Authors Name: 
Laura Kho
University: 
Durham University
Category: 
Literature
Highly commended

Trauma and Time in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five

One of the key distinguishing characteristics of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five is in its unusual presentation of the protagonist's experience of time. In post-modernist fashion, Vonnegut decentres the conventional linear narrative flow to create a circular temporal structure. Not only at a structural level, but also at a thematic level Vonnegut satirizes the tendency to chart human experience in terms of formal indicators of time. In doing so, Vonnegut dramatically undermines the idea that war can be effectively and tidily recounted and accounted for using traditional cause-and-effect sequences. This essay draws on the work of Freud and American theorist Cathy Caruth to show how Vonnegut's presentation of time serves as a formal manifestation of the debilitating effects of trauma suffered in the war. In particular, the latency of trauma and its tendency to cause the victim to constantly relive the past complicates any attempt to pin down the traumatic incident to any specific point in time, and effectively explains the distorted and disjointed nature of Vonnegut's narrative structure.