Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, Slaughterhouse Five is the story of man named Billy Pilgrim who is drafted into WWII. Billy goes back and forth in time and it’s difficult to determine the order of events. He experiences long flashbacks in his past and returns back to his present state of distraught.
In life, we all have free will. In America, specifically, we are granted freedoms that people in many other countries do not possess. We can all practice the religion of our choosing without persecution or print media attacking political officials without being exiled from our country. However, in this novel, Vonnegut expresses the lack of free will. Billy is drafted into a war that he never voluntarily asked to be apart of. We have seen this several times throughout history in times of war. During WWII, men as young as the age of 21 were being forced into the war.The Vietnam War sparked even more controversy because when men were drafted they fled and tried their hardest to escape the draft because it was a war they did not want to be apart of. (Text to Itself, Text to World)
Billy, as well as Vonnegut, has a clear distaste of war. The author allows his own personal feeling to reflect in this first chapter. (He had planned on writing an Anti-War novel) In this section of the book, the man who the narrator confesses his novel idea to, Harrison Starr, compares war to a glacier Harrison says, “Do you know what I say to people when I hear they’re writing anti-war books? . . . I say, ‘Why don’t you write an anti-glacier book instead?’” Glaciers are unmovable and unstoppable like war, but one would have a less difficult time trying to stop a glacier rather than war. Either way someone will die. Vonnegut stresses the inevitability of death in Slaughterhouse Five. Death is this inescapable part of life and it exists with or without war. Despite one working avidly to stop war it would do no good because death would still exist. Death is the biggest limitation humans face. As long as life is born and the world is still spinning, death will still occur, and it’s something we all need to accept and deal with. Vonnegut tries to make the point that war is unnecessary because death will occur either way. (Determine Importance, Text to Itself, Text to World)
Billy’s life in Slaughterhouse Five is entirely built upon situational irony. Billy went to school and studied optometry in order to become an optometrist. Optometrist help people with impaired vision and allow them to have an ability to see. Billy can barely see his own life. He is flying blind in this war and goes in and out of these delusional states of time. Vonnegut places a huge importance upon sight. Billy is supposed to be able to correct the vision of others but his own vision is impaired and it’s left him unstable. it reminds me of Tiresias in the Legend of Oedipus. Tiresias is this blind prophet who has this physical inability to see, but he does have the mental ability to see the truth. Billy has a physical ability to see and correct vision, but is to mentally unstable to see the outcome of his life and the things around him. (Text to Itself, Text to Text)
I think the reason Billy goes back and forth in time and is abducted by aliens is because he is experiences the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Distress Disorder. The reader has no idea what Billy’s present state really is because his time travels take him back to when he was a prisoner of war. Also, he goes back to Tralfamadore, the home planet of the aliens that abducted him. The whole abduction is just an episode of when he was taken by the Germans. The Germans say similar things as the Tralfamadorians. The Germans ask “Vy you? Vy anybody” and the Tralfamadorians say “There is no why.” These statements show that Billy is remembering his former self and past just in a new form. It reminds me of the film Reign Over Me starring Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle. It’s never clearly mentioned, but Adam Sandler has PTSD. After losing everyone he ever loved in the 9/11 attacks he become this withdrawn past self hidden in the dark and appears to be mentally strange like Billy. (Determine Importance, Text to Text)
None of the lessons taught in this novel are easy to understand topics. It’s up to the reader to determine the lesson for his or herself. It reminds me of Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Marquez. In the Chronicle, we know the end of the the story and the retelling of events the reader missed by jumping to the conclusion adds to this mysterious effect to learn the overall moral of the story. I feel as if the reader has to piece together Billy’s life because he is so blind as to realize his own life. It reminds me of detective novels I used to read as a kid. We start out at the end result and trace back steps that ultimately lead us back to the end. Billy can’t change his fate which is probably why all these memories recur back to him. “Among the things Billy Pilgrim could not change were the past, the present, and the future.” Fate and free will go hand in hand in this novel. The reader knows the suffering Billy will encounter and this mixing up of time shows the repeated suffering he experiences. (Text to Text, Text to Self, Determine Importance)
A lot of of Billy’s life traces back to his time as a Prisoner of War. I could not imagine what it must have felt like to be in that sort of situation. During the Iran Hostage Crisis, men and women were taken hostage at the US Embassy for 44 days which is similar to Billy’s experience. He did not plan to be apart of this was and became a prisoner because of it. Sometimes we get put into a battle that’s not our battle to fight. I had a friend who got into an argument with a girl we used to know, the argument was between her and my friend, but because I was a bystander I was exiled by the girl as well. This obviously doesn’t compare to Billy or the Iran Hostages, but it proves my point. (Text to World, Text to Self)
Slaughterhouse-Five battle with various ideas of freedom: Free will, lack of freedom, being confined, our destinies despite free will. It all leads to this idea that we have freedom, but it’s taken away, but it doesn’t matter anyhow because we all have a destiny. It makes you wonder is your free will even worth it. I honestly believe in freedom. You can change your fate if you’re given the opportunity to do so, but Billy was never given the opportunity. (Text to Self)