Sarah M.

Second Place Winner

The potent words printed on the pages of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five catalyzed my personal realization of what I want to do in life. The novel didn't inform me in the traditional sense of what "to do," as in what career I want to pursue; protagonist Billy Pilgrim didn't convince me to follow his lead to become an optometrist, and his experiences with war, especially the firebombing of Dresden, steeled my decision to not join the military. Instead, this book instilled in me the ideal of how I want to live my life, not as what I want to live.

The sheer originality of Slaughterhouse-Five compelled me to strive to match Vonnegut's startling freshness as a means of enlivening the painfully mundane aspects of life. The strange characters, including my favorites, Eliot Rosewater and Kilgore Trout, and the unusual events, such as Billy's abduction by aliens from Tralfamadore, reinvigorated my atrophying teenage imagination. The eccentric view of the world the novel presents enabled me to use my revived imagination to explore alternate thought universes and bizarre hypothetical situations; to twist reality and contort commonly accepted "facts" for both amusement and problem solving. Billy's state of being "unstuck" in time is a truly unique and valuable way of experiencing life, which inspired me to pursue my own brave new way of living now and in the future.

The concept that most profoundly affects my life philosophy is the Tralfamadorian concept of time that accompanies Billy's time travels. At first, the Tralfamadorians' ability to see in four dimensions bewildered me. I had never heard the concept of time discussed in any way other than a linear and chronological progression of past to present to future, with clear causes and distinct effects. When I first delved into this alien point of view, I eagerly absorbed this strange method of thinking and applied it to my outlook. The idea of events, people, places, and things always existing within their own permanent pockets of time calmed many of my anxieties about life and death and dying. It inspired me to cope with the inevitable truths of life by not fixating on them, so as to not prevent myself from enjoying life to the best of my abilities.

Reading Slaughterhouse-Five encouraged me to maintain an enriching dark side to my sense of humor. Vonnegut presents heavy subjects effectively by highlighting their absurd qualities to an almost uncomfortably funny degree. This inspired me to do similarly, in order to use humor as a means of alleviating life's ailments. I've adopted Vonnegut's triangular-bladed satirical knife as a part of my own intellectual arsenal, which I will hone throughout my life.

In a world where one method is often purported to be "right" while its opposite "wrong," it is refreshing to read a book that openly obliterates such dichotomies. Slaughterhouse-Five does this. Consequently, it has inspired me to obliterate dichotomies in my life in order to defy social gravity, inertia and other laws of social physics.