English 1302: Composition and Rhetoric II.
The multi-genre research project is an intensive exploration of an author, their work, and related topic. It is an opportunity to present the knowledge gained in both traditional and creative ways. Often students find a deep, personal connection they had not expected. This was the case for Kirby Baber. Reading Kirby’s essay and letter, and viewing her creative pieces, it is clear she fully embraced and internalized the author’s voice and ideas, humor and fears. This project is Kirby’s critical, insightful, and heartfelt examination of Vonnegut and the effects that war had on him and many soldiers.
— Sheryl Hyten
The Invisible War: A Multi-genre Analysis of Kurt Vonnegut and His Portrayal of PTSD
I am proud to put before you this product of hours of reading, writing, cutting, gluing, and other tedium lovingly completed by yours truly. Each and every piece was chosen with care and with purpose, and I certainly hope you will enjoy, however, as you go through this project, I ask you to not consider she who put this project together, but rather to picture those to whom this project is dedicated: military personnel. This project serves as a thank-you that could never be enough in comparison to what they do for us, though I certainly tried.
I still remember how I felt when I was first reading Slaughterhouse-Five: confused. It certainly was unlike any other novel I had read in that it did away with the classic ideas of chronology. When I found out that there was actually some meaning behind the “time-traveling,” my mind was blown. I had found my author for the looming project. What, then, would be my topic?
As someone who is blessed to lead a safe and happy life, with caring friends, peers, teachers, and family members at my side, it is easy to forget the hardships that others go through. In placing PTSD, (particularly in those of military descent,) at the center of this project, I had hoped to gain insight into the muted pain many veterans undergo on a day to day basis. I wanted to find humility in learning of this ache and to gain an appreciation for those who sacrificed their peace of mind in order to ensure mine. I had decided on my topic, and was ready to begin the project.
Going into my research, I did not have a very comprehensive understanding of PTSD. Yes, I knew what it stood for, as well as some of its classic symptoms such as flashbacks and, in severe cases, an inability to function in many settings, but how did that pertain to Kurt Vonnegut? It was apparent in reading Slaughterhouse-Five that that the novel served to represent Vonnegut’s feelings about war, but what prompted him to write about it in the first place and why did he do so in such an unconventional manner? Why was Slaughterhouse-Five the only novel Vonnegut really discussed the Bombing of Dresden if it was supposedly such a big deal? Needless to say, I had hoped my research to be fruitful.
My research did, indeed, prove to be as such. In reading about Kurt Vonnegut’s life, I had discovered that his line of discussion in Slaughterhouse-Five resulted not only in witnessing the Bombing of Dresden first-hand, but also from ideals that stemmed all the way back to childhood experiences and even to the thought processes of his family. As it turned out, Billy Pilgrim served as a symbolic link between Vonnegut’s writing methods and PTSD. Finally, I had discovered that Slaughterhouse-Five was the only novel Vonnegut wrote about Dresden as a statement in testament to his idea that there really isn’t much to say about war and, therefore, he was only able to barely write the short novel.
My favorite things that I learned, however, were about that which pertained most to my purpose: PTSD and how it affected soldiers. I learned about the progression of PTSD and the struggle to correctly define it in medical manuals and now understand a little more regarding the levels and intensities of different cases. PTSD is no longer another name for another disease, but rather it is an affliction that I had the opportunity to put myself into its victims’ shoes, understand it on a deeper level, and have forged empathy for those who are subjected to it; a skill that will become useful in my future job in caring for others.
Not only has this project allowed me to break through the mirage of the modern celebration of war, but also has become applicable to my life presently and in my adult career. As a nation who is known for its freedoms, we must also take heed of those who provide us with our national identity; something my fellow Americans and I do not do as often as our troops deserve. As you go through this project, I challenge you to honor the men and women, (PTSD sufferers or not,) who are responsible for those very freedoms we so enjoy and others risk their lives for the chance to experience. Thank you and I truly hope you enjoy.
Table of Contents
- The Invisible War
- “A Letter From Me To Me” – Letter
- “Family” – Blackout Poem
- “Home Sweet Home” – Pictorial Collage
- “His Life in Pieces” – Puzzle
- Works Cited
English 1302: Composition and Rhetoric II. The multi-genre research project is an intensive exploration of an author, their work, and related topic. It is an opportunity to present the knowledge gained in both traditional and creative ways. Often students find a deep, personal connection they had not expected. This was the case for Kirby Baber. Reading Kirby’s essay and letter, and viewing her creative pieces, it is clear she fully embraced and internalized the author’s voice and ideas, humor and fears. This project is Kirby’s critical, insightful, and heartfelt examination of Vonnegut and the effects that war had on him and many soldiers.
