The Illusion of Free Will

Throughout the course of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five, the reader is taken through the life events of Billy Pilgrim, a character who amazingly lives through the Dresden firebombing and many other tragedies. Ironically, Billy finds comfort in the idea that free will is a fictional belief, and that nothing can be done about any of the surrounding misfortunes that occur throughout his lifetime, or throughout any lifetime. He vocalizes his thoughts and justifies them with a claim of alien abduction, and consequently is not taken seriously. While the text may imply that his extraterrestrial experiences did not occur, it still recognizes his ideology as valid and one of the main themes prevalent throughout the novel. Vonnegut utilizes Billy Pilgrim’s life experiences as well as other devices to convey the idea that free will is a mere illusion, and that there will perpetually be hardships through life that all beings will be forced to withstand.

There are several characteristics of Billy Pilgrim that illustrate him as a peculiar character. One of the most prominent ones is that subsequent to the firebombing of Dresden, the death of his wife, a plane crash in which he was miraculously the only surviving passenger, as well as other misfortunes, he states to have been abducted by aliens who have unique philosophies on time, and the nature of life in general. The Tralfamadorians–the aliens who abduct him–have distinct views on time and space, whereas the past, the present, and the future, are eternally ongoing events that will never cease to end. Essentially, each and every moment is simultaneously occurring, and the Tralfamadorians possess the capability to see any point in time, which they describe as the fourth dimension. They state that they have seen all parts of time, such as the end of the world, but there is simply nothing they can do to alter the future; it just simply is. This belief is contrary to the common idea of free will on Earth, as a Tralfamadorian bluntly stated, “I’ve visited thirty-one planets…and I have studied reports on one hundred more. Only on Earth is there any talk of free will”(86).

Billy’s experience with Tralfamadore is a turning point in the novel where the myth of free will is made an obvious theme. He is involuntarily drafted into World War II, where he later lives through the firebombing of Dresden, and finally after the war, he is the lone survivor of a plane crash–all things he has no power to change. As a result, he develops a mental illness, although it is also implied that he may have had a predisposition for it in the first place (again, something he has no control over). To add on, a quote that appears twice–once on a sign in Billy’s office, and last in the engraving of a locket of Billy’s fellow captor of the Tralfamadorians–is, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom always to tell the difference (60, 209). This serves to stress the theme that certain fates are set in stone and cannot be altered through any means, and accepting this fact is the easiest way to cope with it. Billy Pilgrim does this, and sits back, allowing life to take its course with no interference or objections.

The passive writing style also emphasizes the narrator’s disbelief of free will. “So it goes” is a repetitive line that follows each description of death in the novel and illustrates the inevitability of the event. “And so on” is another line often used after a description of events. The repetition creates a distant, unfeeling tone, while moving on from the topic, displaying how life continues and there is nothing we can do to alter fate. Additionally, the narrator demonstrates that although he views war as cruel and tragic, it is unavoidable. In the introduction, he states that he is writing an anti-war book to a character, with his response being, “Why don’t you write an anti-glacier book instead?”(3). This statement analogizes wars with glaciers, and by doing so, implies that they are both things that are naturally occurring and unpreventable. The narrator agrees with this statement, but still feels the need to express his thoughts of the tragedy of war and the lack of free will that humans posses through his novel and in reality.

The revolutionary essence of Slaughterhouse-Five is a direct result of the different devices Vonnegut applies, such as humor, irony, and tragedy. All of these devices serve to cause society to collectively think about the nature of war, and the nature of life itself, changing our perceptions of what power we truly possess to reshape our fate.  

