2. Choose a character from one of the texts we have studied, and discuss how and why he/she transformed in the course of the text, how the author depicted the transformation, and how that transformation is related to a theme in the text. Finally, connect or compare that character to another character from another text from this or last semester.
3. American literature often explores how the realities of the nation contradict its ideals. Use two texts to develop an analysis of one such contradiction. Do the authors offer a way to resolve the contradiction?
In the novel Slaughterhouse-Five Kurt Vonnegut, the story of Billy Pilgrim is used to explore various themes about life and war.
Vonnegut writes on the horrors and tragedies of war.
Vonnegut uses his characters, in particular Billy Pilgrim, to portray his beliefs. An antiwar feeling, shown through numerous characters, dominates the entire novel from the opening to the closing. Vonnegut also brings to question the ideas of free will and predestination.
Billy has a deep belief in predestination and quietism,
Vonnegut uses the characters he creates to express his reaction to the war. Billy Pilgrim is used to show the terrible consequences of war.
Billy’s time in the war greatly affected him and his outlook on the world. From his imprisonment Billy has come to feel that nothing constructive comes from war. He believes that “. . .war is not a heroic contest between the forces of good and evil but a senseless slaughter with many victims and no villains”
When Billy comes home from the war, he does not often speak about what he saw or how he felt. He tries to distance himself from the war as much as possible.
Billy uses the rest of his life as an escape from the war just as he tried to use death as an escape from the war when he first arrived in the Battle of the Bulge.
When Weary tries to rescue him, Billy responds with little care for his life saying, “You guys go on without me. I’m all right” (Vonnegut 47). Billy shows no care for saving his own life.
Vonnegut uses “Billy’s innocence and passivity to help Vonnegut [to] focus the reader’s attention on the brutality of war (Marvin 124).
The reader sees the sad figure of Billy Pilgrim suffering through a war he believes is pointless and the reader begins to see the horrors of war that Billy is feeling. Vonnegut also uses other characters to portray his antiwar theme.
Marvin says that “He [Edgar Derby] is the most admirable character in the book, which makes his senseless death all the more lamentable” (126). Vonnegut uses Derby’s death to compound the reader’s feeling that war is pointless. Derby was a forty-four year old teacher with a wife at home, and his only crime was taking a teapot. But, for this simple act he loses his life after surviving the entire war, a prisoner of war camp, and the firebombing of Dresden.
Slaughterhouse Five shows what can happen to the zealous boy ready to fight for his country. He can die as Weary did of gangrene on a train car overflowing with soldiers on his way to a prisoner of war camp.
The most blatant antiwar discussion in the novel occurs in the opening between Vonnegut and Mary O’Hare. She fears that the book will glorify war as so many books and movies have in the past. She fears that the book will portray the “babies” fighting in the war as grown men, and these babies will be played by “war-loving, dirty old men” (14).
Vonnegut assures Mary that the novel will show the savageness and horror of war. He even promises, “I’ll call it ‘The Children’s Crusade’” (15).
He cannot express his feelings on the war and the Dresden firebombing directly because he believes “there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre” (19). In the end “the conclusion Vonnegut comes to after examining the causes and effects of Dresden is that there indeed is no moral, only the Poo-tee-weet of the bird call” (Lundquist 45). “Poo-tee-weet” (Vonnegut 215) is the only rational thought on a war Vonnegut can find.
He cannot explain or even comment on the death and destruction he has seen in Dresden. This strengthens the idea that war can have terrible consequences even on those who survive the war physically and return home as Vonnegut and even Billy Pilgrim do.
Billy finds his own explanation of the bombing and the death of so many innocent people. He turns to the Tralfamadorian belief that the deaths were unpreventable and had to happen because that was how they were supposed to happen. Neither he nor anyone else could change what destiny had decided would occur. At the thought of these deaths and all death Billy sees, he has only one reaction, “so it goes” (Vonnegut 96). This phrase is cited at any mention of death in Billy’s death.
