Formalistic and Psychological Approach of Slaughterhouse-Five

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Slaughterhouse-Five takes place in the 1900s before, during, and after World War 2. The book begins with the narrator discussing the fact that he was looking for his old war buddy O’Hare to help him write his anti-war book. When he found O’Hare, he noticed O’Hare’s wife was enraged by his presence, when he found out it was because she believed he’d glorify the story of the war and claim they were grown men acting as heroes instead of children participating in the war.

To put her at ease, he promised to name the book The Children’s Crusade so she’d be aware of the fact that he had no intentions of glorifying the story, he’d tell it as it happened. The narrator goes on to tell the life of a man named Billy Pilgrim. The narrator mentions Billy has come unstuck in time, which means he is believed to time travel, he has no control over what time and place he goes or when he goes there.

Billy was drafted in World War 2 to be a chaplain’s assistant. While Billy was in the war he was also at his wedding, tending to his children, on tralfamadore, writing letters to the Ilium News Leader, on his honeymoon, being a prisoner of the germans, at a veterans hospital, at his optometry office, in a plane crash, and then again at war. He is constantly living in an unorganized version of his life. After the plane crash Billy was in, the people around him started noticing changes in him. That’s when his time travel officially kicked in, along with his Tralfamadore visits.

We witness Billy Pilgrim’s mental stability slip after the plane crash. Everything that happens in between is an after affect of the plane crash which was the trigger of his insanity and trauma. Billy had shown signs of time travel and tralfamadore visits before the plane crash but the plane crash was the tipping point. As the novel progresses he becomes more self aware, he reveals his own trauma to himself and this is one of the first times Billy does not time travel when dealing with emotional stress. Even though Billy is living his life we only ever witness his memories, throughout the entire novel we are lead to believe Billy can time travel because he knows the beginning, middle, and end to his own life.

However, we soon come to realize that he is actually stuck constantly replaying his memories due to his mental instability and trauma. The author makes sure to highlight the fact that Billy is the one claiming he could see his birth and death. The author says, “ Billy says..” when he detaches himself in order to key in the reader that he is not the one claiming Billy is a time traveler. We learn slowly that Billy Pilgrim does not time travel, in fact he never time traveled, he is trapped in a constant loop of his own memories. As for the narrator, since there is nothing good to say about a massacre he ends the novel by simply saying “poo-tee-weet?”

Formalistic Approach

Kurt Vonnegut’s novel does not have a traditional structure. The only definite structure he has is at the beginning when he chronologically places the narrator finding his acquaintance to help him write his novel. Billy is at war throughout the novel, the author places memories within his experience at war, describing them as time travel, to place us in Billy Pilgrim’s mindset.The novel jumps around in time to demonstrate how Billy’s mind works and what it experiences on a daily basis which is the recurrence of his memories in a constant loop.

The war unifies the structure of the novel, it’s the basis of the book even without Billy’s memories. Another factor of unification would be the author inserting himself in the novel as a character. This indicated the war personally touches vonnegut in his life and opinions. This anchors Billy to the real world and shows exactly how difficult it is for Billy to make himself fit in in the real world. The idea of the loss of innocence while in war strengthen the meaning of the novel.

The author uses Billy’s job as an optometrist to help us “see” the truth of the war and the effect if has on people who engage in it. Billy is the largest example of the disillusionment and numbness when innocence is taken by war. Billy was a virgin boy who had never experienced violence in his life. He was drafted while he was going to college to study optometry, only to experience bloodshed and despair in the participation of war. All the elements come together to display the true meaning and effects of war to truly symbolize the tragedy it brings.

Throughout the novel Billy says, ‘so it goes’ whenever a death occurs. He picked this trait up from the Tralfamadorians, they use it as a nonchalant way to look at death because in their world they have four dimensions which allow them to go back and forth in time as they please. They view death as a bad conditions in that person’s life at that very moment, they believe the person is waiting for them in another place in time where they are not dead so life goes on in the meantime. The repeating phrase signifies war made something so tragic, such as death, and made it so meaningless.