— Sheryl Hyten
English 1302 G7
The Invisible War
War is a concept grounded in death that has wormed its way into day to day life. Popular as movies, news reports, novels, children’s toys, and a myriad of media in between, the idea of combat has permeated modernity; immortalized in the societal habit of romanticizing the inherently grisly topic. As the youth gaze upon their military figurines with intent on imitation and moviegoers fawn over the glamorous and fictitious world of destruction without consequence, the public has become so quick to forget the war that soldiers bring home: PTSD. This psychological stress, (that “can be as debilitating as any physical battlefield trauma”), is defined based on the symptoms experienced, its duration, and what the traumatic event was, though it is never as clear-cut as its parameters would like one to believe (Satel). Kurt Vonnegut, in accordance with the authorial habit of grappling with grey areas, attempted to remove such rose-colored lenses as he structured his “vehemently anti-war novel” Slaughterhouse-Five with the intent to represent the true struggle that is the invisible war (“Kurt Vonnegut Jr.” Encyclopedia).
On November 11, 1922, Kurt Vonnegut was born into an affluent German bloodline steeped in “cultural… prominen[ce]” and Freethinker ideals; a family dynamic which fostered his penchant for pacifism and civic duty. Unfortunately, as with millions of families, his comfortable life came to a grinding halt when the Great Depression struck in the 1930’s. With America possessing significantly less disposable income, Vonnegut’s architect father found himself out of work when commissions had ceased. Without a main source of earnings, his mother’s family inheritance was expended and private education for Kurt was no longer affordable. As a result, he was sent to public school where he befriended the “working-class students [there;] an experience he says means the world to him” (“Kurt Vonnegut Jr.” St. James). Experiences such as these outside of the prosperous familial cushion from whence he began shaped what would later become his simple writing style and relatable characters.
Pursuing a double major of Biology and Chemistry, Vonnegut enlisted in the Army Advanced Specialist Training Program; allowing him to avoid the draft for the Second World War. Soon, however, Dwight D. Eisenhower ended the program and Vonnegut “was thrown into combat” (“Kurt Vonnegut Jr.” St. James). Though subsequently captured as a Prisoner of War by the Germans, he survived the bombing of Dresden, a “monstrous, and from a military standpoint, utterly gratuitous raid” (Beidler).
What prompted the eccentric satirist to situate his crosshairs onto the topic of war and its effects, therefore, was something much more personal than the prospect of a literary challenge alone. Rather, it was a combination of both said challenge and the intimate experience with that which he wrote about. This very experience precipitated Vonnegut to write Slaughterhouse-Five whose “complex and non-chronological” structure sets it apart from many of its contemporaries (“Kurt Vonnegut Jr.” Encyclopedia).
Kurt expected to be able to easily type up the novel as it was based on such a significant time in his life, however that was not the case. A struggle to write, Slaughterhouse-Five ended up a rather “short and jumbled and jangled” novel; a style of structure which, at first, evoked confusion in its readers (“Slaughterhouse-Five.”). Although the focal, historical event occurring in the book was the bombing of Dresden, Slaughterhouse- Five is “less about the Dresden firebombing than it is a replication of the author’s struggle to write about this unspeakable event and the reader’s attempt to comprehend it” (“Kurt Vonnegut Jr.” St. James). This “struggle,” as Kurt admitted in the first few pages in the novel, added to the ambiguity to the book. Why, though, would an author go to such great lengths to incite confusion in the reader when most authors avoid it?
Just as PTSD is often subtle when it first takes effect, so, too, is the subtlety in the meaning behind the unconventional way in which Slaughterhouse-Five is written. At first glance, it seems as though the main character, Billy Pilgrim, and his temporal affliction remain a humorous plot device of yet another science fiction novelist. While this may be true on some level, it also serves a more meaningful purpose, for it is within this intentionally convoluted structure that Vonnegut focuses on and characterizes an aspect of PTSD: coping.
Amid the many, varied cases of military PTSD sufferers, many struggle with the integration back into civilian life after combat. In Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut showed Billy Pilgrim and his exploits as he flitted back and forth through his own timeline. While shown literally in order to allow the reader to get a visual of what was occurring, (or rather, what Billy thought was occurring,) the act “reflects the condition of ” Billy and his attempt to make sense of a world he could not understand after experiencing the war- the realm of the average citizen. The structure of Slaughterhouse-Five, therefore, “is, on one level, a symbol of the shock, confusion, dislocation, and desire for escape that result from the horrible experiences of war” (“Slaughterhouse-Five”). Pilgrim never truly time traveled at all, but rather thought he had as his mind attempted to conjure up a reality that, in its absurdity, made more sense than the one he was attempting to rejoin after World War II. The resultant jumble of a book underlined Vonnegut’s feelings that “there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre” as the coherency of the novel is intentionally diluted (“Slaughterhouse-Five”).
