The Philosophy of Vonnegutism in Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

A personal philosophy is the beliefs and ideas of one specific person. Every person has their own philosophy, crafted from bits and pieces that were acquired from others’ philosophies, combined with original ideas, to create a single. unique philosophy that fits the person it belongs to. Some philosophies throughout time have gotten their fair share of popularity, such as Plato, Socrates, Confucius, and Gandhi, because they all had something in common: a new way to view the world around us. and the lives we live, Kurt Vonnegut.

a twentieth-century author. while not exactly a philosopher. has created his own sort of philosophy through his works, unofficially dubbed “Vonnegutism”. Vonnegutism. in it’s most basic form. is a philosophy that explains that our lives are predetermined from the start written in the stars. and that we cannot change what is already destined to be and that, at any given time, a person exists at every instance in their life Vonnegut hints at this philosophy in his novel.

Slaughterhouse-Five through the alien race, the Tralfamadorians. who seem omniscient and philosophical in every way. the approach of death in such a way that lacks finality, and the repetition of the phrase “so it goes”. All of these things aid in creating a new perspective on life, one that can alter the way that people think; a new philosophy. This fate-driven philosophy is central to the idea that humans cannot choose the path their life takes, but rather it is chosen for them The Tralfamadorians are extremely partial to this notion.

Get quality help now
Bella Hamilton

Proficient in: Belief

5 (234)

“ Very organized ,I enjoyed and Loved every bit of our professional interaction ”

+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

claiming that we are but bugs “trapped in the amber of this moment”. We cannot control the life we are given and what happens to it. so instead we sit, stuck in the amber, and watch as it goes by.

This idea in and of itself is an extremely deep and philosophical topic, one that is central throughout the novel, main character in this novel. Billy Pilgrim is a human that understands how the Tralfamadorians view time, seeing every moment at once, because he is a time traveler. He understands that he cannot change his life, and Instead of trying to stray from that, he accepts it. and lives his life as it is given to him. ”Among the things Billy Pilgrim could not change were the past. the present and the future“. At first, Billy comes off as extremely apathetic, not caring about his life or anyone else around him, but eventually, we find out that this is because he already knows everything he will ever know about those people. Billy Pilgrim, essentially, knows how his whole life will play out, and has broken out of that amber. gaining the ability to travel around to different moments of his life. The Tralfamadorians have presented him with this knowledge and, again, seem to be the personification of the ideas of Vonnegutism.

At first, it would make sense that Billy would be confused or scared over this vast knowledge of his life. Whether this was the case or not, we do not know, but eventually, Billy was coming to terms with his situation, ”’It was all right.‘ said Billy. ‘Everything is all right, and everybody has to do exactly what he does. I learned that on Tralfamadore'”. Billy has accepted his life. and the lack of control he has over it. He has understood the premise of Vonnegutism, and he learned it from none other than the Tralfamadorians. These aliens have taught Billy Pilgrim many things about his life and the lives of humans in general. and they are a great resource for the ideas of Vonnegutism. The Tralfamadorians are not the only thing that follows Vonnegutism, however. Another theme that helps with Vonnegut’s philosophy is the idea that death is not final, and rather, it is another part of life. Generally. death is perceived as the final moment in life. and the end of a person’s conscious thoughts.

Billy, however, experiences death in a different way, “It is simply violet light and a hum. There isn‘t anybody else there. Not even Billy Pilgrim is there”. He feels this death for a few moments before “swinging back into life again”, transported to a different time in his life. Billy understands the idea that death is not final, and that part of Vonnegut’s philosophy creates a comfort in the readers who might be concerned about death. Rather than it being the end of the road, death is just a phase Billy experiences no differently than any other phase. He cannot change this, nor does he try to. Billy knows how and when he will eventually die. and knowing that can be something that really scary for someone to deal with. Billy is not scared, though. When faced with imminent death, he says simply to the police around him,“‘No, no,‘ says Billy serenely. ‘It is time for you to go home to your wives and children, and it is time for me to be dead for a little while-and then live again'”.

He does not fear what is coming, because he knows that, even though he will experience death for a little while, he will come back swinging in another part of his life. Billy not only feels this way about his own life (and death) but for everyone around him as well. He had met a delusional hobo on the train to the POW camp he had been taken to, and as he and his friends left the place, he sees the hobo again, this time, dead. “He was frozen stiff in the weeds beside the track. He was nestling within thin air and cinders. Somebody had taken his boots. His bare feet were blue and ivory. It was all right, somehow, his being dead”. Billy cannot qurte place his finger on it, but for some reason he is alright with knowing that the hobo is dead. Rather than it being apathy, as it may seem from the surface, he is simply dead in this instance of his life. In another instance, the hobo is happy and healthy, somewhere else in the world.

Knowing this truth, it fills Billy with determination to continue on in his struggle. The ideas of Vonnegutism are clearly present in the idea that death is not final. but there are further examples that showcase those ideas in a different light as well. Another commonality present in the ideas of Vonnegutism is the repeated phrase “so it goes”. This phrase is never specified to have a reason. but it was coined by the Tralfamadorians and it appears, without fail, every time adeath is mentioned, even Billy’s own death. ”Billy’s forehead is in the cross hairs of a high-powered laser gun… In the next moment, Billy Pilgrim is dead, 80 it goes” (143). At first this phrase contributes to the idea the Billy is apathetic, but after some time the conclusion can be made that this phrase is said because he finds comfort in the idea that their death is not final, and that their dying Is only one instance that they can be in.

Of course, Billy’s omniscient knowledge of his life’s events can be helpful sometimes. it can also be painful. Billy knows of any and all disasters and hardships that happen during his life, and yet he knows he can do nothing to change that, because it is already destined to be. “Billy, with his memories of the future, knew that [Dresden] would be smashed to smithereens and then burned. He knew, too, that most of the people watching him would soon be dead. 30 it goes” Knowing that thousands of lives are going to be lost and not having the power to prevent that would be positively infuriating, and Billy turns to this small phrase as a sort of coping mechanism to remind him that these people are not truly dead, and instead are simply living in another instance, ”There was a tiny plume of smoke at infinity.

There was a battle there. People were dying there. So it goes”. Billy has no way of knowing who was dying in that far away battle, but he recognizes that it is happening nonetheless. He cannot change it, but he can look at it in a different light. Vonnegutism is a philosophy that explains how the world works from a different angle, utilizing that angle to showcase the idea that our whole lives are predetermined and that we have no control over what is already destined to be. and also that each person lives life at every instance, not Just one. This philosophy is central in Vonnegut’s novels, and it helps to create a new and interesting idea about life, and how a person lives it.

Cite this page

The Philosophy of Vonnegutism in Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. (2023, Apr 19). Retrieved from

Let’s chat?  We're online 24/7