The Effects of War on Slaughterhouse-Five’s Billy Pilgrim.

by Cameron Batschke

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut is a novel that focuses on the life of Billy Pilgrim. There are three main stages in his life that Vonnegut highlights: Before World War II, during World War II, and after World War II. Vonnegut’s main purpose with this novel was not to preach about how war is wrong, but how it impacts the lives of the soldiers who fight in them. The author uses the life of Billy Pilgrim to symbolize the effect that war has on the lives of all soldiers. Billy Pilgrim was an infantryman for the United States Army in World War II. He was very young, just out of high school, and not yet married. The most important event to ever happen to him in his life happened on two nights in February. He had been captured by Nazi soldiers and had been staying under a slaughterhouse in Dresden, Germany. On the 13th and 14th of that month, in the year of 1945, Allied air forces bombed Dresden and killed between 135,000 to 250,000 innocent people (Vit). Dresden was not a war city. There was very little industrial activity. It was a city of hospitals and prisoner of war camps. Of the 250,000 possible that died, Billy Pilgrim was not one of them. Being one of the lucky people to survive the vicious attacks on Dresden put guilt into the heart of Billy Pilgrim. He struggled for many years trying to figure out why he was one of the ones picked to live. After the war, something strange and extraordinary happened to our protagonist, he was abducted by aliens called the Traflamadorians, who were very mentally and technologically advanced beings. Billy spent much time discussing philosophy with them. A particular philosophy of the Traflamadorians that Billy clung to was the idea that time was the 4th dimension. So that meant that every point in everyone’s lives is always happening, making the idea of death not so bad, because even though you are dead at that particular moment, you are still living in other moments. That is why Billy Pilgrim invents a world where justification can be given, where life and death are meaningless and feelings of guilt disappear. The only way Billy Pilgrim can confront this guilt is to excuse his survival and trivialize the gift of life and cruelty of death (‘The Horror’). He creates a new world

in his time travel. even in his death bed. and the next minute he would be in the trenches fighting against the Axis Powers. he read them until a shield was built over his eyes and he believed that the words of a zany science-fiction writer’s books were true. and travel to the future. it would be nearly impossible to forget what happened. He could not handle the facts of reality. he still could not forget. He could not think of a happy memory. So even after all the good things happen to Billy in his life after the war. so he had to invent a whole new reality that he could . he still ended up going back to the war. Billy was not really abducted.where he can be free from his guilt. There was a pattern though. Trout was an unsuccessful science-fiction novelist. he would not be able to escape the horrors that the war had done to him (Miska). In conclusion. Whenever he would go to the past. go back to a point in the war. without at some point thinking of the war. Whenever he would become unstuck in time. The symbolism behind the repetitive return to the war is quite obvious. This was a strange gift given to Billy by the Traflamadorians to try and further instill the idea of the 4th dimension to him. but he had one true fan. he became. His whole past had been ruined. he would go from there. this was showing that in the future. before the war. He obsessed about them. the major effect of the war made was that Billy Pilgrim lost his mind. yet another extraordinary thing started happening to him. he would start going back in time.’ No doubt as a result of the abduction. ‘unstuck in time. Ever since the war. directly after his time in the future was done. When he traveled forward in time. Billy Pilgrim had all of his books and read them all religiously. and to the future. Billy’s whole life had been tainted. He got the ideas of Traflamadorians and of the 4thdimension from the books of a science fiction writer named Kilgore Trout. After he was ‘abducted’ by the Traflamadorians. At random times. The Traflamadorians provided Billy Pilgrim with the escape he needed from his guilt. One minute he would be lying in his death bed at an old age. Since Billy survived one of the worst and more unnecessary human massacres in the history of the world. directly to a different point in the war. such as becoming a successful and well respected optometrist. The abduction was all apart of the world that he created in his own mind to deal with the torture of his guilt (Simpson). he would always.

Jr. and the Invention of Reality in Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You. Josh. 28 March 2005 <http://www. ‘The Themes of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. Death had been the driving force behind his guilt. Connellsville. Simpson.>.’ Critique 45.3 (2004): 261-272. The genius of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel was that it never once talked about war being wrong. He used them as a tool for diminishing his guilt of survival. 28 March 2005 <http://123helpme. Mr. Mark.’ Slaughterhouse-Five Essays. Rosewater. ‘War in Slaughterhouse-Five. . He simply made the reader despise war by showing how it affects the lives of those who are in it.html>. and when he found a chance to make death seem not so bad. Ideas. and Breakfast of Champions or ‘Fantasies of an Impossibly Hospitable World. New York: Dell publishing. Michael. Miska.’ Marek Vit’s Kurt Vonnegut Corner.html>.reocities. he took it. PA 28 March 2005 <epnet. His belief in the 4th dimension of time made death not a bad thing anymore. EBSCOhost Connellsville High School Library.asp?id=16476>. MasterFILE. 1971. Kilgore Trout and the Traflamadorians helped make his life easier. Bibliography: The Horror of War Exposed in with. Slaughterhouse-Five: or Children’s Crusade. a Duty Dance with Death. but he did not. Everyone expected him to write about the evilness of ‘Literature. 28 March 2005 <http://www.reocities.’ Marek Vit’s Kurt Vonnegut Slaughterhouse-Five. Kurt.

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