Free Study Guide Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.|
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FREE LITERATURE NOTES: SLAUGHTERHOUSE - FIVE
As an escape form the unpleasantness of imprisonment, Billy begins to involuntarily time-travel. In his future, he sees himself falling asleep at work. This action, coupled with his time traveling, reveals his tendency to escape from anything unpleasant. It is significant that in his time-traveling, Billy sees himself as a rich, prosperous, and respected man. In spite of his success, however, he is still “unenthusiastic about living.”
Vonnegut makes it clear that Billy does not feel he has any control in shaping his life. He states, “Among the things Billy Pilgrim could not change were the past, the present, and the future.” In other words, Billy simply takes what life dishes out and becomes depressed about his fate. His weeping fits result from his chronic depression.
Within the chapter, Vonnegut offers several criticisms. He compares
the ravaged black ghetto in Ilium to the war ravaged towns of Europe.
This comparison points out the fact that destruction is not restricted
to war. It is also found in civilian life, wherever there is prejudice,
poverty, and injustice. Vonnegut also critically points out that the attitude
of the American military towards a problem is simply to destroy it. As
an example, he tells of a major who wants to bomb North Vietnam until
the country agrees to do what the United States wants.
This chapter is set on the wedding night of Billy’s daughter. He goes out in his garden, and an alien flying saucer comes and takes him inside. After falling asleep in the saucer, he finds himself traveling back in time to the war. He is in a boxcar crossing Germany with Roland, who is dying of gangrene. Roland accuses Billy of killing him. Billy and the other captured Americans are brought to a German prison where they are deloused and given used overcoats. One of the Americans, Paul Lazzaro, warns Billy that he will make him pay for Roland’s death.
Billy then travels further into the past. First he returns to a scene
in his infancy; he next visits the Middle Ages. Finally he is again aware
of the fact that he is in the flying saucer on his way to Tralfamadore.
When Billy says he does not want to go, he is told by one of the aliens
that “free will” is a concept unique to Earth.
Before the flying saucer presents itself, Billy is aware that it will arrive and take him away on the night of his daughter’s wedding; but he does absolutely nothing to prevent it from happening. He simply allows events to happen to him with absolutely no resistance on his part.
Although they have been mentioned before, it is in this chapter that the Tralfamadorians make their first direct appearance. Their conversation with Billy centers around how they differ from human beings in their style of perceiving reality. Unlike humans, they do not question what happens nor seek an explanation for events; much like Billy, they just accept life as it comes. Their philosophy is that what happens does so because “the moment is structured that way, and nothing can alter that. As a result, they totally discount the human concept of free will.
As Billy time-travels back to the war, he sees the mistreatment that the American
prisoners receive at the hands of the Germans. In a dehumanizing process,
they are intentionally treated like a herd of cattle, and like unthinking
animals with no free will, they do as they are told; they are imprisoned
psychologically as well as physically.
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. 09 May 2017