Aliens, Time Travel and War Slaughterhouse 5 – Kurt Vonnegut


Jess reading Slaughterhouse 5 after sneaking into class.
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Billy Pilgrim was a prisoner of war in Dresden, Germany during the Second World War. The novel centres on the infamous fire-bombing of Dresden. But the story about war is interjected with tales of Billy’s honeymoon, a horrible ski accident and the time he was taken prisoner by an alien race he calls the Tralfamadorians. Billy it seems has come unstuck in time and can move freely between any point of time in his life.

I have to be honest I didn’t know what to make of Slaughterhouse 5. I expected a book about war but Slaughterhouse 5 is something completely different. The few times the novel actually describes war situations are horrific. These scenes include dehydrated, bleeding horses and POWs unwittingly using soap and candles made from human bodies. These horrifying events are, however, countered by accounts of alien abduction and honeymooning in Cape Ann, Massachusetts.


Just as Billy would recall (or rather relive) these horrible events he would become unstuck in time and travel to a different point in his life. Mostly Billy would travel to where he was kept in an apartment like an animal in a zoo by the Tralfamadorians. The Tralfamadorians are a fictional alien race that kidnapped Billy in order to observe him.

The Tralfamadorians have an interesting outlook on life. They choose to ignore anything that is unpleasant. In the novel they know that a test pilot will press a button that destroys the Universe and yet they do nothing to stop him.

“He has always pressed it, and he always will. We always let him and we will always let him. The moment is structured that way.” Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse 5.

They seem to not take any responsibility for their actions. In the same way Billy seems to distance himself from the war. He seems to remind himself that there is nothing that he could have done to stop the bombing; the moment was simply structured that way. “So it goes”, is a saying that Billy uses throughout the novel whenever anyone dies. By repeating this whenever someone dies Billy seems to remind himself that it is simply how the world works and that there is nothing that could have been done. It seems to help Billy cope.

There are no spoilers in this review as it is not that kind of plot. The concept of chronology is rejected as the first and the last sentences of the novel are put next to each other in the first chapter:

“It begins like this: Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time. It ends like this: Poo-tee-weet?” –Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse 5.

There is no tension in the novel as we know exactly how it is going to end. The first and the last chapter of the book are written in first person. Vonnegut starts the novel by stating: “All this happened more or less”. Throughout the rest of the novel Vonnegut takes an omniscient point of view but he also mentions that he was a prisoner of war alongside Billy Pilgrim. It would seem that a part of the novel is based on Vonnegut’s own experience as a POW.

Slaughterhouse 5 was just too strange for me. I found the timeline confusing. Maybe I’m missing something but I really didn’t enjoy it. I kept hoping that the ending would be different as to what was quoted in the first chapter and was disappointed that it ended exactly as Vonnegut said it would.

Even though I disagree with most of the things the Tralfamadorians believe, I did like this quote:

“That’s one thing Earthlings might learn to do, if they tried hard enough: Ignore the awful times, and concentrate on the good ones.” Kurt Vonnegut – Slaughterhouse 5.