Structure and Meaning in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five

One of the most distinguishing aspects of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five is the structure in which it is written. Throughout the novel, Billy Pilgrim travels uncontrollably to non-sequential moments of his life, or as Vonnegut says, “paying random visits to all events in between.” (23). In order to exemplify this for the reader, Vonnegut uses a non-linear and seemingly sporadic storyline. However, by the end of the novel, Vonnegut’s use of plot fragmentation is clear. By constantly jumping back and forth throughout time, Vonnegut keeps all of the novel’s most significant events fresh in the reader’s mind. With his immediate and thought provoking introduction, “Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time”(23), Vonnegut establishes that there is something unique about Billy Pilgrim. By choosing the word “unstuck”, he implies that Billy has just been freed of something. In doing so, Vonnegut also prepares the reader for the non-linear storyline that follows. In fact, the rest of the novel consists of nothing more than random moments of Billy Pilgrim’s life. By portraying Billy in this way, the reader gets an all-encompassing perspective of Billy as a person, instead of having a myopic view that is based on a particular incident of Billy’s life. This same technique also allows Vonnegut to keep significant parts of Billy’s life fresh in the reader’s mind throughout the novel. For example, Billy’s experience during World War II and the bombing of Dresden are some of the most significant parts of his life. Vonnegut introduces them to the reader very early on in the novel simply by mentioning “Billy first came unstuck while World War II was in progress” (30). Again, Vonnegut’s way of writing has allowed him to redefine what makes sense in Slaughterhouse Five, as opposed to a typical chronological novel. As a result, the reader will be aware of the ongoing war, allowing them to build a mental picture that is constantly being developed with each event Billy encounters. Furthermore, Vonnegut’s ability to give a first-hand account of an event before it happens chronologically in turn allows readers to be able to reflect on an event as it resurfaces later in the novel. Again, this theme most strongly relates to Billy’s wartime experiences. Vonnegut returns time after time to the violence and destruction that surrounded Billy while he was a prisoner of war. And since these frightful and damaging thoughts rarely leave Billy’s mind, Vonnegut makes it so that they do the same for the reader. While Billy’s horrific experiences during the war play an active role in his personality and lifestyle, he is manipulated even further by his ability to become “unstuck in time”. Because Billy is constantly jumping through time, he is never given the opportunity to become comfortable in a single moment of his life. As a result, Billy says that he is in “a constant state of stage fright” (Vonnegut 23). This explains Billy’s lack of focus and initiative that is evident throughout the novel. He is forced to improvise his entire life, attempting to portray all of it at once, going fearfully from one moment to another, always without warning. Billy’s life consists of pieces that have no obvious coherency with on and other. Vonnegut himself sums up the meaning of his approach in describing the Tralfamadorian’s books through the words of Billy Pilgrim, Vonnegut writes: “There isn’t any particular relationship between all the messages, except that the author has chosen them carefully, so that, when seen all at once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep. There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time.” (Vonnegut 88). In this statement, Vonnegut emphasizes once more the importance of viewing many moments as a whole picture. At first glance, the spontaneous events appear to be incompatible with each other, telling many stories, but signifying nothing. However, this is exactly what Vonnegut hoped to achieve; these separate stories force the reader to view them all as one, or not at all.

Kurt Vonnegut’s Observations of War Trauma

During times of war soldiers experience horrific atrocities that are mentally and physically crippling. Most cannot begin to comprehend these sinister and morbid images due to their lack of military experience. In Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, the main character is Billy Pilgrim, who serves the United States in World War II. Billy is a chaplain’s assistant and does not actually engage in combat, allowing him to be an observer of the war rather than an active participant engaging in battle. His position as an enlisted but unarmed spectator of the war leads to the cataclysmic sights and memories that Billy recollects throughout the novel because he witnesses more than most soldiers do and therefore is more traumatized. Billy is captured in Germany and kept as a prisoner of war in a concentration camp, where he witnesses the total destruction of the town of Dresden. The catastrophes that Billy experiences traumatize him for the remainder of his life and lead to his psychological impairment and eventual death. However, Billy uses his imagination to reduce some of the pain, creating memories that help him cope with his trauma. After witnessing