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Themes

Little Words, Big Ideas

Fate and Free Will

In Slaughterhouse-Five, the primary upshot of what Billy Pilgrim learns from the plunger-shaped aliens is: if we cannot change anything about time, there is no such thing as free will. After all, f...

Warfare

Slaughterhouse-Five is about a very particular experience of war. This book isn't about officers or heroes. It's about privates, most of whom don't want to be – and shouldn't be – on th...

Time

Billy Pilgrim and the narrator of Slaughterhouse-Five both spend a fair amount of their time reliving their experiences in World War II. The narrator recalls the war through personal memory, histor...

Suffering

From Billy's excessively realistic crucified Christ (Chapter 2, Section 19) to the horses with shattered hooves in the rubble of Dresden (Chapter 9, Section 19), much of the suffering in Slaughterh...

Morality and Ethics

The Tralfamadorians are pretty clear that their novels hold no moral lessons for readers. After all, what would be the point of a moral lesson when you can't do anything to change the future? Slaug...

Foolishness and Folly

Because Slaughterhouse-Five is an anti-war book, Vonnegut isn't presenting us with any heroes. And to counteract the impression that any of the men in the novel have the self-determination or free...

Freedom and Confinement

Obviously, Slaughterhouse-Five is a book about prisoners of war, and it doesn't get much more confined than that. But even more, it's a book about the many, many ways people get trapped: by the arm...

Men and Masculinity

In the first chapter of Slaughterhouse-Five, the narrator promises Mary O'Hare that he will write a novel about World War II that will not attract the attention of manly men like John Wayne or Fran...

Literature and Writing

As we discussed in "Genre," Slaughterhouse-Five really draws attention to the fact that it's a book, being written by an author. This is part of what makes it a "postmodern" novel (see "Genre" for...
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