Useless Destruction in Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

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Over three thousand tons of explosives dropped on one city, and an estimated twenty-five thousand people were killed. These are not just numbers, they are lives lost. This horrific outcome was the result of a firebombing in Dresden, Germany which took place during World War II in 1945. The novel Slaughterhouse-five, written by Kurt Vonnegut, gives a firsthand account into this seemingly senseless event.

Vonnegut delivers his anti-war argument through a science-fiction twist using a wide variety of literary devices to not only advance his points but to effectively deliver the right message to the readers. Vonnegut writes about Billy Pilgrim, a character who is “unstuck in time”, the book follows random parts of his life as a civilian, soldier, and ultimately a Prisoner of War. Vonnegut argues that war is not only meaningless but most importantly preventable, and illustrates the harsh realities of war, and uses the character Billy to convey his overall message.

As Vonnegut goes about this book he utilizes irony to emphasize the stupidity of war and the mass destruction that comes along with it. The book goes on to describe different events in Billy Pilgrim life as it highlights his argument. In chapter 5, the uselessness of destruction is portrayed where Edgar Derby is executed for stealing a teapot. The violence in this chapter is portrayed as harsh and dramatic all over a teapot.

Derby is executed due to him stealing this teapot found in the rubble of a town that has just been bombed and completely destroyed. This shows situational irony because the outcome of this is not what is expected and it highlights the destructiveness of war and it is especially ironic that after all the death from the firebombing it doesn’t end, in fact the killing keeps going. The purpose of this is to show the extent to which the killing went to and why Vonnegut views war as nothing else but destructive.

In chapter 4, as Billy Pilgrim watches a World War II movie of a bombing backwards, it is ironic that it is being used to deliver his views on war. Most people would see this as a sad movie but the way Billy is now viewing it brings him happiness as he sees it in reverse he views buildings and people being rebuilt and beauty being restored which takes on the opposite of the intended meaning as it changed from a destructive movie to a movie of mending. Draws the attention to the fact that war is not beautiful and will never bring together in the way Billy sees it in this moment as it will always separate and destroy.

Similes are also present throughout this novel as it is another helpful device that is used to open the readers eyes to the reality of what war was like. Within chapter eight Vonnegut uses multiple similes to describe the effects of the bombing. As stated in chapter eight “Dresden was like the moon now, nothing but minerals”, The bombing of Dresden was so destructive, it transformed the city so much that Vonnegut is left with describing the city as something foreign. This quote ties back to Vonnegut’s argument because his use of smilies was an effective way to represent all that was destroyed and how shockingly tragic the event was.

Then he goes on to describe the guards and the Americans as space men as they are walking through what seemed like a whole new planet due to the effects of the bombing. Vonnegut writes in chapter 8, ‘if they were going to continue to survive, they were going to have to climb over curve after curve on the face of the moon.’ The aftereffects were so brutal the guards and Americans walked around as if the land was foreign to them and it was so destroyed obstacles took place all over. The use of these similes create such powerful imagery that shows just how much damage was done to the once so beautiful city and this highlights Vonnegut’s pattern of useless destruction.


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Useless Destruction in Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. (2021, Jun 24). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/useless-destruction-in-slaughterhouse-five-by-kurt-vonnegut/

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