the destruction and devastation of war, many soldiers, including Billy, mask the trauma; eventually leading to their psychological and physical deterioration. Nevertheless, the trauma will always be present throughout the entirety of a soldier’s life.Slaughterhouse-Five is somewhat of an autobiography of Vonnegut’s experiences in World War II, but, he writes the novel as narrative historical fiction. Vonnegut chooses this particular style and genre of writing because he is too traumatized by the war to write about his own life and therefore writes vicariously through the life of Billy. War is a faceless and violent way to resolve a problem and once war has begun, it is out of the control of the people and in the hands of the soldiers. However, these soldiers, representing and fighting for their country, do not have as much as control as they believe. “There are no characters in war, [Vonnegut] says, only pawns, victims. Lots of victims are children and, indeed, even the combatants seem like children swept up in events beyond their control” (Reed 4). War is truly out of the control of anyone and death is strongly associated with war. Death is one of the most significant events leading to trauma, and in war, death is a daily occurrence, especially for Billy. “One thing was clear: Absolutely everybody in the city was supposed to be dead, regardless of what they were, and that anybody that moved in it represented a flaw in the design” (Vonnegut 230). The bombing and total destruction of Dresden is an event so catastrophic that it is viewed as even more destructive than the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and therefore everyone should be dead. However, Billy is the “flaw in the design” and feels guilty for surviving. Billy is traumatized by his survival because he has to live with the knowledge that hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children died, but when the dust settles he is one of the few remaining. The trauma that Billy experiences during the war recurs when he is involved in a plane crash later in his life where he is the only survivor: The people who first got to the crash scene were young Austrian ski instructors from the famous ski resort below. They spoke to each other in German as they went from body to body. They wore black wind masks with two holes for their eyes and a red topknot. They looked like golliwogs…Billy thought the golliwog had something to do with World War Two, and he whispered to him his address: ‘Schlachthof-fünf’ (Vonnegut 199). Schlachthof-fünf is German for “slaughterhouse-five”, the name of the building that he lives and works in at the concentration camp, and if a guard ever approaches him he is to recite those words. The war traumatizes Billy so much that after being in the plane crash he does not know where or when he is and thinks the German speaking ski instructor is a German guard. Billy continuously re-experiences events in forms of distressing images, thoughts, perceptions, and dreams – his trauma is an aspect of his life that is beyond his control. The trauma from war exists in the lives of soldiers even after combat, and veterans, including Billy, often mask their trauma rather than trying to cope. Billy uses time travel to mask his pain, spontaneously jumping from one moment in his life to another. “Billy is spastic in time, has no control over where he is going next, and the trips aren’t necessarily fun. He is in a constant stage of fright, he says, because he never knows what part of his life he is going to have to act in next” (Vonnegut 29). Billy’s time travel is a way of masking his trauma; if he is not enjoying something, then he time travels to another, hopefully, but not always, joyful moment in his life. Billy uses different methods of masking his trauma, one technique is imagining that something as awful as death is not as bad as it is or may seem. “By exercising one’s selective memory, by becoming an ostrich, one may indeed live in a world where everything is beautiful and nothing hurts” (Vanderwerken 2). Billy is selective in choosing what he wants to remember, eliminating painful memories by masking them with more desirable and pleasing memories. A popular mask of Billy’s pain is his imagination’s invention of Tralfamadore. Billy devises the idea that he and actress Montana Wildhack are abducted by aliens, Tralfamadorians, and put in a zoo where they are observed. Billy uses Tralfamadore to mask his trauma; if painful memories enter his mind, then he instantly time-travels to Tralfamadore. Tralfamadore is a hallucination of Billy’s hiding from the pain that he endures during the war. The masking of his trauma evokes itself in subtle ways; for instance, Billy is quite successful in his life after the war. He is president of the Lions Club, works as a prosperous optometrist, lives in a comfortable upper middle class home, and has even fathered two children. While Billy seems to be leading a productive postwar life, there is much beneath the surface that is not revealed. Beneath the luxury of his success lies a man too war-torn to understand what is happening to him. In fact, Billy, short for William, indicates that he is more an immature boy than a man, and the war has not made him a better person, but has driven him into a corner of trauma.The experiences of war leave veterans, including Billy, traumatized; and