The Tralfamadorians discussed the idea of “free will” (Vonnegut 86) with Billy. They know that free will is not a reality in their world and say that Earth is the only place where people believe in “free will” (Vonnegut 86). Billy cannot fully grasp this concept because he lives in only three dimensions while the Tralfamadorians can see into the fourth dimension of time. They can see all of time at once, including the future, and they realize that it is impossible to change destiny because it has already been set.
Billy becomes jaded by this idea and spends the rest of his life without care for anything that happens in his life. Nothing shocks Billy because he believes that it had to happen. He does not feel sorry because there is nothing he nor anyone could have done to stop it. The idea that no one can control his or her future leads to two reactions.
As Vonnegut promised Mary O’Hare, the book does not glorify war but shows the tragedies and sorrow that result from it. The book is not a novel about men who enjoy war and want to glorify it; as Vonnegut promised, “there won’t be a part for Frank Sinatra or John Wayne” (15). V
Vonnegut’s other main themes in Slaughterhouse Five are the reality of free will and the concept of predestination. He uses the actions and thoughts of the characters in his story to develop both ideas. Billy Pilgrim is most often the character used to show Vonnegut’s opinions. He is used as an example of a man living opposite of Vonnegut’s views.
Billy feels that his life was outlined before he was even born and he has no free will to change his life as he wishes. This causes him to feel his life has no purpose. Vonnegut uses the sad life of Billy to show the consequences of quietism. He wants readers to see that they can change their world and their future alike.
4. [Adapted from a past AP lit. question.] Many texts use contrasting places (for example, two countries, two cities or towns, two houses, or the land and the sea) to represent opposed forces or ideas that are central to the meaning of the work. Discuss one text from this semester that contrasts two such places and explain how the places differ, what each place represents, and how their contrast contributes to the meaning of the work.
In The Great Gatsby Fitzgerald depicts East Egg represents the old aristocracy, West Egg the newly rich. The clash between “old money” and “new money” manifests itself in the novel’s symbolic geography:
West Egg the newly rich or the self-made rich. Meyer Wolfshiem and Gatsby’s fortune symbolize the rise of organized crime and bootlegging.
The main plotline of the novel reflects this assessment, as Gatsby’s dream of loving Daisy is ruined by the difference in their respective social statuses, his resorting to crime to make enough money to impress her.
Gatsby instills Daisy with a kind of idealized perfection that she neither deserves nor possesses. Gatsby’s dream is ruined by the unworthiness of its object, just as the American dream in the 1920s is ruined by the unworthiness of its object—mOne of the major topics explored in The Great Gatsby is the sociology of wealth, specifically, how the newly minted millionaires of the 1920s differ from and relate to the old aristocracy of the country’s richest familiesoney and pleasure.
Fitzgerald portrays the newly rich as being vulgar, gaudy, ostentatious, and lacking in social graces and taste. Gatsby, for example, lives in a monstrously ornate mansion, wears a pink suit, drives a Rolls-Royce, and does not pick up on subtle social signals, such as the insincerity of the Sloanes’ invitation to lunch
Gatsby, on the other hand, whose recent wealth derives from criminal activity, has a sincere and loyal heart, remaining outside Daisy’s window until four in the morning in Chapter 7 simply to make sure that Tom does not hurt her. Ironically, Gatsby’s good qualities (loyalty and love) lead to his death, as he takes the blame for killing Myrtle rather than letting Daisy be punished,
East Egg represents the old aristocracy
rampant materialism that characterizes her lifestyle
What the old aristocracy possesses in taste, however, it seems to lack in heart, as the East Eggers prove themselves careless, inconsiderate bullies who are so used to money’s ability to ease their minds that they never worry about hurting others. The Buchanans exemplify this stereotype when, at the end of the novel, they simply move to a new house far away rather than condescend to attend Gatsby’s funeral.
In contrast, the old aristocracy possesses grace, taste, subtlety, and elegance, epitomized by the Buchanans’ tasteful home and the flowing white dresses of Daisy and Jordan Baker.
places and objects in The Great Gatsby have meaning only because characters instill them with meaning
and the Buchanans’ bad qualities (fickleness and selfishness) allow them to remove themselves from the tragedy not only physically but psychologically.