With satire arguably being his forte, Kurt Vonnegut takes the style of writing into his own hands, through diction and the perception of serious topics in order to further his opinion on war in a style that was “‘effortless, naive, [and] almost childlike.’” Presenting his material in this way is “ultimately anesthetic” and therefore allows him to “articulate what few others would dare speak about” due to their emotional nature which causes the topics to remain devoid of attention, (such as the bombing of Dresden.) Because it is a less alarming and a more euphemistic approach, (without sacrificing an effective emotional hold on the audience,) “Vonnegut … enabl[ed] them to cope with these otherwise inexplicable matters” (“Critical Reception”).
While his satirical style retained its purpose, some critics feel that this is where Vonnegut falls a bit short, saying that “the ultimate difficulty with Vonnegut is … that he refuses to say who is wrong.” His stories are, indeed, comical with its tinted, black humor, though critics find that “his fight” often “turns slapstick;” that he does not take his “serious topics” seriously enough. (“Critical Reception”). Others, such as Brian Aldiss, have labeled the “antiwar” book “intrusive” in “its use of time travel and other science fiction devices,” while still others do not appreciate how the novel seems to advocate “passive acceptance” as a viable means of responding to wrongdoing. Crichton even goes so far as to suggest “that Vonnegut ‘refuses to say who is wrong … ascribes no blame, [and] sets no penalties’” (“Slaughterhouse-Five”).
What these critics do not take into account, however, is the fact that Vonnegut incorporated all of these elements to explain his ideas on the pointlessness of the bombing of Dresden and the effects of PTSD. He employs a “slapstick” tone as a means of easing into the tough topics of destruction and death that he must cover, as aforementioned. Kurt Vonnegut also chose not to place the blame on a specific person so as to broaden the scope of the novel. In doing so, he has made his point universal; effectively, Slaughterhouse-Five and its themes can be applied to any war, whether questioning the intentions of wars past or the justifications of those yet fought. No longer is the novel simply about one man and the effects of one war; Billy Pilgrim serves as the indirect voice of PTSD sufferers everywhere, though with a greater focus on cases involving the military (“Slaughterhouse-Five”).
Kurt Vonnegut, with his biting humor and unconventional means of presenting his points of view, has pushed through criticism to produce a piece of literature that, according to “most readings… credit it with being a significant literary work of its era.” (“Critical Reception”). Vonnegut employs his wit and simple language in order to cushion the audience from the social stigma associated with discussing the true pain of war. In doing so, he has opened the discussion regarding PTSD even further; preparing the home front to welcome those fighting the invisible war.
|Artifact||Identify the genre and how it fits what you hope to convey.|
|1||I would like to write a letter that is from a soldier to himself before the war. “The war” is not specified to highlight the universality of the pain that war causes, though WWII is alluded to in the words “anti-Red” and so on. The writing of the older soldier is tinged with bitterness and jealousy of his younger self that is not yet tainted by war. The font and paper is inspired by typewriters to represent the time period even more. Dialect and time period must be taken into account with casual tone, diction, punctuation, spelling, and grammar.|
|2||A pictorial collage will also be used. It will have the outline of a soldier crouching and within the soldier will be images of war (school appropriate, of course,) and on the outside there will be images of everyday life. As a whole, this collage is to represent how the soldiers become overwhelmed in their newly civilian lives. The images of war within is to represent how some PTSD sufferers are haunted by images of their traumatic experiences. They are taken from various wars to reflect the universality of the pain of war.|
|3||For my third artifact, I want to do a puzzle. Altogether, the puzzle would come together to form the shape of Kurt’s signature. This would be to symbolize how the events in his life forged Vonnegut’s signature style in which he presents his ideas.|
|4|| The fourth medium I would like to use is blackout poetry. Those with PTSD often have to filter through the chaos of a war-torn mind in order to find meaning in their new civilian roles. The blackout poem would serve to represent said struggle as I would have to filter through a written piece in order to create a new meaning (the poem.) It is taken from a newspaper article in order to represent the “everyday life” I will have to filter through to find meaning.
Hey there, kiddo,
It’s me. I’m an old man in comparison to you, now; just a few years older. You know, I always found it funny how just a short time can mean the difference between a man and a boy. Go through somethin’ crazy and whammo, you’re a so-called “man”…
I can picture you now, with your spiffy uniform and nationalism, all gung-ho and anti-Red. You’da probably gotten this letter before you left, huh? Yeah, that’s right, the first shipment coming in for a “morale boost” or whatever they call it. I remember the first. I barely read mom’s letter before my mind was already across the water. I threw away that letter without a second thought. Lived to regret that decision pretty quickly. These letters might seem a bit boring right now, but trust me, kid, in about two weeks, if that, you’ll be itchin’ to hear from your family.
