Thursday, June 14, 2007

Slaughterhouse-Five (excerpt)

I've been reading Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five (I've been reading a lot of novels lately). For those who don't know, the novel's about a man, Billy Pilgrim, who has become "unstuck" in time and keeps jumping back and forth between moments of his often-horrible life. In this passage, he's watching a World War II movie, but because he's "unstuck" in time, he is seeing it in reverse. Enjoy.

   American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France, a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation.
   The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored neatly in racks. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes. But there were still a few wounded Americans, though, and some of the bombers were in bad repair. Over France, though, German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody as good as new.
   When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the rack and shipped back to the United States, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous content into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anyone ever again.
   The American fliers turned in their uniforms, became high school kids. And Hitler turned into a baby, Billy Pilgrim supposed. That wasn't in the movie. Billy was extrapolating. Everybody turned into a baby, and all humanity, without exception, conspired biologically to produce two perfect people named Adam and Eve, he supposed.

5 comments:

Rodrigo said...
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David said...

This is my absolute favorite part of Slaughterhouse Five. I searched online for excerpts from the book as I don't have my copy nearby in the hopes of finding this exact part, and was rewarded. Thanks for the post :)

Splendid Geryon said...

Thanks for the post--I linked to it on my recent post about a poem you would be interested in.

Bilal Rana said...

My favorite, and most memorable, part when I read this book. What phenomenal literary, and psychological, device on the part of Vonnegut!

Unknown said...

Despite my best efforts, I have never been able to thoroughly enjoy much of Vonnegut's writing. But I have always thought that this was the most beautiful literary passage I have ever read.