Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. is one of my favorite novels, so perhaps I may be biased. But, Slaughterhouse Five is a great novel and should be read in college literature classes.
Unlike The Great Gatsby. Good war novels that are school appropriate are a bit more difficult to find. In Savannah, Missouri, a town about 35 or so minutes from the school, the novels we read for our World War II unit in literature are Night by Elie Wiesel, and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, which is actually my favorite novel of all time.
But my point in bringing this up is that WWII novels are not supposed to be appropriate or comfortable. It was not an okay time. War is messy and awful so why make teenagers comfortable with it. Holocaust novels are great and point Nazis to be the bad guys. Which is true even now, but that’s not 100% how the world works. Not all Nazis believed this rhetoric that was given to them. It’s more complicated than that. The Book Thief shows us this, not all Germans are bad, but those were civilians.
However, I believe we should read Slaughterhouse Five is because it shows that no one is right. Not Germans, not Nazis, not Americans, not soldiers. The Americans bombed a civilian town until there was nothing left solely because it contained a small weapons factory. A factory that employed the town to feed their families. No one is right, no one is wrong, war is messy, but to the birds it’s all the same.
It’s not only the philosophy that really attracts me to Slaughterhouse Five, it’s also the discussion of mental illness, more importantly PTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. At the time it was called shell shocked, and the novel did not outright tell us the fact that Billy Pilgrim has PTSD, but we can tell that the aliens and zoo and abduction are all in his head. The aliens idea that time happens all at once runs parallel with the symptoms of PTSD in which flashbacks occur in present time. Like living in the past, but in the present and that explains the random sequences of the novel.
It is a war novel that tells the truth about war and isn’t completely boring and contradictory. Not only that, but it is an important story where we need to know that the good guys are wrong.