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A STEP BEYOND
TESTS AND ANSWERS
_____ 1. Vonnegut had trouble writing Slaughterhouse-Five because he
B. was distracted by other projects
C. couldn't make sense of his Dresden experience
B. she doesn't want to take care of him
C. his stories about aliens and time-travel embarrass her
B. the movement of the POWs
C. the passage of time
B. was drafted by mistake
C. pulled strings to get into the fighting
B. he is alarmed by life
C. he has no place else to go
B. he is embarrassed
C. she thinks he was a hero
B. Billy broke Lazzaro's arm
C. Roland Weary made Lazzaro promise it
B. he thinks Billy is treating the war as a joke
C. he is exhausted
B. because Billy doesn't love her
C. because her life is meaningless
11. What is the significance of Tralfamadore in Slaughterhouse-Five?
12. Why is Kilgore Trout important?
13. How does Vonnegut portray the "military manner" of thinking?
14. Is Billy Pilgrim a Christ figure? Explain.
_____ 1. Bernard V. O'Hare is embarrassed when Vonnegut tries to talk to him about the war because
II. his wife will be mad if he talks to Vonnegut
III. he doesn't think the war should be exploited for money
B. I and III only
C. I, II, and III
B. will look like a hero for saving Billy's life
C. likes Billy
B. buys a subscription out of pity
C. weeps for them and their boss
B. are determinists
C. think Earthlings are stupid
II. they are all officers
III. there has been a clerical error
B. II and III only
C. I and III only
B. the latrine at the prison camp
C. the zoo on Tralfamadore
B. "the most self-pitying, least fraternal, and dirtiest of all"
C. "the great explainers"
B. there were hospitals there
C. it had no military value
B. their songs are tasteless
C. they are terrible singers
B. go to a pornography store
C. get on a TV or radio show
11. What are the problems Vonnegut had in writing his book about Dresden?
12. What effect does the war have on Billy Pilgrim?
13. How is time presented in Slaughterhouse-Five
14. Discuss Vonnegut's attitude towards machines, giving examples.
11. For Billy the Tralfamadorians function as superior beings whose philosophy enables him to come to terms with his life. They give him Montana to enable him to "start the world over again" as a new Adam with his Eve. For Vonnegut the Tralfamadorians provide an opportunity to comment from an "alien" perspective, on the absurdity of modern life and the illusions that human beings hold dear. The Tralfamadorians see all time all at once, and so to them free will-the idea that we make our own choices in life-does not exist. To them we are like bugs trapped in amber because past, present, and future are all fixed.
12. Vonnegut himself wrote science fiction stories for magazines, and for many years he failed to win much of an audience for his writings. Perhaps Kilgore Trout is Vonnegut's caricature of himself. Or perhaps Vonnegut feared that he would turn into a bitter and crazed man like Kilgore Trout if he didn't get some recognition as a writer.
Vonnegut uses paraphrases of Trout's novels to satirize American values. The Gutless Wonder, which is about a robot who becomes popular when his bad breath is cleared up, parodies the inane mentality of advertising. In The Big Board an Earthling couple's greed provides entertainment in an alien zoo.
Finally, Trout's novels furnish Billy Pilgrim with the material and the inspiration for his therapeutic fantasies, and they help him to remember consciously his Dresden experience.
13. The most primitive example of this is Roland Weary with his pathetic fantasies of heroism and deep friendships forged in battle. More sophisticated are the English officers in the German prison camp, who make war look "stylish and fun." But Vonnegut's exemplar of the "military manner" of thinking is Professor Rumfoord. Rumfoord's wives are mere trophies of his virility, he is a staunch social Darwinist who believes that only the strong should survive, and he thinks that the men who bombed Dresden, not the victims, are the ones who should be pitied.
Vonnegut also quotes extensively from military writings and speeches, usually selecting passages that seem to him to be the most absurd.
