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Comparison of the Sorrows of Young Werther and Slaughterhouse Five Regarding Madness

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The word madness can be used to describe many different things; however, it is not a word with a definite and simple definition. The usual connotations that the word madness seems to convey, such as anger, delusion, and just plain crazy people, are used in ways that we separate ourselves from the “crazies” and makes us able to say: Wow! Look how crazy and stupid these people are on the Jerry Springer Show. The ability to be the looker and not the one being mocked and laughed at is just a human way of separating ourselves from people that differ from the norm and makes the looker feel more like a normal and functioning member of society. In the two novels that will be discussed in the essay, The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe and Slaughterhouse Five by Kurrt Vonnegut, it can be debated that both are mad, or on the contrary that both are not mad. The view that I will take is to look at how Billy Pilgrim and Werther are affected by their emotions as they progress through their respective literary lives. Personally I think that Billy is a man with varying emotions and that Werther is a man who’s emotions are running out of control.

While reading Slaughterhouse Five it seemed to me that Billy Pilgrim had a very unique outlook on life. No matter what the situation, he seemed to just go with the moment and not worry about anything else. I believe Vonnegut states Billy’s sense of his emotions perfectly: And so it goes. In this first part of the essay I will discuss Billy’s emotions and how they work to influence the mental states in which he is portrayed. The first instance I would like to discuss involves Billy while he and the “Three

Musketeers” are trying to make it back to the Allied Forces side. As the group is crossing the bridge they are fired upon and everyone jumps into a ditch. As Vonnegut continues, “Billy stood there politely, giving the marksman another chance” (Vonnegut 33). Obviously he is void of emotion at this point in the book. He doesn’t seem to care if he gets shot and dies. Any person in their right mind would have taken cover in the ditch. The fact that Billy just stands there, while showing no emotion, just shows that he is in a very odd state of mind. It almost seems as though Billy doesn’t believe that a war is even happening. This is fairly easy to believe though since he hasn’t had a gun since enlisting, has no protective clothing, and is as thin as a tree limb. It also makes for a tense moment in the book. The way that Billy seems to react in this situation plays itself out many times in the book.

The second quote that I think helps understand Billy’s emotions occurs after the Germans decide to capture him a second time and take pictures of it. “Billy’s smile as he came out of the shrubbery was at least as peculiar as Mona Lisa’s, for he was simultaneously on foot in Germany in 1944 and riding his Cadillac in 1967.” (Vonnegut 58), which is quit a peculiar thing to have happen in a war. It seems so absurd that Billy is being captured by Germans for the second time and yet, he’s still just smiling about it. This isn’t a lack of emotion on Billy’s part. If anything he is probably just having a laugh at how idiotic the situation is. Even though Billy Pilgrim quite an extreme character it’s hard not to laugh along with him.

Much later on in the novel there is a passage about their honeymoon. Billy and Valencia have just made love and she starts crying. When he asks why she is crying she

replies that it is because she is so happy because she never thought anyone would marry her. “Um,” is his only response, which also gave me quite a laugh. This response is just another insight into Billy’s emotional state, which seems to be a kind of happy go lucky attitude. Later on in the same paragraph there is more evidence to support his emotions towards Valencia. “He had already seen a lot of their marriage, thanks to time-travel, knew that it was going to be at least bearable all the way,” (Vonnegut 120) which only solidifies further that he doesn’t really have strong emotions towards anything, not even his wife.

The section of the book that made me think the most was the part where the Tralfamadorians are about to come and take him away to Tralfamadore as he swigs on a bottle of “dead” champagne. After being lifted up to the spaceship, Billy has a short exchange of words with the Tralfamadorians. “Why me?” (Vonnegut 76) he asks. “That is a very Earthling question to ask, Mr. Pilgrim. Why you? Why us for that matter? Why anything? Because this moment simply is,” (Vonnegut 76). This is a very philosophical exchange between Billy and the Tralfamadorians; however, I think that this exchange embodies the way that Billy handles

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