even though their trauma will never completely go away, there are methods of coping to relieve some of the pain. The war has put Billy in a state of constant panic and suffering, never knowing when the horrific memories of war will reappear. “The price for his (Billy’s) survival is a memory haunted by fear and death. He moves from one disaster to another unable to either banish or accept the experience of Dresden” (Berryman 3). The trauma Billy has endured will never go away regardless of the many masks he uses to ease his pain. However, there are methods of coping with the trauma to reduce some of the fear and pain. The most significant coping technique that Billy uses is his invention of Tralfamadore, a place where he is able to heal his emotional wounds. “…Billy Pilgrim, finds only in the delusion of Tralfamadore, with its denial of time and offering of sex, a way to cope with his survival of Dresden and the many deaths before and after” (LeClair 1). Montana Wildhack, with her sexual innuendo and provocation, is Billy’s primary tool for coping with his pain, because he talks to her about his painful memories, which helps him cope with his traumatizing experiences. Furthermore, the Tralfamadorians believe time is a continuum of moments existing simultaneously rather than a chronological sequence. Their perception of time explains Vonnegut’s format of the novel; every scene is divided by three dots to give the audience an idea of the importance of time. The Tralfamadorians also believe that when a person dies they are not actually dead; they are simply in poor condition at that certain moment, and they are perfectly lively in another moment. This idea of death as meaningless allows Billy to view all of the deaths, including the hundreds of thousands in Dresden, as merely insignificant, discarding all pain and trauma he previously had. Billy’s new outlook on death leads him to say, “So it goes” whenever he mentions death. “Tralfamadorian philosophy, which opposes trying to make sense out of occurrences, helps Billy deal with the horrible events and their consequences by reinterpreting their meaning” (Vees-Gulani 5). Tralfamadore takes Billy away from the trials and tribulations of the harsh world he lives in by perceiving horrible events, such as death, optimistically. Tralfamadore also offers him new outlooks on life while easing his emotional pain. Vonnegut vicariously helps Billy cope with his trauma while actually coping with Vonnegut’s own trauma. “Faced boldly, narrated and thereby worked through, the trauma of Dresden is exorcised of its dark spell on Vonnegut’s imagination” (Giannone 12). Vonnegut has an immense amount of pent up emotion and relieves himself of much of it by helping Billy relieve some of his pain as well. Tralfamadore is the primary technique Billy uses to cope with, and even forget his trauma from the war. The trauma that Billy, along with many other soldiers, endures during the war is a pain that can never be relinquished, and masking the trauma is the worst possible way to deal with the pain. Nevertheless, there are many ways of coping with the trauma; however, some of them are not always beneficial, such as Billy’s methods of creating the memory that he is abducted by Tralfamadorians. “Tralfamadore is a fantasy, a desperate attempt to rationalize chaos, but one must sympathize with Billy’s need to create Tralfamadore” (Merrill and Scholl 6). Billy needs to create Tralfamadore to mask the trauma, but as he invites other accommodations to his fantasy planet, such as Montana Wildhack, the masking of his trauma turns into the coping of his pain. There is no past, present or future tense in Slaughterhouse-Five and therefore it is impossible to decipher the time in Billy’s life that he is speaking from. This reflects on the war trauma that haunts Billy until his death because it does not matter where you are in your life; trauma, pain and anguish will always exist.Works CitedBerryman, Charles. “After the Fall: Kurt Vonnegut.” Studies in Modern Fiction vol. 26. Gale Literary Database. 3 December 2004. 1-5.Giannone, Richard. “Vonnegut: A Preface to His Novels.” Literary Resource Center. 1977. Gale Literary Database. Deering HS Lib., Portland, ME. 3 December 2004. 1-18. LeClair, Thomas. “Death and Black Humor.” Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction vol. 17. 1975. Student Resource Center. Deering HS Lib., Portland, ME. 6 December 2004. 1-2.Merrill, Robert and Scholl, Peter A. “Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five: The Requirements of Chaos.” Studies in American Fiction vol. 6. 1978. Gale Literary Database. Deering HS Lib., Portland, ME. 3 December 2004. 1-13.Reed, Peter J. “Authenticity and Relevance: Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.” Censored Books: Critical Viewpoints. 1993. Student Resource Center. Deering HS Lib., Portland, ME. 6 December 2004. 1-5.Vanderwerken, David L. “Pilgrim’s Dilemma: Slaughterhouse-Five.” Research Studies. September 1974. Student Resource Center. Deering HS Lib., Portland, ME. 6 December 2004. 1-5.Vees-Gulani, Susanne. “Diagnosing Billy Pilgrim: A Psychiatric Approach to Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.” Studies in Contemporary Fiction. Winter 2004, vol. 44. Gale Literary Database. 1-11.Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five. New York: Delta, 1969.

