The book Slaughterhouse 5 is based off of Kurt Vonnegut’s own war experiences during World War II. Vonnegut was present in Dresden, Germany during the bombings, which killed about twice the number of people that died in Hiroshima. The story starts out with him describing how he had a lot of trouble remembering anything worth writing about the war. The story took him around 20 years to write, because he wanted to make sure he got his message across just right. Vonnegut feels very strongly about war. The main character is Billy Pilgrim. He represents Vonnegut. Billy is a skinny, quiet guy that looks very out of place at war. The story begins talking about Billy’s life, but then time and setting jumps around constantly. One moment he is in Germany during the war, the next moment he is home in America. It is supposed to be like a Tralfamadorian book, which is described in the story as a book where everything is all happening at once, and there is no beginning or end. The Tralfamadorians are aliens that abduct Billy and take him to their planet. They tell him about time travel; the idea that every moment is still happening at some time and you can travel back or forward to that time. They also tell him that every moment has happened in the future, so the future is set and you can not change your destiny. During the story, Billy sees all the tragedies and hardships of war. He sees people dead and dying, but it is not described in much detail. This is probably to show that death is common during war. Billy never seems happy during the war at all. Once he gets back from war the plot is fairly random. It talks about Billy living with the aliens, Billy getting married, and other things that happened in his life. It is really hard to sequence the story in order because it jumps around so much. There is basically no plot, and there are no main characters besides Billy.
This is supposed to be an anti-war book, but I did not really sense that theme very much. The biggest theme I sensed in the book was the theme that you can not control your destiny; the idea that everything is predetermined and there is nothing you can do about it. There was a quote that went, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom always to tell the difference.” This is basically saying that you can’t really change anything because if you are changing something, you are not really changing anything because it is already planned to happen that way. Another part that shows this theme is while Billy is in the war one of his companions, Weary, dies and he blames it on Billy. Another soldier, Lazzaro says he will have Billy killed because Weary was his only friend. Lazzaro says he doesn’t know when or how, but he will have Billy killed. There is a sense that Billy cannot do anything to prevent it. Sure enough Lazzaro has someone shoot Billy. One last time I noticed this theme was when the Tralfamadorians tell Billy about how the future has already happened and everything is already planned.