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Slaughterhouse-Five And The Absurdity Of War

Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ was published in 1969 and yet remains to this day a modern book, similar to Orwell’s ‘1984’ which has more influence than ever in an increasingly clandestine and volatile global landscape. ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ focuses on war, or more importantly, the absolute absurdity of it. Vonnegut’s personal experiences surviving the infamous bombings of Dresden inform this work and his desire to reveal the untold truths of war. The result is a time-travelling journey following protagonist Billy Pilgrim as he wades in and out of reality and his own traumatic involvement as a soldier in the US military. There is no shortage of sadness, laughter, or death… and so it goes.

Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut

This was my first Vonnegut novel and I was more than impressed after finishing it. Going into it, all I knew was that it was a commentary about war but it turned out to be so much more. To begin with, the characters were memorable, each seeming to personify a different state of mind dividing humans between those who blindly accept war and those confused by its existence.

Even characters like Roland Weary, a dumb conniving bully, are presented in a manner that allows for sympathy (or at least pity) as they have a past which lends itself to their bloodthirsty future. Another aspect I enjoyed was the writing itself. Vonnegut’s style sits on the perfect middle ground between concise and superfluous which makes it easy to read whilst maintaining an imaginative picture in your mind. Every now and again, he adds little acumens which attest to his wisdom and deep consideration of humanity and its quirks. One of my favourite examples of this is the quote “like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops”.

Whilst it may seem perfunctory to claim there was nothing I disliked about ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’, I truly have nothing bad to say about it. It is easy to read as Vonnegut structures it in a way so the chapters become episodic and provide you with just enough allure to make you want to keep reading.

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Written by Liam Langan