Slaughterhouse Five

Kurt Vonnegut's Observations of War Trauma

During times of war soldiers experience horrific atrocities that are mentally and physically crippling. Most cannot begin to comprehend these sinister and morbid images due to their lack of military experience. In Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, the main character is Billy Pilgrim, who serves the United States in World War II. Billy is a chaplain's assistant and does not actually engage in combat, allowing him to be an observer of the war rather than an active participant engaging in battle. His position as an enlisted but unarmed spectator of the war leads to the cataclysmic sights and memories that Billy recollects throughout the novel because he witnesses more than most soldiers do and therefore is more traumatized. Billy is captured in Germany and kept as a prisoner of war in a concentration camp, where he witnesses the total destruction of the town of Dresden. The catastrophes that Billy experiences traumatize him for the remainder of his life and lead to his psychological impairment and eventual death. However, Billy uses his imagination to reduce some of the pain, creating memories that help him cope with his trauma. After witnessing the destruction and devastation of war, many soldiers, including Billy,...

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