Billy uses it to describe many deaths throughout the novel and most of them were deaths of people he knew in the war. The repetition of ‘Poo-tee-weet’ keep the idea that there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre very much alive. War is a difficult topic to discuss so people would rather disregard war rather than discussing it.

The visits to Tralfamadore serve as a reminder of just how much the war has disrupted Billy’s existence. He uses the visit to Tralfamadore as a way to ignore the war that destroys everything before him, one he cannot fix. He is then traumatized by the destructive power of war itself and the misery it brings along with it, he creates the idea of time travel as a coping mechanism to escape living in the world in front of him. The constant recurrence of Billy’s memories call back to the insanity and trauma he experiences throughout the entire novel. The most impactful memories seem to be the ones he time travels away from which indicates his devotion to try and avoid the revelation of his own trauma.

Billy’s profession as an optometrist is also repeated throughout the novel. The purpose of Billy’s job is to correct the sight of people who go to see him, he believes he wields the power to completely fix their vision as a whole by exposing the people to his knowledge of the fourth dimension. According to Billy, people only see what’s close to them and they’re missing the bigger picture which happens to be the knowledge of the fourth dimension.

However, Billy himself seems to be the nearsighted one because he avoids seeing the bigger picture and the world around him by traveling in time and visiting Tralfamadore. These recurring patterns and phrases highlight the most important parts of the novel, those which highlight the most important factors of the novel so the reader understand they’re important.

The repetition of important factors in the novel help bring out the theme to begin with. The recurring elements of the novel make it obvious enough for the reader to notice and have informations as to why they’re so significant. Repetition increases the impact the themes have on the reader.

Vonnegut uses many figures of speech in his novel, the ones that strike the most meaning are symbolism and metaphors. An extended metaphor in chapter eight describes the men as being on the moon, “Nobody talked much as the expedition crossed the moon. There was nothing appropriate to say. One thing was clear: absolutely everybody in the city was supposed to be dead, regardless of what they were, and that anybody that moved in it represented a flaw in the design. There were to be no moon men at all.”

The beautiful city of Dresden, once full of lights and lively people, now appeared to look like the surface of the moon empty, dull, and unrecognizable. I The novel connects the beginning and end in an odd way. The narrator discusses the failed attempts to write the perfect anti-war novel and the novel he will now write, in the end he decides what it will be named, how it will begin and how it will end.

The author says that all there is to say about a massacre is things like, “Poo-tee-weet?” That is exactly what he says to end the novel, the connection between the beginning and the end is that in the beginning of the novel there was nothing good to say in spite of a war and even after going through an entire journey with Billy Pilgrim, where he himself lived through the war while we read about it, there is still nothing intelligent to say about a massacre and that will not change any time soon.

Throughout the novel the overall tone would be elusive, the author doesn’t even cling to one emotion. He seems to show strong emotions when describing the horrors of the war without using words like “horrific,” “scary,” ow words that would lead the audience to automatically feel the dreadfulness of war through flat out diction. Yet when describing emotions such as the ones Valencia felt when she found out Billy was in a plane crash, he seems grossed out by emotions of that kind, “Valencia adored Billy. She was crying and yelping so hard as she drove that she missed the correct turnoff from the throughway.”

When he describes this a sense of sarcasm and cruelty is felt through the writing. It was cruel and unempathetic because the readers know Billy did not feel the same way Valencia felt towards Billy and he still said Valencia adored Billy making it seem like a one-sided feeling. The way he described her crying as “yelping” is a cruel way to describe her crying for her husband who could very much well be dead. The author’s uninterested tone is directed towards everything but Billy Pilgrim and the war in order to emphasize how much they both mean to him without having to bluntly say it.

