When examining the emphasis of writing in Slaughterhouse Five, the quick sentences reveal the real power of the expression of meaninglessness concerning our ability to control our own destiny and ourselves. The constant use of the phrase “so it goes” along with the jump from scene to scene through the life of Billy Pilgrim disconnects us from the flow of the story and emphasizes the meaninglessness of the free will for the individual. Vonnegut shows this power when he writes, “A slave laborer from Poland had done the stamping. He was dead now. So it goes.” (Vonnegut 91). This lack of information and expression punches home the meaninglessness of the world around Billy Pilgrim, a world where the use of passive voice separates the actions literally just as Vonnegut separates the reader from the the experience. In this sense, events continue to happen without control over them literally, and no justification for these actions come from any source.
Therefore, the silent and almost unemotional “so it goes” passes over the horror experienced and in turn paints less of the meaningless of the statement but rather a desire to change. Vonnegut argues this further when he writes, “‘All time is time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I’ve said before, bugs in amber.’” (Vonnegut 86). By bleakly saying “so it goes” after the events that the narrator finds inhumane, the events that are unjustifiable find a place in the world. In a similar fashion then, the narrator and Billy are liberated in the sense that they can search for the return to humanity by finding meaning in the world by going beyond that which is to the organization of our own stories, stories of meaning. Vonnegut expresses this idea further when he writes:
There isn't any particular relationship between all the messages, except that the author has chosen them carefully, so that, when seen all at once, they produce an image of that is beautiful and surprising and deep. There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time. (Vonnegut 88)
Therefore the escape from being trapped in the meaninglessness of horror is to create the change that we hope to see, namely by cultivating ourselves.
Reminiscent of Candide and cultivating our own gardens, I feel as though Vonnegut takes us a step further in our development of the self by showing how we require others in order to know the realities of our garden, or our story. Just as Billy jumps from lifetime to lifetime through memories of death and horror, we also jump from moment to moment when caught up in the self. Rather than see the beauty of the world around us, or the beauty of unfolding expressions of reality, we are trapped in the amber of the moment because we cannot escape our own egoism. Therefore, just as writing our own story appears difficult because we are caught up in our own world, the ability to overcome meaninglessness and tragedy is lost when we face reality by ourselves. Vonnegut expresses this to a degree when he writes, “He is in a constant state of stage fright, he says, because he never knows what part of his life he is going to have to act in next.” (Vonnegut 23). The key difference between meaninglessness and change in our world lies in our attitude towards the action, as our mindset towards reality determines what role we play and how we respond, whether active or passive.
Just as Billy “acts” in his world, Billy is also limited by being passive, both figuratively and literally, and not taking an active role in the change for his world. Interestingly enough for Billy someone else is writing his story, showing how the inactivity of writing our own story leads to lack of ability to see how the world is unfolding. Ironically, appearance and sight actually become a key issues in Slaughterhouse Five, as not only is Billy an ophthalmologist, an eye-doctor, who should be looking through other’s lens, but Billy hardly sees what goes on around him as he only sees the face value of experiences by refraining from looking beyond them. In this sense, Vonnegut explains our lack the ability to see beyond ourselves as a problem towards changing the world when he writes, “But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human.” (Vonnegut 22). Before we can write our own stories then, we must go beyond ourselves and see that we are all together in time, all stories intertwined, and that the story of one of us cause ripples in other’s stories, liberating us from the amber in time.