Blue and Ivory
In Slaughterhouse-Five
Purpose Statement
Kurt Vonnegut incorporates the repeated color imagery of blue and
ivory as a reminder of the intimate relationship life has to death.
Blue, an archetypical symbol of hope (reminiscent of the Virgin
Mary), is juxtaposed with the color ivory. Ivory, a mix of white (a
symbol of purity) and yellow (a symbol of decay), suggests that
something has been tainted – morally or physically. Vonnegut
bonds these colors specifically to humans and infers that human life
has hope, but acts of destruction, like war and violence, taint that
hope. Vonnegut often targets people who have been sacrificed by
others in the pursuit of technological advances, money and power.
The colors are a thematic reminder of the bleak, tainted hope of
the deluded army of men who have been sacrificed and are not
really living and not really dead. Vonnegut implies that their
deaths, like their lives, are essentially meaningless.
Quote One
Billy, the personification of sacrifice in the novel, types a letter
about his new philosophy about “time” that he hopes to show
to the world. He is unable to get his furnace working, so “his
bare feet [are] blue and Ivory ” (35). His blue and ivory feet
reinforce Billy’s deluded nature while emphasizing the irony
that Billy hopes to change the world, but he cannot get his
furnace working. The war has taken away any chance of a real
life, so he lives his life trying to create meaning in the
hopeless void. Correspondingly, the blue and ivory also
suggests Billy’s metaphorical death in a world that he cannot
control . Vonnegut underscores this with Billy’s location –
“underground” in his basement.
Quotes Two
American turned Nazi, Howard W. Campbell, is
“sheathed in a blue body stocking which [has]
yellow stripes running from his armpits to his
ankles” (207). Campbell is manipulative, and he
symbolizes all that is fraudulent in America. He is a sadistic
example (like Weary and Lazzaro) of a character who suffers
from delusions. While the colors on Campbell’s uniform mimic
the blue and ivory repeated during the novel, his “ivory” is
described as yellow which indicates his greater moral decay
and eradicates any hope blue may offer as it dominates his
body “from his armpits to his ankles.” His uniform represents
physical and metaphorical death: the real death of Campbell
following the fall of Germany and the metaphoric death of the
American dream following the pointless bombing of Dresden.
Quote Three
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Quote Four
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Quote Four
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In Slaughterhouse-five, Blue and ivory symbolize how the harsh
realities of war cause the physical, emotional and/or
psychological deaths of all affected by it. World War II, in
general, caused an entire generation of people to become
deluded: some deluded by faith in America and some by their
own feelings of superiority. In addition, Vonnegut suggests
that it is not just the innocent men that suffered, but all of
America which involved itself in a war effort that slaughtered
innocent women and children. The only equality, Vonnegut
concludes, is in death.