The author creates his tone through his descriptions. When it’s something other than the war he gives somewhat brief descriptions and he doesn’t go fully into detail on purpose but when it comes to describing a time in the war he describes it but never actually uses emotional words, his descriptions are enough to appeal to the audience’s emotion and have them understand how putrid the war was. Depending on the tone the author is using, it determines the mood of the scene, the author uses optimistic tone when describing Billy’s time in tralfamadore with Montana Wildhack and how he was happy while he was with her.

This sets a happy mood the reader can sense through the tone. Based on what tone he uses the novel’s meaning changes, if instead he used a condescending tone all throughout the novel, it would be a dreary book dedicated fully to the bashing of the war, the overall effect on the story coincides with the tone and mood. The elements in the novel all come together in one way or another, they either have something to do with war or Billy’s internal conflict with himself.

The idea of time travel and mental come together in a sense, without PTSD or schizophrenia Billy would not be traumatized or stuck in a constant replay of his own memories. His visits to Tralfamadore would also tie into the schizophrenia idea. The war itself is the cause of Billy’s psychological state, and the stripping of Billy’s innocence which was there at the start of the war but somewhere in the mix of war it was lost and all that was left was numbness. All these elements come together to show the effects war has on people and how it affects them as a whole.

Psychological Approach

The forces motivating Billy Pilgrim are the hope to one day die and not have to live the perfect life other people have assembled for him. Billy lives in hope that death will hold a better purpose than his miserable time-jumping life now. He already knows how and when he will die (according to him) so he has to play the waiting game and go through the motions of life until the time comes. He only wishes for one thing and that is for someone to engrave a phrase on his tombstone, “Everything Was Beautiful, And Nothing Hurt.”

In reality, Billy himself is not a traditional character. He does not choose to get drafted, get married, be rich. Nothing that happens to him is his own doing, even being alive. He is forced to watch the horrible things the war does, and even that he doesnt control. It’s only when he goes insane that he actually does something for himself, even if it is something proving his insanity, which is to break out to go on the radio to talk about the Tralfamadorians. B Race, gender, and class aren’t approached in the novel.

Given Billy’s background his mental instability, PTSD and any other he developed was highly susceptible given his background. Billy was involved in a war, he went from being an innocent college student to being a college student in a war. Rapid changes of scenery could have affected Billy in negative ways, the death of his comrades right before his eyes was very likely to traumatize young Billy. Not to mention the plane crash he was in where he cracked his skull open. When he woke up from the plane crash he found out his wife had died. All these elements could have had an equal contribution to Billy’s mental state. PTSD was not the only disorder Billy gave signs of, he also showed signs of being schizophrenic. Billy’s behavior was easily plausible because of his background.

Billy’s emotional instability reveals his insanity off the bat. Billy does not tolerate places of high emotional stress so he copes with it by time traveling and avoiding confrontation of the situation. Billy also showed an inhumane lack of curiosity when looking at the to lumps in the coat in the hospital, this is alarming because human instinct is to be curious but the fact that Billy lacks this trait is a sign he is not mentally well. Billy is always very jumpy and on the edge of his seat, any loud noise has him screaming war is coming,when the alarm blared he claimed that World War 3 was coming, those are signs of PTSD.

Depending on the readers understanding of mental disorders, they can either understand Billy’s struggle or be completely confused by the jumble of his memories and the time travel. The way the reader connects the key points of the novel solely depends on how the interpret the symbolism provided by the author and how they’d connect all the elements of the novel. Rationale

The psychological approach was the best approach to look at while reading Slaughterhouse-five or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death, because the main character in the novel was showing signs of having a mental disorder. This was the best approach to look at because there was a need to be aware that the character’s point of view was unreliable and had to be analyzed further to get the real story to understand the novel.

If I were to have chosen a different approach, it would have been more difficult to understand the piece because the majority of the novel reflects on the character’s mental state and why he is in that mental state to begin with. Being aware of his mental disorders made me less susceptible to be confused by his episodes of insanity.


Cite this paper

Formalistic and Psychological Approach of Slaughterhouse-Five. (2021, Jun 24). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/formalistic-and-psychological-approach-of-slaughterhouse-five/

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