Contrasting places of slaughterhouse five
Death and Time in Slaughterhouse-Five We all wish we could travel through time, going back to correct our stupid mistakes or zooming ahead to see the future. In Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five, however, time travel does not seem so helpful. Billy Pilgrim, Vonnegut’s main character, has come unstuck in time. He bounces back and forth between his past, present, and future lives in a roller coaster time trip that proves both senseless and numbing. Examining Billy’s time traveling, his life on Tralfamadore, and the novel’s schizophrenic structure shows that time travel is actually a metaphor for our human tendency to avoid facing the unpleasant reality of death
“How nice — to feel nothing, and still get full credit for being alive” (Vonnegut 181). In Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five the main character Billy Pilgrim experiences few emotions during his time in World War II. His responses to people and events lack intensity or passion. Throughout the novel Billy describes his time travel to different moments in his life, including his experience with the creatures of Tralfamadore and the bombing of Dresden. He wishes to die during most of the novel and is unable to connect with almost anyone on Earth
Billy is always traveling to different parts of his life and rarely in the present state. Throughout the book Billy mainly travels back and forth to three big times in his life. In each different time period of Billy’s life he is in a different place; his present state is in a town called Illium and his “travels” are to Dresden and Tralfamadore
tralfamadore represents the truth about time (all moments exist at once, everything that has ever been always will be, etc.) and earth represents the “normal” (and wrong) ideas about time. Whereas, according to interpretation b), it is EARTH that represents the truth about time (time is what we already think it is) and tralfamadore represents a wrong idea about time: tralfamadore represents Billy’s inability to cope with the real world. He needs to imagine a better world and a better reality where beings do not really die but exist at every moment of their lives forever.
Billy has never committed any actions that seemed to have stemmed from free will; he is passive and quiet, he enters the family business and seems to do whatever someone else wants. This could be from his time-travel, Billy no longer has the time in these different moments to try to change his life, so instead he relaxes and lets life pull him around. While this may be what Billy wants, it’s therefore ironic that he asks the Tralformadorians about free will, and the necessity of it. The Tralfamadorian belief and saying “so it goes” represents fate rather than free will, the unfeeling statement seems to say one can doing nothing to change a situation, and life will go on as it will, you just have to accept it. Billy Pilgrim is doing an excellent job listening to that saying, even though his life is meaningless and dull after the war. Vonnegut is therefore warning us not to accept completely the “so it goes” statement, because he does not want us to accept fate and become too passive to want to change our lives. Instead Vonnegut wishes for us to focus on the good aspects of the “so it goes”, such as in accepting death, without becoming too withdrawn from life like Billy Pilgrim.
Billy Pilgrim is undeniably a likable protagonist, possibly because of (rather than in spite of) what makes him an unlikely soldier. He is polite, slightly pathetic and completely and utterly passive, making him seem like a mere victim to the trails of time. Thrown from one moment to the next, sometimes skipping months or even decades, his present (amid World War I, as the audience reads it) feels like a story from someone else’s past and his future (as a middle-aged man, married with grown children, as the audience reads it) feels like a fantasized escape from the war that surrounds him in his present. His life is not progressing linearly. Yet, every moment, no matter when or where in time or space, is his reality; resisting it or trying to change it, the Tralfamadorians attempt to explain, is futile (giving way to his docile nature). Their superior ability to see in 4-D, such that all of time coexists in their line of vision like the Rocky Mountains exist in ours, causes them to view time as both flexible (unorganized, lacking sequence, without warning or explanation) and rigid (incapable of being altered). They establish that the future is set and in doing so, imply their belief in fate. Their rather fatalistic view essentially denies the existence of free will, agency, and (especially for Billy Pilgrim) control; and stuns Billy Pilgrim into vocalizing his doubts. The expression of thought adds complexity to Billy Pilgrim’s rather flat, unopinionated and therefore compliant character.
Texts we’ve read this semester: “The Yellow Wallpaper,” The Grapes of Wrath, The Great Gatsby, Slaughterhouse-Five,