Free Study Guide Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.|
FREE LITERARY CRITICISM / LESSON PLAN: SLAUGHTERHOUSE - FIVE
A subtitle of the novel describes it as “A Duty Dance with Death,” which
seems most appropriate since there is a kind of sweeping circularity in
its references to war and dying. The entire novel centers on the horror
of the Dresden bombing, the needless death of thousands of innocent civilians,
and the senseless futility of violence. Throughout the book, Billy and
Vonnegut try to grapple with the images of death and violence they have
taken away from Dresden. Ironically, it is while he is imprisoned on Trafalmadore
that Billy begins to put death into perspective. His captors teach him
that the past, present, and future occur simultaneously in one continuous
moment, and the challenge is to focus on the pleasant rather than the
inevitable unpleasant in life. As a result, Billy begins to cope with
his experience in Dresden, even going back to see the city long after
the war is over. He learns to accept war, and all of its cruelties, as
an inevitable part of life; although it does not make it any more pleasant
or sensible, his new perspective helps Billy to cope. He also seems to
come to grips with death, for when he time travels into the future and
sees his own assassination, he accepts it with calm resignation. The reader
is left to ponder whether Billy would have been more miserable in life
if he had tried to fight his fate.
1. Vonnegut appears in the novel as a character. How does this
affect the novel and what the author is trying to say?
2. Billy’s life is depicted through flashbacks and time travels into the past and future. From what you have learned about him through these methods, write a chronological history of Billy’s life.
3. Explain at least five ways that Billy displays his passivity
in the novel.
4. Explain Billy’s relationship with Valencia (his wife), Barbara (his daughter), Roland Weary, Montana Wildhack, Kilgore Trout, and O’Hare.
5. Describe the three major settings in the novel and how Billy
relates to each of them.
6. The destruction of Dresden is a symbol of all that is horrible and senseless in war and in life. How is Billy affected throughout his adult life by his Dresden experience?
7. What do the Trafalmadorians teach Billy about time and life?
What does he decide to do with the information?
8. What are the themes of the book and how are they developed?
9. Why is the novel a tragedy?
10. Although the novel is somewhat disjointed, how does Vonnegut unify it into a whole?
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. 15 May 2008