A Comparative Analysis of Slaughterhouse-five

War has, undisputedly, been an element of every civilization’s history throughout time, but the cause of war, however, is a topic of dispute. Is war something that humans bring on themselves, or has it been deemed inevitable, no matter the circumstances? In many ways, the question of the cause of war is what brought Kurt Vonnegut to write Slaughterhouse-five. After decades of contemplating his own war experiences, Kurt Vonnegut presents war in Slaughterhouse-five as uncontrollable, and touches on the even greater subjects of free will and fate, making an unconventional, yet extremely moving, anti-war statement. In Slaughterhouse-five, Kurt Vonnegut presents the main character, Billy Pilgrim, with the epic struggle between free will and fate by demonstrating the differences between free will and fate through a spatial concept of time and by explaining the relevance of free will and fate through examples of death and war to elevate the awareness of human control over destiny. Both free will and fate are considered under the terms of a spatial concept of time and explored thoroughly by the main character, Billy Pilgrim, after his experience in the bombing of Dresden during World War II. Billy Pilgrim is left in a state of psychological instability after being faced with such horrific situations in World War II, and makes the subconscious decision to deal with the pain by creating an alternate universe where the death and war he witnessed have no meaning (Vonnegut 29). This alternate universe is called Tralfamadore and serves as a tool for Kurt Vonnegut to present the ideals of pre-destination. The inhabitants of Tralfamadore, known as Tralfamadorians, are the beings who introduce the concepts of pre-destination and fate to Billy Pilgrim through their own concept of time. The aliens do so by explaining “to Billy that time is different for Tralfamadorians and Earthlings because in the fourth dimension, time is spatial, and one can visit a moment in time like Earthlings visit locations” (Hines 1). This means that time is not linear, but that Billy Pilgrim experiences time as though he is travelling an extensive journey out of order. The moments in Billy Pilgrim’s life are oriented as various locations one might travel to, not a linear sequence of cause and effect. Not only is the Tralfamadorian concept of time spatial, but “moments in time,” meaning different locations on a life path, may be viewed out of chronological order. This explains the sporadic structure of the novel (Harris, “Time” 1). Kurt Vonnegut constructed Slaughterhouse-five not to be read as a chronological story, but as a group of uncontrollable events to convey the meaning of fate and its effect on Billy Pilgrim’s perception of life. The Tralfamadorian concept of time, aside from not being chronological, is also viewed as being simultaneous (Harris, “Time” 1). “Everything that has happened or will happen exists in a vast omnipresent eternal now,” meaning that there is no linear, cause-and-effect order of time (Harris, “Time” 1). All moments are of the moment, and should not be contemplated as individual decisions. Time, instead, is spatial, and “rather than each moment coming once and then passing away forever, Billy can relive moments from his past and preview those of his future” (Hines 1). At whatever moment in his life Billy Pilgrim is visiting, he is already aware of what has occurred up to and after that point. The knowledge that Billy Pilgrim has about his entire life span is why his life, and Tralfamadorianism, are considered omnipresent time structures. Since Billy Pilgrim can relive moments from his past and preview those of his future, he carries the information he learns about his future to his past. In this sense, Billy Pilgrim has the ability to “predict the future,” except that he truly has already lived the future (Vonnegut 29). The Tralfamadorians view this ability as being able to “see time in a completely different way than humans. They see an entire event instead of individual moments like humans” (Lewis 1). Tralfamadorians can view life as a whole, while humans are only aware of the past and do not know what to expect in the future. In this sense, Tralfamadorians have a more perceptive understanding of life than humans do because they can view all the events of a lifespan at once. Billy Pilgrim explains in his own words: Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just the way we can look at a stretch of Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and once that moment is gone it is gone forever (Vonnegut 34).Kurt Vonnegut uses strong metaphors to depict the differences between Tralfamadorianism and linear time and makes it known to the reader that Billy Pilgrim is well aware of his past, present, and future. In this particular metaphor, the entire range