14. There are numerous references to Jesus in Slaughterhouse-Five. Two novels by Kilgore Trout reexamine the New Testament story, and the horse pitiers croon like Jesus's friends taking his body down from the cross. Billy is twice directly associated with Jesus: he is "crucified" on a cross-brace in the boxcar, and the Christmas carol "Away in the Manger" is said to describe Billy's inability to weep.
In some ways Billy's story parallels the life of Jesus. He tries to preach a message of hope and peace, but few people are ready for it. And in a vision he sees himself being assassinated for trying to change the world.
11. Some of Vonnegut's problems had to do with the nature of writing itself. Writing distorts events by making them plot elements in a story, and it turns actual people into characters. This process in turn dehumanizes the writer himself. Beyond this, writing cannot make sense of an atrocity.
Vonnegut saw ethical problems too. Another antiwar book would be worse than pointless because all war stories encourage war. Vonnegut's Dresden experience was absurd, so to make sense of it by writing a "good story" would be a lie.
Vonnegut found that he could most truthfully present his story if he adopted a point of view that combined the innocent perspective of the "baby" he was during the war with the embarrassed hindsight of the adult writing the story years later.
12. All of Billy Pilgrim's problems with life stem from his experiences in World War II. Exhaustion, exposure and hunger take their toll on his body, but far worse is the psychological damage he suffers as a result of witnessing the destruction of Dresden. Three years after coming home from the war he has a nervous breakdown, and commits himself to a mental hospital, where he meets others like himself who have "found life meaningless, partly because of what they had seen in the war," and who are "alarmed by the outside world."
He seems to recover, and goes on to marry and raise a family, as well as becoming a prosperous optometrist and prominent citizen in his hometown of Ilium, New York. But every once in a while he falls asleep on the job, and has fits of weeping that he cannot explain. These symptoms indicate that something is still bothering him, no matter how normal he appears to everyone else.
Finally, while in the hospital recuperating from a near-fatal plane crash, Billy starts putting together a complicated fantasy to help him cope with the horror of his war experience. This fantasy- which involves reorganizing his life through time-travel and imagining wise and kindly aliens who set him up in a new Garden of Eden with his dream-lover Montana Wildhack- lets Billy escape the meaninglessness of modern existence into a re-invented life that makes sense.
13. Billy Pilgrim believes that he is "unstuck in time," living his life out of sequence, jumping around from one period of his life to another in no apparent order. Actually there is one period- the six months from December 1944 to May 1945, when he was a soldier and then a POW in Europe during World War II- which he does experience more or less from beginning to end. Although there are frequent interruptions for visits to the past, the future, and his fantasy about the Tralfamadorians and Montana Wildhack, Billy always returns to the war pretty much where he left off.
Billy is trying to reinvent his life by reorganizing his memories and adding fantasy. He does this by fitting all the other events in his life into the sequence of his war experiences, and thus is finally able to come to terms with what he saw and heard and did in those six months.
Vonnegut suggests that Billy's time-travel is analogous to the way memory and fantasy work in our lives. Memory is a kind of time-travel into the past; fantasy takes us into the future. By structuring the novel the way he does, he is thus able to describe directly our subjective (internal) experience of the passage of time, which is so different from the objective (external) time of clocks and calendars.
14. There are few machines in Slaughterhouse-Five that aren't harmful to people. The most obvious examples are weapons: the bombers that devastate Dresden and Roland Weary's antitank gun, which ironically murders its operators by drawing enemy fire. Other machines destroy people accidentally. An elevator squashes a man who gets his ring caught in the door, and Valencia dies when her Cadillac poisons her with carbon monoxide fumes.
To make a point Vonnegut often describes living things mechanistically, as when the group of POWs is said to be "essentially a liquid which could be induced to flow slowly toward cooing and light," or when Billy's spine is called a "tube" with all of his important "wires" in it. In reverse, machines are often given human attributes: trains full of POWs say hello to each other across the rail yard, and the boxcar becomes "a single organism which ate and drank and excreted through its ventilators."
TERM PAPER IDEAS AND OTHER TOPICS FOR WRITING
The number in parentheses that follows each entry is the number of the chapter in which the term first occurs in the novel.
© Copyright 1985 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.