Satire in Slaughterhouse Five

Instructor: Jennifer Mallett Smith

Jennifer has taught high school English for eight years and has a master's degree in curriculum and assessment.

This lesson will help students identify elements of satire in Kurt Vonnegut's novel ''Slaughterhouse Five'', and the author's purpose for using this literary technique.

Kurt Vonnegut and Satire

Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut

The Dresden bombing, an alien zoo with humans on display, and an eccentric protagonist are just a few details that make Slaughterhouse Five a memorable novel. Kurt Vonnegut, the author, brilliantly uses humor and repetition to make a commentary on the effects of war, specifically a war he fought in himself. A book can be classified as a satire when the author comments on a social situation, political event, or issue by using humor, exaggeration, or other literary devices that calls attention to them. Many of Vonnegut's writings are classified as satire. Slaughterhouse Five is loosely based on Vonnegut's experiences. He really was in World War II, and a prisoner-of-war in a slaughterhouse in Dresden; his containment there is actually what saved his life during the Dresden bombing.

Summary of Slaughterhouse Five

Slaughterhouse Five follows the protagonist, Billy Pilgrim on the journey of his life. Pilgrim is raised in Ilium, New York where he is drafted for WWII. He is later taken as a prisoner-of-war to Dresden, and is saved from the bombing because he was kept in a slaughterhouse. He returns to his hometown and continues to attend optometry school. He meets his wife Valencia there, and they have two children. After his daughter's wedding, he is kidnapped by a race of aliens called the Tralfamadorians, and placed in a zoo where he is mated with a famous pornography star. He returns to Earth, and is in a plane crash while on his way to an optometry conference, but survives. Valencia dies on the way to see him. In the end, he dies at the hand of a killer hired by Paul Lazarro, a man that he was in the prison camp with who blames him for the death of another American, Roland Weary.

Satire in the Title

The full title of the novel is actually Slaughterhouse Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death. The first subtitle, 'The Children's Crusade' is satirical because the 'children' in the novel are young men who behave like children. The character of Roland Weary is a good example. Weary imagines himself to be a hero in the war. When he is left by the other scouts of his self-titled troop 'Three Musketeers', he blames Billy and pulls a gun on him. Later, when Weary dies of gangrene (an unfortunate side effect of the shoes he was forced to wear by the Germans), Paul Lazarro blames Billy and vows to kill him someday. The satire of the title is shown by the childish behaviors of the soldiers.


The violent nature of the novel, despite the humorous ways that Vonnegut writes about it, is also a commentary on the unnecessary violence in the world. Senseless violence follows Billy throughout his life. An example of this is the death of his wife Valencia. While trying to get to Billy, who has been in a plane crash, she has a car accident and damages her exhaust pipe. She makes it to the hospital, but dies in the car of carbon monoxide poisoning. It is a ridiculous death, but just another one in Billy's life. Another example of this comically excessive violence is Roland Weary pulling a gun on Billy. The Germans are confused as to why the Americans are pulling guns on one another, when they are on the same side of the war.

Quote from Slaughterhouse Five about war.
Another famous quote from the book that seems to comment on the war.

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