This is the same conversation post-war Billy had with the aliens earlier on in the book. I feel that Vonnegut repeats the conversation to draw some connection between the Germans and the Tralfamadorians. The only connection (that I can make) is that both were captors of Billy. (In the last blog I theorized that Billy may be pretty screwed up from the war and that he is not mentally stable) So sticking with my theory, I believe that this event is the source for the Billy’s interactions later on in life and that Billy’s mind eventually distorted the Germans into aliens to help him cope with the trauma of being a prisoner of war. Vonnegut also readdresses the inability to hold a people (or aliens) morally responsible for their actions under determinism. This shown when the aliens are describing the end of the universe, “We always let him and we always will let him. The moment is structured that way.” (149) By believing the moment had to be structured in that way allows the Tralfamadorians to escape the guilt caused by their actions.
Third and last, the absurd. This chapter has to be, by far, one of the strangest parts of the book. Starting off the absurdity is page 145 where the Tralfamadorians claim there are “seven sexes on Earth, each essential to reproduction” (145). This continues into an explaination stating that birth would not be possible without homosexual males but could be possible without homosexual females. And so on. Next is the least romantic description of coital interaction. Lastly is this line, “He had a tremendous wang, incidentally.” (169) So this novel has gone from World War 2 to aliens to discussing the main character’s “wang” and then back to World War 2 and aliens.
*One last thing I’ve been wondering: If Tralfamadorians can see any moment in time (past, present, future) why do they have to do anything? Why do they have to capture Billy, make him mate, and observe him? Wouldn’t they already know the answer to everything?