Rhet & Comp Analyzes Slaughterhouse-Five & Night

Kerringtyn Malley, Sting Reporter

Slaughterhouse-Five and Night: A Rhetorical Analysis

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut and Night by Elie Wiesel are two very different books about the same thing: the Holocaust. Wiesel chose to write about his experience as a Jew who was sent to Auschwitz while Vonnegut wrote a science fiction story about a World War II soldier time traveling through different points in his life. While these stories are very different, they both show just how terrifying the war was for everyone involved. Vonnegut and Wiesel use many rhetorical devices to get the points of their stories across to the reader.
Slaughterhouse-Five is an interesting story. It starts off with Vonnegut himself trying to write a story about the Dresden fire bombing, then everything after the first chapter is that story. It follows a WWII soldier named Billy Pilgrim as he randomly travels between different points in his life or, as the book calls it, being “unstuck in time.” One moment, he’ll be in the middle of war, the next he’ll be kidnapped and put in an alien zoo. Something Billy Pilgrim repeats throughout the story is “So it goes.” He says this every time someone dies because that’s what the Tralfamadorians (an alien race that makes multiple appearances in the story) say when someone or something dies. “’When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in a bad condition in that particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is “so it goes.”‘ (Vonnegut, 27) He says this phrase a lot. When Billy says that, it’s showing that he has accepted that he’s just going to keep going back and forth in time and he’s going to see a lot of deaths, sometimes even ones he’s seen already.
Significantly, Billy Pilgrim learns his ironic stance from the Tralfamadorians. These aliens propose “so it goes” as the appropriate response to death, and their “telegraphic schizophrenic” narrative style informs the sly and sublime tone of Slaughterhouse-Five. Vonnegut typically relies on this cosmic perspective, this insight from the Other, to relativize the human experience. This cosmic perspective allows Vonnegut to use irony as a scalpel, deconstructing postwar narratives of progress, satisfaction, consumerism and capitalism, American innocence, et cetera. Viewing these constructions through the critical eyes of the Other brings Vonnegut’s satiric urge to the forefront. He defamiliarizes the reader with the everyday in order to impel a critical stance. (Taylor).
Vonnegut also uses a lot of irony, both literal and situational, like when, “The plane crashed on top of Sugarbush Mountain, in Vermont. Everybody was killed but Billy.” (Vonnegut, 25) There are many other situations like this in Slaughterhouse-Five that just pass it off like it’s some normal, everyday occurrence because that’s how Billy sees it. Death is just a part of life that everyone has to deal with and it can happen at any moment, and Billy has accepted that. Vonnegut gets the reader to think about parts of their lives like time and death. He explains them from a perspective that a lot of people never even considered, like how time isn’t something that’s linear, that’s just the way people perceive it because that’s the only way human brains can. He also shows how death is just a part of life and everyone is going to lose important people in their lives at some point and, eventually, they’ll also die. That’s just part of being human.
Night is a very different story compared to Slaughterhouse-Five. World War II is really the only thing they even have in common. Night is Elie Wiesel’s retelling of his experience as a Jew in Auschwitz, the famous Nazi death camp. This story shows many great uses of pathos to really get readers to feel how Wiesel felt while he was in Auschwitz. He makes the reader feel like they’re experiencing all these horrible things with him which is what makes this story so good.
I listened to him shouting at them that they were lazy good-for-nothings who only wanted to stay in bed … I considered jumping him, strangling him. But I had neither the courage nor the strength. I was riveted to my father’s agony. My hands were aching, I was clenching them so hard. To strangle the doctor and the others! To set the whole world on fire! My father’s murderers! But even the cry stuck in my throat. (Wiesel, 109)
Many times throughout Night, Wiesel makes the reader feel the emotions he felt at that time. Night also uses a lot of ethos because it’s a true story. Wiesel did actually go to Auschwitz. Everything that happens in Night is something that actually happened during the Holocaust. It’s not like there’s a more credible source when this is literally something Wiesel lived through. It’s sad reading about someone having to live through something like this. Wiesel lost most of his family, almost gave up his religious faith, and probably was very close to death during this time. Most people can’t even begin to imagine what living through something this horrible would actually be like, so living through it is the only way anyone would really know. Nobody should have to live through war or holocausts, but they do.
Vonnegut and Wiesel use many rhetorical devices to get the points of their stories across to the reader. Vonnegut uses a lot of irony and repetition in his writing while Wiesel uses ethos and pathos. Both wrote about their experiences with World War II and the Holocaust and ended up with completely different stories. With how different they are, it’s kind of hard to believe that they’re about the same time period.

Works Cited

Taylor, Wilson. “Irony and Authenticity in the American Imagination.” The Vonnegut Review,
2013, http://www.vonnegutreview.com/2013/05/irony-and-authenticity-in-american.html.
Wiesel, Elie. Night. Sundance, 1998.
Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-five. Dell, 1969.