Thursday, September 25, 2014

Banned Books: Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Banned Books Week was this week, and it was a perfect excuse to read another book from my TBR pile.  The lucky winner was Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., published 1969.

I found this little book at a used library sale for 25 cents and read it in three days.  Before I talk about it, however, I have an opinion concerning this whole banned books situation.  (BTW, I am a mom, and my opinion is formed with my motherly concern for young people.)

After reading Slaughterhouse-Five, I understood immediately why it was problematic, at least for those under the age of 17.   It makes sense that schools would vote not to make it available to minors.

Slaughterhouse-Five is a work for mature readers. Personally speaking, this book would have left my high school-aged mind in the dust, and I would have never been able to follow or comprehend it, let alone make an informed decision about it.

Schools do not have to provide every book ever published.  If you want to read Slaughterhouse-Five at age fifteen, and it is not available at school, first check with Mom or Dad, then (with their permission) borrow it from the public library in town or buy a used copy for super cheap on  (I understand my logic is old fashioned, but so be it.)

Elementary, middle, and high schools (at the very least) have an obligation to provide the most important and best literature to its students.  Schools should be in the business of educating young people by inspiring them with the great Masters of academia: math, history, science, composition, literature, art, and music.  Yet, some of those Masters should be postponed until college-age and adulthood.

Books with vulgar language, blasphemy, and sexual content should be reserved for a more mature audience that is equipped to self-sensor. Self-censorship allows us to make decisions about what is personally appropriate.

It should not be the school's responsibility to shock students by using literature that oversteps boundaries.  Those boundaries are there to protect the immature sensibilities of young minds that may not have the ability to discriminate in a healthy manner, yet.

Instead schools should be fortifying students with standards and values in order to prepare them to make good judgements later when they are more experienced.  This is how we teach young people to self-censor.  

Again, parents should be the first filter regarding what their child is exposed to, but they should be confident knowing that the school they send their child to is not feeding him literature he is not ready to ingest.  Schools have plenty of other books to choose from, in place of those which are inappropriate.

So, while I am in favor of freedom to read what we want, I also believe schools are responsible for using good judgement when choosing literature for impressionable minds.

And now, my experience with Slaughterhouse-Five: 

In my initial opinion, I suspected that Vonnegut was angry about something or with someone: America, the U.S. military, the inevitability of war, God, Jesus.  He made a mockery of these things.

The main character, Billy, is a poor excuse for a man.  He is lame enough to believe that he has no ability to change anything in his life - he has no free will - so he cannot make a difference in the world.  He is a vegetable.

Through Billy, I think Vonnegut wanted to demonstrate that humans behave like machines: useless to do anything different outside of human nature, in order to effect change. Vonnegut particularly scorns people who cling to their religious beliefs - to which I say, he is wrong. Some religious beliefs are harmful to society, but the Christian beliefs Vonnegut personally targets are not.  (That's a topic for another blog.)

Also, I think that the author rejects the idea that war is inevitable, but unfortunately, it is true because of the world we live in.  Good nations and courageous world leaders must stand up to evil.  Hitler was destroying lives in Europe, and American men sacrificed their lives to help save Europe from Hitler. The questionable decision to bomb Dresden does not negate the reasons why WWII happened.

And finally, Vonnegut makes the U.S. military appear as foolish clowns and self-interested slobs. This was difficult to swallow.

However, on the other side, if Vonnegut wanted to demonstrate the horrors of war and PTSD, he did a superb job because, overall, the story was powerful, and I do not think I shall ever forget it.

You know, we still live in the same world that Vonnegut portrayed in Slaughterhouse-Five, and we still must face evil if we want to bring about change.  Sometimes life demands hard choices.

Or we can exist like a Tralfamadorian: focusing only on events that make us content, ignoring what is bad, and believing that life is meant to simply exist and then die - just like their hero, Darwin.

But the good news is, we do have free will.  You decide.

1 comment:

Joseph said...

First...I commend and agree with your statements about banned books.

Now for S-5. I got a slightly different vibe from Vonnegut...not anger, but sadness. I think he's entitled to that. I'm a veteran myself, though I've not seen the horrors that Vonnegut did. Vonnegut tells a story about being asked if S-5 was an anti-war book. He answered, Yes, I guess. The person asking the question then stated that when he hears someone is writing an anti-war book, he asks them, Why don’t you write an anti-glacier book instead? I think that's a marvelous comment...and I think it is to Vonnegut's credit that he included the comment. A bit more in my own review. You know where to find it. It's certainly one of a kind.