of Rocky Mountains symbolizes an entire lifespan. Humans view the Rocky Mountains as one single, connected unit, just as Tralfamadorians view life as one single episode. If the Tralfamadorians viewed life as individually arranged events, than that would imply that events in life have a cause and effect scheme. Although Billy becomes fully aware of all the various moments in his life, he fails to comprehend any connection between those moments and sees them as an array of random events. Once Billy Pilgrim discovers the fate of his future, he feels helpless, knowing that no matter his actions, the consequences will result in his pre-determined death. This, in and of itself, is the curse of Billy Pilgrim’s gift, meaning that Billy Pilgrim has been given the wisdom of Tralfamadorianism but can do nothing with that wisdom (Harris, “Themes” 1). Tralfamadorianism can be explained as “the philosophy… that each moment in time is pre-structured with no purpose, but is totally random. But, despite the randomness of the moment, it cannot be changed because it simply exists the way it is” (Hines 1). Kurt Vonnegut presents Tralfamadorianism as not only a concept of time, but as a philosophy as well, and this is how Billy Pilgrim uses it as an escape from his war trauma. Billy Pilgrim uses Tralfamadorianism as a shield protecting him from the real world where decisions need to be made, and those decisions have consequences. With the philosophy of Tralfamadorianism, however, Billy Pilgrim does not have to make decisions and uses the excuse of pre-destination to reason with any unfortunate events. The most prominent of the unfortunate events that Billy Pilgrim experiences is World War II, specifically the bombing of Dresden. Although Billy Pilgrim uses Tralfamadorianism as an excuse for the war, it still, like the war, presents him with situations that are beyond his control. Time itself is out of his control, as is the manner in which Billy Pilgrim views time. (Harris, “Time” 1). The Tralfamadorians enlighten Billy by stating, “Time does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all… bugs in amber” (Vonnegut 97). In Slaughterhouse-five, Billy Pilgrim, unwillingly, is the bug in the amber because he is placed in moments of his life without his control and exudes a frozen state of mind. In this state of mind, Billy Pilgrim establishes no control over his own actions or the actions of others and approaches life with a passive numbness. This frozen state of mind that Billy Pilgrim experiences proves his powerless and vulnerable position in life. Billy Pilgrim’s sense of helplessness translates into his ultimate acceptance of fate and the admittance of his lack of control over his life. One of the most apparent elements of life that Billy Pilgrim has no control over is the way he travels through time (Vonnegut 29). “Billy is spastic in time, has no control over where he is going next, and the trips aren’t necessarily fun” (Vonnegut 29). Billy Pilgrim has no control over his time travel and therefore has no control over his life. He is a passive personality and Kurt Vonnegut makes little effort to describe him as little more than that: passive and helpless (Lewis 1). This obvious lack of character description and development is purposeful, though, and Kurt Vonnegut uses the lack of description to enforce his themes. “The characterization of Vonnegut’s characters are neither dramatic nor descriptive: they are merely there. That is a large part of the story line, though. Vonnegut wants one to think that the characters have no will and are forced by a stronger force: fate” (Lewis 1). Kurt Vonnegut’s purposeful lack of description further enforce the theory of Tralfamadorianism by portraying Billy Pilgrim as a powerless spectator in his own life. Considering that Tralfamadorianism endorses the concept of pre-destination, the word Tralfamadore becomes synonymous with fate and therefore, the absence of free will. As a soldier in World War II, Billy struggled between the concepts of fate and free will, but after being introduced to Tralfamadorianism, he seems so stop inquiring about his life and simply accepts it (Hines 1). When the Tralfamadorians first came in contact with Billy, their explanation for life was “because the moment simply is… there is no why” (Vonnegut 97). This explanation demonstrates the ideal that life has no reasoning or purpose. In Tralfamadore, and consequentially, in Billy Pilgrim’s frame of mind, there is no free will and no room for decision making. The theory of pre-destination is one that modern-day people are generally not accustomed to, though. Kurt Vonnegut presents free will as a special concept that separates humans from beings such as the Tralfamadorians who do not believe in making their own destiny. Slaughterhouse-five introduces an alternative to free will that many readers are