I found Vonnegut’s Slaughter House-Five to be centered around powerful, emotional moments that help the reader understand what it means to be a human being. Vonnegut has an uncanny ability to portray these exquisite moments in words, where the reader can not help but to be in that moment.
Billy’s transport on the train as a POW was on of the more gruesome and cruel experiences Billy had in Germany. Billy describes the train after days traveling where, “In went water and loaves of black bread and sausage and cheese, and out came shit and piss and language” (70). This demonstrates how these men are not seen as individual people, no longer possessing all of the traits individuals have. These men are now seen as single units where their opinions, needs, wants, and desires are completely irrelevant. Keep in mind, that this is how the guards see the train cars; the view from inside the train cars could not be any more different.
In the very next paragraph, Billy describes life inside the train car, in comparison to how they are seen from the outside. “Human beings in there were excreting into steel helmets which were passed to the people at the ventilators, who dumped them. Billy was a dumper. The human beings also passed canteens, which guards would fill with water. When food came in, the human beings were quiet and trusting and beautiful. They shared.” (70). The first thing to notice in this passage is the use of ‘human beings’. Vonnegut uses this term three times within four sentences, emphasizing that these men are still human, still in need of care an attention, still part of this world. Here the reader sees the drastic difference between what these prisoners are perceived as (train-car organisms), and what they truly are(human beings).
I would be hard pressed to find a more powerful moment in this novel. In a scene where men are literally dying from disease, starvation and freezing to death, we see these men treating one another with respect, kindness, dignity and most importantly, equality. These men understand that they are all in the same position, essentially fighting for one another’s lives as well as their own. Could this portrayal of fitly, sickly, disgusting dying men be any more beautiful? Nothing could be more relevant to these men than one another.
I think that these moments of beauty in humanity are one of the reasons Loyola has such a strong commitment to service in the community. When you are exposed to situations and human interaction that is so selfless and kind, it can force one to think about your role in the community and the potential influence you could have on someone.
During my time at Tunbridge so far, I have been spending time with third and fourth graders playing games in an after school program. Occasionally I will see a student that does not want to participate in the given activity. I have made a point to attempt to include these children periodically, and have had great success. I have found it very rewarding to recruit a child that may not have decided on their own to come and join the group playing. But, with my encouragement and assurance that it will be fun, most children, soon decide to join the group and participate. Furthermore, it is even more touching when the student decides to participate, and all of the other children welcome him/her with enthusiasm and excitement, yelling out, “She/He is on MY team!!!” Although this moment of including a child in a group activity may not be as significant as the kindness on Billy’s train car, I believe that these moments of beauty in human interaction is one way Loyola students are able to step outside the classroom and connect real world experience to a powerful moment in a novel.