Teacher Michael Thorton
American Lit & Composition
6 May 2015
The “Bitchy Flibbergibbet” of Slaughterhouse-Five
Obviously both Slaughterhouse-Five and Going After Cacciato are modernist war novels that use story structure to emphasize the mood or the mechanics of the story itself, however Kurt Vonnegut plays with the story and reality truths in something expected out of Phillip K. Dick or an episode of The Twilight Zone rather than the haze of war and it's reality through the lens of the soldier. Writing style aside Going After Cacciato holds the more traditional values from Democracy to the alienation and corruption from this materialistic conformity being the decline of the society, whereas in Slaughterhouse-Five Kurt Vonnegut uses the sci-fi and humor bits to drive the themes of egalitarianism, freedom of expression, and optimism which aren't all distinctly American, but in context hold very true to ideas valued in America.
Going after Cacciato was a traditional war story that used the symbol of Cacciato as the black and white nature that everyone wishes war was to justify it taking place at all, but in modern wars since Vietnam with non uniform combatants things get messy quick and there is no true victor in cases like World War Two when the enemy were really terrible people accountable for mass genocide and extreme nationalism turned evil; this is the difference between these wars that influenced the themes present. Notwithstanding it is easy to see that in terms of theme both books seem to be accurate depictions of war since in both opinions do not wish to glorify it by any means in order to ultimately discourage future wars which is what all true soldiers feel in my view. “My father died many years ago now of natural causes. So it Goes. He was a sweet man. He was a gun nut too. He left me his guns. They Rust”And it should be noted that Slaughterhouse five is also named The Children's Crusade A duty-dance with death on account of Mary who thought that books and other popular forms of media encouraged war by pretending that wars were fought with brave virtuous men and not boys as they were “She didn't want her babies or anybody else's babies to be killed in wars. And she thought that wars were partly encouraged by books and movies”.
Being more empathetic with the enemy, not all were fascists and not all of the VC were so bad, they were just people, and that showed in Going After Cacciato when Li is almost embarrassed to inform the soldiers that “...according to the rules, I fear you gentlemen are now my prisoners.” making them all prisoners in a fruitless war. In Slaughterhouse Five when the platoon of American soldier's were transported to Dresden there they outnumbered their guards 20/1, and because of this the guards were scared of receiving these prisoners of war, but “Their terror evaporated. There was nothing to be afraid of. Here were more crippled human beings, more fools like themselves.” which was another scene that supports the notion of soldier's being people on both ends at the end of the day which doesn't excuse their actions and crimes against humanity like the Trafaldamorian philosophy of no free will and set points in time that cannot be changed therefore everything is meant to be and death being a partial setback, but it goes more along the lines of the “anti glacier book” or anti war book if you will that war is unchanging, but it's a fact of life.
Even in Billy's self destructive, almost suicidal tendencies there is a lot of thoughtfulness, compassion, and prosperity in thought that makes this war book not a comedy as it states on the cover, but an optimistic light read that left me with a different way to comfort someone at a funeral. In referencing a bottle of champagne in its inanimate being “It didn't make a pop. The champagne was dead. So it goes.”, the philosophy of death being a temporary setback since the dead person, place, or thing was still very alive in other times is probably the most comforting tid bit I take away from this book, and its used throughout the entire novel full of gruesome and quite frequent deaths from natural causes to Nazis. “Billy didn't really like life at all” to things not bothering billy since he knows he can focus on the good times instead of the present. “I like you just the way you are. Do you really? Really, said Billy Pilgrim. He had already seen a lot of their marriage, thanks to time travel. Knew that it was going to be at least bearable all the way.” and in that he was content, content in standing “there politely, giving the marksman another chance”. It's very humorous, but refreshing. There was even a moment when Billy was watching television backwards and saw a war documentary backwards “It was their business to put them in the ground to hide them carefully, so they would never hurt anybody ever again”, so instead of digging raw material to build bombs, they were hiding this material which was alright with Billy in his optimistic point of view without any curiosity or hope for the future since he is already aware of what takes place there thanks to the fourth dimension. I was rolling in my seat reading this.
Even if this paper is already meets the minimum requirement in terms of length I do want to go over egalitarianism in Slaughterhouse five on how these things could happen to anyone and tend to do so, which also kind of ties into why I think its odd how Slaughterhouse five is even in the modernist cannon since it runs parallel with the postmodern book we had read a snippet of in class called House of Leaves in the nature of identical quotes “Why Davidson? Why not someone else?” and in Slaughterhouse five “Vy you? Vy anybody?” Another prime example onto why I think a case could be made for Slaughterhouse five being more of a postmodern book is because as said in The New York Times's review of the book “The story is sandwiched between an autobiographical introduction and epilog”, and as postmodern that sounds the main reason is that Kurt Vonnegut did server in WWII and was in Dresden, and his alter ego Billy goes from a third person story seamlessly to saying “That was I. That was me. That was the author of this book.” which doesn't really occur in many places other than postmodernism and poetry. As for this time it didn't need to be noted, however the context of the previous quote was referring to Kurt Vonnegut shitting himself which was a good enough excuse for confusing lit students on the primary literary movement the book belongs in.
On the contrary however the similarities are distinct in terms of writing style since both books stories are out of order, overlapping, or just tossed in a salad bowl. Going after Cacciato does this in transitioning between the main plot of the chase for Cacciato, the observation post at night, and the war stories which immerses you in the passage of time and the haze of the terrain putting you into the soldier's shoes. Slaughterhouse five just jumps around at random since Billy has become unstuck in time and ends up in different scenes in his life, some dreams, some reality, but either way its entertaining and makes sense of science fiction.
Furthermore according to pbs's literary time line definition of modernism “Generally, modernists were driven by the belief that the assurances once provided by religion, politics, or society no longer sufficed”, and that brings me to the modernist literature of Kilgore Trout inside the modernist literature of the book itself “so they were trying to reinvent themselves and their universe. Science fiction was a big help.” which is exactly what Kurt Vonnegut was doing after the war, so is he Billy or Trout? Or is he both? Honestly I don't know, but then again in post modernism a wise American Lit teacher once said “In post modernism there is no absolute.” which helps my case for the book being postmodern, but yields to offer any points on why its still considered a modern book other than the fact that the science fiction philosophy is the new assurance that does suffice for some.
It would be nice to say I understand this book, but it's much to esoteric like the movie Waking Life for me to do so on the first of many future fun readings which won't lose the spectacle which is something I cannot say about Going After Cacciato since it was much to gritty for me to have to endure another reading of which was kinda the intention to begin with for O'Brien. It would be nice to say I understand this book and how my concept of death is dead, so it goes.
Lehmann-haupt, Reviewed Christopher. "Slaughterhouse-Five, Or the Children's Crusade." The New York Times. The New York Times, 30 Mar. 1969. Web. 06 May 2015.
Matterson, Stephen. "1890-1940s MODERNISM." American Masters/The Amercan Novel/ Literary Timeline. PBS, 2003. Web. 06 May 2015.