Black Humor

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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, “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, “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...
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