Banned Books Club: Slaughterhouse-Five


photo by Julia Poppa

Frequently banned in school across the U.S., Slaughterhouse-Five nevertheless contains some of the humanizing themes in all of American literature.

Chloe Mawyer, Staff Writer

Kurt Vonnegut’s science-fiction, satirical, anti-war novel Slaughterhouse-Five is one of the most controversial novels ever published and taught in schools — that is, wherever it is not banned.

The novel’s topics have long raised concern from parents and school boards nationwide since its publication in 1969. The content is heavy, and it’s meant to be that way, as Vonnegut examines the PTSD of the main character Billy Pilgrim.  Additionally, the novel contains sexual content, profanity, and irreligious innuendos, making it an easy target for those who seek to ban books from English classrooms and school libraries.

In the book, Vonnegut, a war veteran himself, explores an innocent man’s testimony to catastrophic and unnecessary disaster. The story is based on the destructive bombing of Dresden, Germany, where over 150,000 people died. Vonnegut himself survived the bombing during his service in World War II.  

Every word written, every sentence formed is a piece of the greater whole.”

The novel begins from the perspective of the narrator and ends in the same format. The narrator visits an old friend from war and tells him that he’s writing a novel about the war. His wife gets angry with the narrator as she states they were “just babies” when they were sent to war. The narrator promises that this book is not to glorify war and promises to subtitle the novel “The Children’s Crusade.”

The other chapters follow Billy Pilgrim, a prisoner of war during World War II, who suffers from severe PTSD. Billy is ultimately “unstuck in time.” He travels through time from his days before the war, during the war, and after the war. Billy not only time travels, but also faces an alien abduction, survives a plane crash, falls in love with a movie star, and revisits war. The author presents these events constantly out of order, so as to illustrate the disoriented mind of its main character as well as touch on the theme of history repeating itself.

The phrase “so it goes,” woven frequently throughout the novel whenever death occurs, implies an absence of justice. Death, it seems, is merely the price of war. The novel’s last statement comes from a bird asking the question, “Poo-tee-weet?” This statement may be the strongest one in the entire novel. Vonnegut chooses this phrase to describe the massacre of Dresden, as there’s nothing more to say. Vonnegut essentially says there is nothing more intelligent about war.

The themes embedded within Slaughterhouse-Five are intense. Every word written, every sentence formed is a piece of the greater whole. While it’s not difficult to see why the novel ended up on the list of banned books, the message that Slaughterhouse-Five contains is one that needs to be heard. War is destructive, war is not necessary, and we must see human civilization through a different lens. Depriving students of the content within the novel is a more concerning than the content that raises questions.

To the banning of books, all I have to say is this,“Poo-tee-weet?” There is nothing intellectually defensible about that.