“There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time.”
Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five; or, The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death was first published in 1969 by Dell Publishing in New York, United States.
The novel tells the story of Billy Pilgrim, an American man “tall and weak, and shaped like a bottle of Coca-Cola” who has traveled to Europe from America to fight in World War II, to then get captured and taken to Dresden as a prisoner of war. During his stay in Germany Pilgrim gets “unstuck in time” and begins experiencing the different stages of his life in no particular order, without control over where he will find himself next. Pilgrim gets kidnapped by an alien species, the Trafalmadorians, is exhibited in a zoo on their planet together with actress Montana Wildhack and starts adopting their fatalistic view of life, a philosophy he will start preaching once back on Earth.
While in Dresden, Pilgrim witnesses a fire-bombing enacted by the allied forces that completely destroys the city. The protagonist survives the attack by accident, only because he is held captive underground, in a former meat processing plant known as Slaughterhouse-Five. Much of the book focuses on the effects of Dresden’s tragedy on Pilgrim, leaving the reader to guess whether what is told is real or just a result of the trauma caused by the war.
Slaughterhouse-Five is considered Kurt Vonnegut’s most influential book. It was nominated for a best-novel Nebula Award and for a best-novel Hugo Award. In 1972 it was adapted into a film directed by George Roy Hill, which won the Cannes Jury Prize, the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and the Cannes Grand Prize of the Jury.
Categorized as a science-fiction novel, an anti-war book and a postmodern text, Slaughterhouse-Five is a story rich in symbolism that touches on many different themes, such as the human idea of free will, the nonsensical nature of violence, and of literature itself, by interlacing historical facts with imaginary events without drawing a clear line between one and the other.
Since its first publication, Slaughterhouse-Five has been banned or challenged from public schools at least 14 times. The book was burned in a high school in Drake in 1973, restricted to students with parental permission in Racine in 1984 and declared “rife with profanity and explicit sex” in Prince William County in 1998. Slaughterhouse-Five is currently among the top ten in the American Library Association Banned & Challenged Classics list.