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A Thematic Analysis of Slaughterhouse-Five

Author ZhaoXiuLan
Tutor ZhangRuLin
School Northwest Normal University
Course English Language and Literature
Keywords antiwar resignation absurdity
Type Master's thesis
Year 2002
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Kurt Vonnegut is one of the important postmodernist novelists in contemporary literary history of America and one of the famous novelists of the absurd. He is a shrewd commentator and satirist of American society. For him, science-fiction is a very good tool to disclose the diseases of the society. Vonnegut is very pessimistic about the destiny of human beings. His highest achievement, Slaughterhouse-Five, is partly based on his own war experiences. It seems to be an absurd science-fiction, but, actually, it contains the serious themes closely related to the reality. The present thesis aims to analyze the themes of the novel on the basis of the author’s experiences and the social reality of America in 1960s. The thesis is divided into four chapters. Chapter One is a brief introduction to the author and his works. This part centers on the comments on the author and his representative work, Slaughterhouse-Five, especially on the themes of the novel. Chapter Two is an introduction to the factors influencing Vonnegut’s choice of subjects(e.g. his family, war experiences and work experiences, etc.). This part paves the way for the thematic analysis of the novel. Chapter Three analyzes the novel thematically based on the author’s experiences and the social reality of America in 1960s. This chapter is divided into three parts. The first part deals with the antiwar theme of the novel. Vonnegut is an antiwar novelist. In the beginning chapter, he tells the reader that the novel is an antiwar one. This theme is the most obvious one throughout the novel. By retelling the story of the protagonist, Billy Pilgrim who has the similar war experiences with Vonnegut, and quoting others’ comments and the authoritative records, Vonnegut tries to disclose the cruelty and destructiveness of war and the influences of war upon human beings. The antiwar demand of Americans finds full expression in Slaughterhouse-Five. The novel was published at the time of Vietnam War, and its antiwar assertions were in right conformity with the spirit of the time, no doubt the novel serves as a warning against any war.<WP=6> The second part analyzes the theme of resignation. Living in a world full of slaughters, human beings are always at the edge of death. Confronting fate, human beings are very weak and helpless, so they can only accept their fate. The third part studies the theme of absurdity. The universe is controlled by the objective law which cannot be understood by human beings, so it is in disorder and without purpose. Human beings, at the mercy of fate, are trivial and hopeless. Because the life is meaningless, human beings have to find some meaning in whatever they do. In Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut rejects the traditional chronological narrative, and shifts time and space according to the protagonist’s time travel. The absurd form of the novel enforces the absurd content and it is an extension of the content. Thus, the form is an integral part of the content. Chapter Four is a conclusion where much importance is attached to the social significance of the novel. The antiwar assertions in the novel are in accord with American people’s antiwar demand and in conformity with the spirit of the time. Thus, the novel has a profound social significance. By making use of science-fiction, Vonnegut considers war and the destiny of human beings from the aspect of the whole human history and the universe. It enlarges the thinking dimension of the reader and deepens the theme of the novel.

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