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YMMV / Slaughterhouse-Five

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  • Alternate Aesop Interpretation: It's still debated whether Vonnegut intended the novel to be an argument for or against fatalism, as seen on the Headscratchers page of this very wiki. Vonnegut notes in the first chapter that writing an antiwar novel is like writing an anti-glacier novel – there will always be wars, the argument goes, and they are as easy to stop as glaciers. Yet Vonnegut still wrote his antiwar novel. The narrative itself, from Billy Pilgrim's perspective, comes down solidly on the You Can't Fight Fate side, and a number of critics, including well-known writers such as Anthony Burgess, have argued that Vonnegut himself sides with it. However, one can also make a strong case that he does not sympathise with it - for instance, if we are to take Pilgrim's account of his death at face value, he does nothing to avert it, despite knowing what inaction would lead to, and the Tralfamadorians, according to Pilgrim's narrative, end up destroying the universe through their negligence.
  • Alternative Character Interpretation: One could make the argument that Billy is suffering from severe PTSD and is undergoing Flashbacks instead of actually traveling through time. The Tralfamadorians could also be stated to be a non-existing coping mechanism to help deal with the trauma and the flashbacks.
    • Unlike most "it's all in the main character's head" interpretations, this one bears a lot of weight. After all, the Tralfamadorians look like the aliens from one of Kilgore Trout's stories, and Billy's abduction uses convoluted time-travel logic.
      • Additionally, the idea of being abducted by aliens and placed in a zoo was in one of Kilgore Trouts books. Relevant passage: "He got a few paragraphs into it, and then he realized that he had read it before — years ago, in the veterans' hospital. It was about an Earthling man and woman who were kidnapped by extra-terrestrials. They were put on display in a zoo on a planet called Zircon-212."
      • More evidence: Billy views a porn movie (or something like that... I forget the exact technology that was used) of Montana Wildhack, and that she had apparently disappeared at some point. This could have expanded into her being abducted alongside him and not coming back (in his mind).
      • Also, while Billy was married to Valencia when he supposedly slept with and impregnated Montana, it's stated that the time he slept with a stranger at a party was the "first and only time" he was unfaithful. Then there's the fact that Billy apparently has a child with Montana who is never mentioned outside the scenes on Tralfamador.
      • Even more: After first being captured in the war, Billy sees one American soldier being knocked around by a German soldier. The American asks, "Why me?" and the German replies, "Why you? Why anyone?". This same exchange is repeated when Billy is first kidnapped by the Tralfamadorians, with Billy as the American and a Tralfamadorian as the German.
      • In addition there's the fact that Billy only starts talking about his time travel after he suffers a severe head injury. The timing of all this together may not be a coincidence.
      • While the novel always presents Billy's time (and space) travel in a very matter-of-fact way, as if it really were happening, it is also stated near the very opening of the story that the book is really just reporting what Billy himself says happened to him — the entire book may be told from the perspective of a hidden Unreliable Narrator.
      • Also, Billy, for the most part, only travels forward in time from his wartime experiences to his postwar life, making it more likely that he is just coming to after a PTSD flashback. After the war, the one occasion on which he travels forward in time is to his death. However, that event is set in a pretty fantastical future (where the U.S. has disintegrated into the Divided States of America, Chicago has been bombed into oblivion, and Billy is a famous lecturer about the Tralfamadorian interpretation of time), suggesting that it too is a hallucination. It's also noted by the narrator that this account of Billy's death is what Billy ''says'' will happen. And has happened. And is happening.
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  • Big-Lipped Alligator Moment: While watching a war film on television, Billy becomes slightly Unstuck in Time, and sees the whole thing in reverse. Before this scene, there was no indication that this was a possible effect, and nothing like it ever happens to him again.
  • Continuity Lockout: Averted. Despite the cameos of some characters from his earlier novels, Vonnegut gives enough context for them that you don't need to have read those books to understand this one.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight: The famous scene of Billy watching backwards war footage and then extrapolating from that to Hitler turning into a baby bears a striking resemblance to the climactic scene in Come and See, where the protagonist hallucinates a montage of World War II footage which rewinds to a photo of Hitler as a baby. Whether Elem Klimov was inspired by the book or it's a simple case of coincidence, one can't deny that both scenes make similar points about the dehumanizing nature of war.
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  • Jerkass Woobie: Roland Weary. Though the book portrays him as being a vicious bully who always blames Billy for anything that doesn't go his way, it's hard not to feel sorry for him as he's forced to march for miles as a POW in ill-fitting clogs, developing severe, bleeding blisters in the process, and slowly dying in agony from the resulting gangrenous infection during the train ride to the POW camp.
  • Tear Jerker: The story is filled to the brim with the dead, dying, and a series of awful events that happen to one person. The comforting power of the "so it goes" mantra can only take you so far (if it takes you anywhere at all). The story is very sad.


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