Now, I ain’t writing to you for giggles so you better listen up. I know what you’re thinkin’ right now, but this ain’t the schoolyard. The Reds ain’t those action figures and the guns don’t say BANG on a little banner when you pull the trigger. War changes you, boy. You will not be the same. Oh yeah, you’ll celebrate coming home to your sweetheart and your bed, but you can never truly leave those God forsaken grounds. You won’t trust your neighbor, the clerk, your wife… loud sounds’ll scare the hell out of you and you can forget about sleep. They call us “Brain Casualties” like we’re zombies or somethin’, though that’s pretty fitting for some of these coots. And every death you cause comes back to haunt you… yes, even the Reds have a family to go home to (or, rather, to never do so again,) and that’s a fact you’ll come to learn…and never forget.
I sit here and I can try to tell you what’s good for you, to beg you to run, but I know it won’t help. It’s too late. I could bang out my jealousy onto this piece of junk typewriter, but that doesn’t change who you are- still young and handsome and dumb as all get out. I envy you for your energized sense of adventure; a life seeming to stretch out long before you, but I pity you for the truth you’re too young to see just yet: the life you were so lucky to keep cut short by a war you’ll still be fighting in the third aisle of your neighborhood Drug Store long after you return.
So whoop it up, kid, while you still have your sanity. I’ll be here waiting.
You, in about 3 years.
“Advertisements.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.
Beidler, Philip. “WHAT KURT VONNEGUT SAW IN WORLD WAR II THAT MADE HIM CRAZY (ALONG WITH BILLY PILGRIM, RABO KARABEKIAN, ELIOT ROSEWATER, ET AL.).” Michigan Quarterly Review. Michigan Publishing, n.d. Web. 26 Apr. 2016.
“Critical Reception.” Slaughterhouse-Five: Reforming the Novel and the World. Jerome Klinkowitz. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1990. 10-18. Twayne’s Masterwork Studies 37. Web. 21 Apr. 2016.
“Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.” Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale, 1998. Biography in Context. Web. 20 Apr. 2016.
“Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.” St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. Detroit: Gale, 2013. Biography in Context. Web. 20 Apr. 2016.
“Radio Prague – The Bombing of Prague : Was It a Mistake?” Radio Prague. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.
Satel, Sally. “PTSD’s diagnostic trap.” Policy Review 165 (2011): 41+. Educators Reference Complete. Web. 20 Apr. 2016.
“Slaughterhouse-Five.” Novels for Students. Ed. Diane Telgen and Kevin Hile. Vol. 3. Gale, 1998. 258-277. Web. 20 Apr. 2016.
“The Guardian View on Second World War Commemorations: Don’t Leave Dresden out of the Story | Editorial.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 11 Feb. 2015. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.
“Today in World War II History-May 21, 1944.” N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.
“Unbelievable WWII Photography (65 Photos) – Sarcastic Charm.” Sarcastic Charm. N.p., 01 Aug. 2013. Web. 01 May 2016.
“World War II: Photos We Remember.” Time. Time, n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.
Looking Back: A Self-Assessment
The last piece: the self-assessment. Gosh, that was a doozy, I will be honest. I do believe that in comparison to past research projects, this was, indeed, the longest and most involved. While this was true, I will admit that this was probably my favorite research assignment I have ever been assigned. In past years, the assignment was a simple research paper, formulaic writing and all. This assignment, however, was quite the intellectual smorgasbord. I enjoyed trying out various options of presenting material and feel that as a result, I learned more than I had when writing formulaically.
The hardest part to write, for me, was the research paper. As one who finds a framework into which I put my writing, I struggled to find the theme for this paper. Thus, I had a hard time starting. Once I did so, I broke up the first few paragraphs over a few days until I was comfortable with my material and was able to do some serious writing. I am happy with how it turned out, though I worry it is too verbose.
I am particularly proud about my artifacts. These were my favorite part of this whole project. It was a fun twist getting to flex what, albeit small, amounts of artistic talent I possess and allows not only the audience but also myself to see what I have just learned in a new light. According to the way neural pathways are formed, these creative endeavors will also allow the new information learned in researching the topic to be stored more effectively.
Time-wise, I most certainly did not plan it out as well as I hoped I would when first assigned this project. This past week has been quite stressful, though I know I would have turned it in on time if the project was due on Monday. I am proud, however, at the pace of completing objectives once I really got rolling on the project!
If I had to be honest, the holistic rubric has made me nervous. As open ended as this project is, I was wondering at some points whether what I did would come across as moving as it did for me. Personally, I would like an A as I truly put forth the effort in every aspect of this project, though of course, it most certainly is up to the grader and will respect the decision made.
Overall, I really enjoyed this project. Though the research paper was tough, as was the length of this project, I relished the opportunity to try out different media. I am proud with the product I have produced and had a very positive experience.