Chapter Two Power/lessness of the Author in Slaughterhouse-Five
From the confessions of the author/narrator in Chapter One, I divide the difficulties and frustration in the composing of the war book into two interrelated categories: one is rooted in the nature of its subject matter, and the other results from the inappropriateness and inefficiency of traditional narrative forms. Schriber also has the same observation, ''The anti-war novel tradition's formal offering to the narrator and tradition's mold for the Dresden experience, is the source of the narrator's frustration . . . " (179).
First, I will discuss the author's frustration in composing the war book results from the nature of its subject. When the author/narrator tells his movie-maker friend about his plan to write a book on Dresden firebombing, which means to show the brutality and insanity of the war--an anti-war novel, he receives an unenthusiastic response: ''Why don't you write an anti-glacier book instead?" (3). Through this incident, the narrator actually learns that ''they [wars] were as easy to stop as glaciers" (3). This conversation points out one of the important characteristics of SF. The efforts spend on writing the book about the atrocity of the Dresden bombing for the prevention of war is as futile and repetitive as the song that goes:
I work in Wisconsin,
I work in a lumbermill there.
The people I meet when I walk down the street,
They say, ''What's your name?"
And I say,
''My name is Yon Yonson,
I work in Wisconsin . . . " (3)
Who soliloquized thus to his tool:
''You took all my wealth
And you ruined my health
And now you won't pee, you fool." (2-3)
Ups and Downs, Ups and Downs
The first mistake lies in the narrator's false belief that ''since the subject was so big" (2) he must create a fictional story with an ''irony so great"(5). As the narrator confesses,
Vonnegut also uses the funny behavior of Billy to ridicule the realistic representation. When Billy serves as an infantry scout in the army, his loss of one of his shoes makes him ''bob up-and-down, up-and-down "(33). This funny act of Billy parodies traditional story telling where there will always be climax and suspense, which is just as obsolete and ridiculous as one with a shoe missing in composing a book on the Dresden firebombing.
Also, there are two discussions of the novel in the experience of Billy's time traveling which might appear to be trivial but are actually important episodes for understanding Vonnegut's ideas of traditional fiction. When Billy Pilgrim is captured by the Trafamadorians, he asks for a novel to read. The only earthling book they have is Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susan, ''with all its ups and downs, up and downs" (88). The book is definitely not a masterpiece or a standard sample in English if one wants to recommend a book to the outer space creatures to demonstrate what are some of the best novels in the earthling world. Therefore, Vonnegut also comments on the masterpiece, The Brothers Karamozov, by Feodor Dostoevsky. Eliot Rosewater, a major fictional character in God Bless You Mr. Rosewater and a science fiction fan of Kilgore Trout, tells ''an interesting thing to Billy one time about a book that wasn't science fiction." He thinks ''everything there was to know about life was in The Brothers of Karamazov, but ''that wasn't enough any more . . . " (101). What is not enough here are the traditional forms. Through these two seemingly unrelated episodes, Vonnegut shows the inadequacy of the traditional fictional writing form.
The second mistake is to innocently regard the task of fictional writing as easy as ''to report" (2) realistically of what he has seen in the war. Personal experiences of the war do not guarantee the production of ''a masterpiece" of the witness account (2). When Vonnegut was asked in an interview if the writing of SF was on a purely realistic level, he replied:
Consequently, neither the author's personal memories nor the official history can help with the composing of the war book. The event itself is impossible to be represented simply through the recollection of the data or the writer's memories. Even though the firebombing can be represented, it would become a reproducing of cruelty and violence, which the narrator refuses to do. The narrator's mentioning of his experience as a police reporter (8) also suggests his realization of not writing a war book on the basis of realism, which would have to represent the horror of the massacre again. The story he covers is about a veteran who is squashed by elevator because his ''wedding ring was caught in all the ornaments" (9). The worst part comes when the narrator has to ''dictate over the telephone" and also call the elevator man's wife for her response. Then he finally transforms the accident into a report. Therefore, although SF centers on the controversial historical event of the Dresden firebombing in the Second World War, we do not find ''a single description of the bombing . . . among its fifty thousand words" (Klinkowitz, Slaughterhouse-Five 44).
The episode of the encounter between the narrator and Mary, the wife of his war buddy O'Hare, shows that the traditional war novels or movies are usually inappropriate glorification of personal heroism and justification of brutal killings. The exposition of the writing process by the author is actually a renunciation of the traditional war production of John Wayne.
In addition to the ''movies by Frank Sinatra and John Wayne or some of those other glamorous, war-loving, dirty old men," Vonnegut also shows his critical attitude on the inappropriate association between war and glamour in his parody of ''The Three Musketeers" and the English soldiers. Though Roland Weary ''dilated upon the piety and heroism of the ''The Three Musketeers," he is actually an infantry scout who is filled with ''tragic wrath" (50) rather than courage. He likes to show people his collection of ''guns and swords and torture instruments and leg irons" (35). He shares his experiences with Billy Pilgrim on how to make a worst torture of people, and spends most of his time making imaginative enemies to keep himself alive. Roland Weary gives his version of the war story like this:
Moreover, Vonnegut points out his critical attitude toward the Englishmen's wrong conception of war. In contrast to Billy Pilgrim's ''filthy flamingo" look, the Englishmen have bellies like washboards and muscles like cannon balls. They give a lecture to the American war prisoners on the importance of personal hygiene, which they regard as a means to keep themselves going on living. The Englishmen have more food than they actually need while the Russian soldiers starve. '' They made war look stylish and reasonable and fun" (94). Here, clearly with the negative image of Roland Weary and the ridiculous and impossible stories of his personal heroism in ''The Three Musketeers," Vonnegut points out a common pattern between the modern and traditional projection of war: ''it was a crazy, sexy, murderous relationship" (35). Although the image of the movie stars and the English soldiers are glamorous and courageous, they are actually as sick and morbid as the character Roland Weary.
Besides the inappropriate glorification of war of Weary and the movie, the author/narrator finds that people inappropriately exaggerate and distort the violence and atrocity of war into heroism and romance: