22. “Slaughter-House Five”, Kurt Vonnegut

I really love this book though, as with anything by Kurt Vonnegut, you end up sounding like an idiot when you try to explain to people why you are clutching it to your bosom. “Well, it’s a fictional account of Kurt Vonnegut’s experiences in World War II when he was a prisoner of war. He was in Dresden when it was firebombed and was one of very few people to make it out alive. [They nod empathetically.] So, Vonnegut decides to write about his experiences in the war and focuses on a soldier he knew, Billy Pilgrim, who hascomeunstuckintime and keepsexperiencinglifeeventsoutoforder and forawhilethere,heisanexhibitinanalienzoo. And there is this lovely phrase the Vonnegut uses whenever the talks about someone dying. It’s just ‘so it goes’, because theTramfaldorianscanseeintothefourthdimension and believe that when a person is dead, they are merely in a bad state right then, but are okay in many other moments.”

Oh Vonnegut. You can make a fool out of me any day.

Quotes are on the next page

“You know what I say to people when I hear they’re writing anti-war books? […] ‘Why don’t you write an anti-glacier book instead?'”
What he meant, of course, was that there would always be wars, that they were as easy to stop as glaciers. I believe that, too. And even if wars didn’t keep coming like glaciers, there would still be plain old death. (3-4)

Then [Mary O’Hare] turned to me, let me see how angry she was, and that the anger was for me. She had been talking to herself, so what she said was a fragment of a much larger conversation. “You were just babies then!” she said
“What?” I said
“You were just babies in the war– like the ones upstairs!”
I nodded that this was true. We had been foolish virgins in the war, right at the end of childhood.
“But you’re not going to write it that way, are you.” This wasn’t a question. It was an accusation.
“I-I don’t know,” I said.
“Well, I know, she said. “You’ll pretend you were men instead of babies, and you’ll be played in the movies by Frank Sinatra and John Wayne or some of those glamorous, war-loving, dirty old men. And war will look just wonderful, so we’ll have a lot more of them. And they’ll be fought by babies like the babies upstairs.
So then I understood. […]
So I held up my right hand and I made her a promise: “Mary,” I said, “I don’t think this book of mine is ever going to be finished. I must have written five thousand pages by now, and thrown them all away. If I ever do finish, though, I give you my word of honor: there won’t be a part for Frank Sinatra or John Wayne.
“I’ll tell you what,” I said, “I’ll call it ‘The Children’s Crusade.'”
She was my friend after that. (14-15)

[This book] is so short and jumbled and jangled, because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want anything ever again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after massacre, and it always is, except for birds.
And what do the birds say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like “Poo-tee-weet?.” (19)

The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies, he only appears to die. 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. […] It is just an illusion we have here on earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.
When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in a bad condition at that particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is “So it goes.” (26-27)

Billy Pilgrim was lying at an angle on the corner-braces [of the boxcar], self-crucified, holding himself with a blue and ivory claw hooked over the sill of the ventilator. Billy coughed when the door was opened and when he coughed, he shit a thin gruel. This was in accordance with the Third Law of Motion according to Sir Isaac Newton. This law tells us that for every action, there is a reaction which is equal and opposite in direction.
This can be useful in rocketry. (80)

Billy covered his head with his blanket again. Je always covered his head when is mother came to see him in the mental ward– always got much sicker until she went away. It wasn’t that she was ugly, or had bad breath or a bad personality. She was a perfectly nice, standard-issue, brown-haired, white woman with a high school education.
She upset Billy simply by being his mother. She made him feel embarrassed and ungrateful and weak because she had gone to so much trouble to give him life, and to keep that life going, and Billy didn’t really like life at all. (102)

“How’s the patient?”
“Dead to the world.”
“But not actually dead.”
“How nice– to feel nothing but still get full credit for being alive.”(105)

[In Kilgore Trout’s story,] the visitor from outer space made a serious study of Christianity, to learn, if he could, why Christians found it so easy to he cruel. He concluded that at least part of the problem was slipshod story telling in the New Testament. He supposed that the intent of the Gospels was to teach people, among other things, to be merciful, even to the lowest of the low.
But the Gospels actually taught this:
Before you kill somebody, make absolutely sure he isn’t well connected. So it goes.

The flaw in the Christ stories, said the visitor from outerspace, was that Christ, who didn’t look like much,was actually the Son of the Most Powerful Being in the Universe. Readers understood that, so when they came to the crucifixion, they naturally thought, and Rosewater read aloud again:
Oh, boy– they sure picked the wrong guy to kill that time!
And that thought had a brother: “There are right people to lynch.” Who? People who are not connected. So it goes.

The visitor from outerspace made a gift to Earth of a new Gospel. In it, Jesus really was a nobody, and a pain in the neck to a lot of people with better connections than he had. He still got to say all the lovely and puzzling things he said in the other Gospels.
So the people amused themselves one day by nailing him to a cross and planting the cross in the ground. There couldn’t possibly be any repercussions, they lynchers thought. The reader would have to think that, too, since the new Gospel hammered home again and again what a nobody Jesus was.
And then, just before the nobody died, the heavens opened up, and there was thunder and lightning. The voice of G-d came crashing down. He told the people that He was adopting the bum as his son, giving him the full powers and privileges of the Son of the Creator of the Universe throughout all eternity. G-d said this: From this moment on, He will punish horribly anybody who torments a bum who has no connections!

Page count: 215
Total: 13,738

Up next: Harriet the Spy (no, really), Slam, Somewhere in the Darkness, Monster, and some other Walter Dean Myers book whose title I cannot recall.

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