Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Black Humor Essay

Is death a laughable matter? Or Christ? Or maybe inhumanity? No. In most situations, people do not laugh at any of those subjects. However, in Kurt Vonnegut’s anti-war novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, he laughs at all of them through the use of black humor. Vonnegut uses black humor as a way to criticize societies in all of his novels, but most notably in Slaughterhouse-Five (Klinkowitz). He uses black humor to criticize peoples’ glorification of war and make humor of death, Christ, and inhumanity. Vonnegut uses an array of situations to ironically make death humorous. Such as when Billy is training to become a solder, his father is shot to death by a friend while deer hunting back home. When Billy is in the hospital recuperating from a plane crash, his wife rushes to the hospital, she has an accident, tears off the exhaust system, arrives at the hospital and dies from carbon monoxide poisoning. Vonnegut uses these examples of situational irony in order to make the reader laugh at such tragedies when really there is nothing to laugh at. After the Dresden fire-bombing Edgar Derby is tried and executed in Dresden, which was firebombed and 135,000 innocent people died in one night, for attempting to steal a teapot. All of these situational ironies and all deaths are narrated by a simple phrase, â€Å"So it goes†. This simple phrase pushes the reader to laugh at the ironic parts of life, even if it is death. And Billy can’t change anything in his life because, â€Å"Among the things Billy Pilgrim could not change were the past, the present and the future† (Vonnegut 60). His happiness or success in his life can only exist in his imagination through his time travels because he knows when and how he will die. The novel ends with the destruction and searching for bodies in Dresden and Billy being released from a prisoner of war status, juxtaposed images of life and death. Because Billy finally is free, he has his life back, whereas all the people in Dresden have their lives taken. The death of thousands and the release of a soldier from POW status are definitely not something humorous, however Vonnegut provides the reader with such contrasting ideas in order to elicit a smile or chuckle. This is complete black humor because black humor is â€Å"combining the morbid and grotesque with humor and farce to give a disturbing effect and convey the absurdity and cruelty of life. † (Black humor) Not only does Vonnegut use black humor to convey death, Vonnegut also criticizes inhumanity through the use of black humor in order to illustrate that death must be accepted but not inhumanity through his use of Roland Weary. Roland Weary is an insane, revenge driven soldier who takes joy in the suffering of others. For example, he feeds a dog a steak with a cut up spring in it in order to get revenge on the dog for biting him. He talks to the dog almost as a child would when he tells the dog â€Å"I’m not mad,† (Vonnegut 139) and states that â€Å"he believed me† (Vonnegut 139). Because Vonnegut portrays Weary as a child by using â€Å"doggy,† which is similar to the diction of a small child, he juxtaposes a childlike character to the inhumanity of the torture that Weary is inflicting on the dog. He compares the innocence of Weary’s diction to Weary’s psychopathic actions. Vonnegut also makes Weary’s inhumanity humorous through his fascination with his triangular blade that â€Å"makes a wound that won’t close up. † (Vonnegut 37) The torture the blade would inflict is made comic by the affection Weary has for it, juxtaposition, between the torture of the blade and the love and obsession Weary has for it, Vonnegut is â€Å"regarding human suffering as absurd rather than pitiable† (Webster’s) in this situation in order to produce such black humor. Vonnegut also laughs at Jesus when most people hold religion to be sacred. Vonnegut describes Christ as â€Å"dead as a doornail† (Vonnegut 203) after he is hung on the cross. This is humorous because Vonnegut compares a huge spiritual icon, Christ, to the bare basics that hold our society together and held Jesus on the cross, nails. The comparison is so ridiculous that it provides a comic purpose and the reader has to laugh at it. The situation also provides a possible source of Billy’s illusion of being unstuck in time, since he is reading about a time traveler in one of Kilgore Trout’s books this may be the point in his life where he gets the idea of being unstuck in time. Vonnegut also goes on to show the lack of interest the Tralfamadorians have in Jesus Christ, the person they are truly interested in is Charles Darwin. Because he taught that â€Å"those who die are meant to die and that corpses are improvements. † (Vonnegut 210) This contrasts the ideas that humans have of death as a negative sad thing and instead teaches that by dying everyone else is better off. This is absurd and humorous because people are devastated by death yet, he is saying that death is great and people benefit from it. Vonnegut uses black humor in many cases in Slaughterhouse-Five to in a way satirize, however he never provides a solution so it is not truly satire. He simply criticizes society and makes the reader think of his or her own solution. Vonnegut wants the reader to realize and act on the idea that the only way we can’t overcome war and deaths in war, is by removing the glorification of killing in war while not providing a solution or way to change the current societal standards.

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