To what ends do the illusion of free will, the mention of war and the key motif of “so it goes” contribute to the novel? Throughout the novel Slaughterhouse-five by Kurt Vonnegut we focus on three motifs/themes to define whether or not it is an anti-war novel. Through the anti-war illusion of free will theme and the “so it goes” motif we are able to make clear assumptions. The illusion of free will, “so it goes” and the presence of the narrator and gruesome images of war throughout the play defy Vonnegut’s idea that “writing an anti-war novel is the same as writing an anti-glacier novel” clearly stating that he is not writing against war.
We further question the authorial intentions due to the fact the Vonnegut portrays both science fiction and anti-war features through, Tralfamadorians, the destructiveness of war, free will being incarcerated and the way in which the phrase “so it goes” is used. This science fiction, anti-war novel narrated in both first and third person provides a very ironic and satire tone about war and Billy’s adventures, such as being transported across Germany, down Dresden in a slaughterhouse and finally abducted by aliens . All while Billy tries to make sense of his life.
Through themes such as the destructiveness of war, in contrast to the science fiction, us readers debate where Vonnegut’s aim was to make an anti-war novel. First of all, Slaughterhouse-five “contains all moments of time occurring” and in all these moments of time something is said or done to portray evidence of an anti-war novel. Throughout the novel destructiveness of war is portrayed several times, through vivid imagery of fire, asphyxiation, sickness, death, destruction, pain and many other things we question why Vonnegut would imply something that he denies.
Starting with the firebombing in Dresden we are illustrated the pain of the soldiers and the destruction of the place. Moreover, Billy’s speech end very violently as well as he is shot for something that he did in war. Continuously, “poo-tee-weet” at the end and beginning of the novel could imply that war is in fact so awful that there is not much more to say about it to describe these horrors.
Furthermore, the captivity of aliens suggests again that we should be anti-war due to the fact that first of all they are shown to be Billy’s escape from everything he doesn’t want to remember about war and second of all because their philosophies go against war saying that “that it is wiser to only focus one’s attention on the good moments, for no moments are capable of being changed — they just are. ” War conveys horror and we see this by judging Billy after he comes back, his life contradicts it being only a science fiction novel.
Vonnegut just uses science fiction to show the terrors of war. He is war torn and his name “billy” conveys that really he was just a boy, immature and innocent and war ruined him. Similarly, science fiction could also be used to indicate that he is insane from war, mentally unstable and that is why he has such an over reactive imagination. The illusion of free will throughout the novel is seen as something trapped. We never have full free will, maybe we can make some decisions, but those only come in our line of the life we are set to have.
We are all destined for something. Time is just a linear progression on earth where in the end everything is decided for you. Due to this lack of power to change our fate, tralfamadorians just chose to accept these things, hence Vonneguts common phrase “so it goes”. Bill counters free will, he tends to do things against his will such as the pool and going to war; the fact that he even survives war by being a joke and untrained is a testament to the deterministic forces.
Most importantly, Vonnegut admits the inevitability of death, however, he tries to keep his soms from dying in war or situations similar to war. This clearly states a contradiction to his belief that this is not about anti-war when really he is trying to change their fate and give them free will, something that war does not do. Continously, the motif “so it goes” follows every mention of death, conveying lack of importance to all these deaths and highlights the Tralfamadorians philosophy to just accept things.
Also it creates comfort with their similar theory stating that though someone is dead now, they are alive in another dimension or time, “He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist. ” Making it unimportant. The repetition of the motif not only portrays the vast amount of deaths, but also comes back to the fact that death is inevitable. Moreover, “so it goes” equalizes all incidents, whether it is a small accident or something done on purpose, massive or insignificant it all means he same, “so it goes”. This is also shown through the way in which Billy and other soldiers are portrayed after war, Billy’s success is not thanks to the war, but to other things and really no one takes into account all he has suffered, it is insignificant, war is pointless and cruel “so it goes”. In conclusion, going to war is against your will, terrifying, brings no benefits and soldiers aren’t even recognized. Billy may have experienced more hardship than Vonnegut did, and his apparent traversals through time and visits to Tralfamadore may have all been illusory, may have acted as a sort of coping mechanism.
But Vonnegut did experience the War and the fire bombing of Dresden. Vonnegut states in the beginning of the novel that trying to stop a war is like trying to stop an iceberg — it cannot be done. If humans were gifted like the Tralfamadorians are, then they would know for a fact the parallels between war and icebergs because all moments past and present are immutable. They would view all of existence like they view the iceberg metaphor. Of course, humans don’t have these abilities anywhere near to the extent to which the Tralfamadorians have them