What the author initially titled The Children’s Crusade: A Duty Dance with Death became a crusade against censorship and a dance with controversy

Arya Sureshbabu | News Apprentice

Almost as soon as it hit bookshelves in 1969, Kurt Vonnegut’s absurd novel began to garner criticism and stir up controversy. Featuring the personal journey of Billy Pilgrim, an American soldier during the Dresden bombings of World War II who undergoes numerous time travel experiences and endures abduction by a race of aliens know rather cumbersomely as Tralfamadorians, the book quickly became well-known for its convoluted plot, dry satire, and unreliable narrator.

Some of the objections raised by critics of Slaughterhouse-Five are of the typical sort—one concerned educator argued that the novel contained so much profanity that “it would make a sailor blush,” while others took issue with its references to sex.

Other justifications for banning the novel have more to do with the thematic content of the book and concerns about the effects some of its more complex messages would have on impressionable readers. Many claim that the book provides a distorted vision of the world by portraying death in a nonchalant light, as the protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, is very accepting of any tragedy that comes his way. In addition, the inclusion of the line “So it goes” after every death in the book has raised some concerns among critics, who claim that Vonnegut trivializes the loss of human life by encouraging a sort of apathy for death and suffering.

These complaints have led to at least eighteen highly publicized controversies over the book since 1973, when angry members of the Drake Public School Board became the first to flagrantly resist the novel by throwing thirty-two copies of the book into their coal burner. The most recent in the long procession of controversies over the book occurred three years ago, when the Republic High School in Missouri banned the novel among widespread public consternation. In order to counter this action, the Kurt Vonnegut Public Library promised to distribute a hundred free copies of Slaughterhouse-Five to any students from the school who expressed a desire to read it, but the novel remained officially banned from the schoolwide curriculum.

Despite the long-standing firestorm over the novel, students at Irvington will have no trouble accessing it. The bookroom recently received a shipment of thirty-five new copies of Slaughterhouse-Five, waiting for next year’s juniors to take a look and decide for themselves how they feel about Billy Pilgrim and the Tralfamadorians.

Photo: Random House Inc.
Photo: Random House Inc.