Sluaghterhouse-Five By Kurt Vonnegut Essay, Research Paper
A Look into the Human Mind
In his powerful novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut tells of a man named Billy Pilgrim who has become unstuck in time. He walks through a door in 1955 and comes out another in 1941. He crashes in a plane in 1968 and ends up displayed in a zoo on the planet Tralfamadore making love to Earth porno-star, Montana Wildhack. He ends up in the cellar of a slaughterhouse when Dresden is bombed to ashes during World War II; Billy, his fellow Americans, and four guards were the only ones to live through the bombing. The Boston Globe best explains the book when it says it is poignant and hilarious, threaded with compassion and, behind everything, the cataract of a thundering moral statement (back cover). Vonnegut looks into the human mind of a man, traumatized by war experiences and poor relations with his father, and determines insanity is the result.
Billy s father is a source of his instability from the beginning. Mr. Pilgrim treats Billy as if he has no feelings and he is a disgrace to him. Unfortunately for Billy, fathers are very influential in a boy s growing up. In a terrible encounter with his father when Billy was young, Mr. Pilgrim sets the stage for Billy s insanity:
Little Billy was terrified because his father had said Billy was going to learn to swim by the method of sink-or-swim. His father was going to throw Billy into the deep end, and Billy was going to damn well swim. It was like an execution. Billy was numb as his father carried him from the shower room to the pool. His eyes were closed. When he opened his eyes, he was on the bottom of the pool and there was beautiful music playing everywhere. He lost consciousness, but the music went on. He dimly sensed that someone was rescuing him. Billy resented that. (43-4)
Billy is also traumatized by the extreme loss in his life. Everywhere he looks, he experiences great loss. First his father dies in a hunting accident, then he gets in a plane crash and everyone aboard dies but him, and while he is in the hospital recuperating, his wife dies of carbon monoxide poisoning. There is so much death surrounding his life, that it is no wonder Billy has not tried to kill himself yet.
Billy proves throughout the book that he is not mentally stable, yet somehow, he is persuasive in his interpretation of the truth. It is a good example of how people are very gullible creatures, and even in Billy s constant state of delirium, it is hard to disavow what Billy seems to believe is the truth. He proves his instability frequently:
Billy found the afternoon stingingly exciting. There was so much to see dragon s teeth, killing machines, corpses with bare feet that were blue and ivory. So it goes. Bobbing up-and-down, up-and-down, Billy beamed lovingly at bright lavender farmhouse that had been spattered with machine-gun bullets. (65)
Billy Pilgrim finds comfort in Kilgore Trout s science-fiction novels, which, coincidentally, have many similarities with the alien encounter and the time traveling Billy often experiences. The encounters are barricades Billy puts around himself so he does not have to face the reality of death and war. They are a way of shielding him so he can pretend everything is all right and there really is no death. Many times throughout the book, Vonnegut indicates that the encounters are merely figments of Billy s imagination brought on by the novels of Kilgore Trout: It was The Gospel from Outer Space, by Kilgore Trout. It was about a visitor from outer space, shaped very much like a Tralfamadorian, by the way. (108) This too causes doubt at how mentally stable Billy is. It is interesting how Vonnegut slyly hints throughout the book how Billy s time travel and aliens are a way of comforting his pain.
Kurt Vonnegut looks into a man s mind and shows how insanity can be caused by many events in life. Although the book seems to be fictional, a deeper look shows that there are many lessons that are very true to life. Billy reaches out and teaches a wonderful moral lesson about death and war. He teaches that death can be overcome if a person is strong enough, and war, although terrible, is somehow needed. Billy learned from the Tralfamadorians that we will all live forever no matter how dead we may sometimes seem to be. (211)