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This idea appears repeatedly. When Billy proposes marriage to Valencia:
Billy didn't want to marry ugly Valencia. She was one of the symptoms of his disease. He knew he was going crazy when he heard himself proposing marriage to her, when he begged her to take the diamond ring and be his companion for life, (ibid p.107).
However, he was trapped in his life, for better or worse, such as the fact that Billy knew when he would be killed, yet didn't try to do anything about it. His death is compared with mankind's fate.
At one point Billy discusses the problem of war with the Tralfamadorians (p.117). They tell him that war is inevitable and he is stupid to try to change it. Humanity is trapped in his human nature, to create war and wreak death. Some people want peace, but they are naive and are unaware of human nature. Humans are aware of their nature, but is helpless to do anything about it, being "stuck in amber."
There are few characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are sick and the unwitting ploys of violent forces (Vonnegut 1969 p.164).
Vonnegut explains that there are no soldiers. There are only men, but never soldiers. A soldier is not a human being, whereas a man is. Vonnegut expresses this most obviously when he tells about the time Billy was imprisoned in Dresden:
When the three fools found the communal kitchen, whose main job was to make lunch for workers in the slaughterhouse, everybody had gone home but one woman who had been waiting for them impatiently. She was a war widow. So it goes. She had her hat and coat on. She wanted to go home, too, even though there wasn't anybody there. Her white gloves were laid out side by side on the zinc counter top. She had two big cans of soup for the Americans. It was simmering over low fires on the gas range. She had stacks of loaves of black bread, too. She asked Gluck if he wasn't awfully young to be in the army. He admitted that he was. She asked Edgar Derby if he wasn't awfully old to be in the army. He said he was. She asked Billy Pilgrim what he was supposed to be. Billy said he didn't know. He was just trying to keep warm.
All the real soldiers are dead,' she said. It was true. So it goes, (Vonnegut 1969 p.159).
Vonnegut realizes that a soldier is not human and therefore he cannot exist. Humans have emotions and a soldier must not. Stanley Schatt explains in his review of Slaughterhouse Five: "Vonnegut opposes any institution, be it scientific, religious, or political, that dehumanizes man and considers him a mere number and not a human being," (Riley 1973 p.348).
In the book, violent death is inevitable and that no matter who dies, life still goes on. The phrase "So it goes" recurs one hundred and six times. It memorializes the deaths and allows the book and Vonnegut's narration to go on.
When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in bad condition in the particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is 'So it goes,' (ibid p.27).
Death and violence are those things in Vonnegut's novel that must recur and recur in people's lives, as long as there is war. His book keeps on repeating and repeating the theme of the stupidity and uselessness of violence, war and thus death:
And Lot's wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human. So she was turned to a pillar of salt. So it goes, (Vonnegut 1969 p.21-22).
There is much absurd violence in this story, but it is scaled down to the size of an ordinary man's world, making it more unbearable and more necessary to understand the Vonnegut's explanation.
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Riley, Carolyn (Editor); Contemporary Literary Criticism vol.1. Detroit: Gale Research Co. 1973.
Riley, Carolyn and Barbara Harte (Editors); Contemporary Literary Criticism vol.2. Detroit: Gale Research Co. 1974.
Vit, Marek. "The Themes of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five." Kurt Vonnegut Corner. http://www.geocities.com/Hollywood/4953/themes.html.<
Vonnegut, Kurt Jr.; Slaughterhouse-Five; or Children's Crusade, a Duty Dance with Death. New York: Dell Publishing. 1971[continue]
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