not aware of, and by doing so, causes the reader to examine their own beliefs after learning of the Tralfamadorian beliefs. In an encounter between Billy Pilgrim and a Tralfamadorian, the Tralfamadorian reveals: If I hadn’t spent so much time studying Earthlings, I wouldn’t have any idea what was meant by free will. I’ve visited thirty-one inhabited planets in the universe, and I have studied reports on one hundred more. Only on Earth is there any talk of free will (Vonnegut 86).While this portrays free will as a unique ideal that only humans believe, it also discloses Kurt Vonnegut’s bias on the comparison between free will and fate. “Mr. Vonnegut gives us his views on free will… without free will, there is no point in anything, because it will do no good” (Green 1). In Slaughterhouse-five, Kurt Vonnegut takes free will and puts it on a pedestal, declaring it to be the element that drives our will to live. Free will is what separates humans from Tralfamadorians and free will is also what gives life its purpose. Through Kurt Vonnegut’s personal commentary in the first chapter and the way Kurt Vonnegut depicts Billy Pilgrim as a helpless bystander in his own life, it becomes apparent that Kurt Vonnegut is an enthusiastic advocate of free will. The battle between free will and fate takes center stage in this anti-war novel and it is evident that “one of the most important themes is that of free will, or, more precisely, its absence” (Harris, “Themes” 1). By making free will so obsolete in the life of Billy Pilgrim, Kurt Vonnegut incites the reader to actively hope for Billy Pilgrim to gain control of his life. Kurt Vonnegut reveals his own hopes when he speaks in first person in the first chapter by admitting, “And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep” (Vonnegut 23). In this instance of uncertainty, Kurt Vonnegut is expressing his curiosity in regards to the extent of free will and its roles in the individual’s life. Nonetheless, Kurt Vonnegut’s own desire for free will demonstrates the will that all humans have to maintain an active role in their lives. Even though Kurt Vonnegut feels strongly about the concept of free will, he still presents the concept of fate as a form of comparison. Kurt Vonnegut is clear in making the point, “Any form of pre-destination cancels out free will” (Hines 1). Kurt Vonnegut allows the character of Billy Pilgrim to demonstrate free will for a portion of the novel by giving him the choice of choosing or denying free will. When Billy Pilgrim chooses to accept Tralfamadorianism, that is the last choice he ever makes for himself, and at that moment when Billy Pilgrim made that decision, he relinquishes control of his life (Lewis 1). Even with both free will and fate present in Slaughterhouse-five, Kurt Vonnegut uses fate to demonstrate how people can allow elements of life to overrule their free will. In the case of Billy Pilgrim, Billy Pilgrim allows his post-war insecurities to overrule his desire to actively live his life. Infact, Billy Pilgrim’s post-war trauma, and subsequently Kurt Vonnegut’s post-war trauma, is what initiates the inner struggle between free will and fate. With the message of an anti-war novel in mind, the concepts of free will and fate are applied to numerous situations in which death is involved. “Death is the central point to which all action in the book connects,” meaning that death is literally the main plot of the story, considering a death occurs at least once in every chapter (Green 1). Death is an inescapable aspect of life, one that Billy witnesses in war, at home, in his family, and through spatial time, Billy Pilgrim is even able to see his own. Billy Pilgrim’s ability to view his own death makes death the ultimate form of pre-destination because it is an inevitable facet of life that cannot be determined by humans. To divert his fear of death, Billy Pilgrim applies Tralfamadorianism to his life and is able to comprehend death on a different level. When he speaks in first person, Kurt Vonnegut implies that he, too, has gained a better understanding of death and its relevance in life. (Vonnegut 103). “Death seems too real for Vonnegut to omit from his reinvented cosmos, but by reinventing the nature of time, Vonnegut deprives death of its sting” (Harris, “Time” 2). The reason that Tralfamadorians are able to desensitize death is because “when a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in a bad condition in that particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments” (Vonnegut 34). Tralfamadorians view death as minute and meaningless in comparison to their overall perception of life. So despite Tralfamadorianism’s basis on pre-destination, the theory of spatial time allows for an unconventional view of death that divests its overall impact on life. Considering the way in which Tralfamadorians view death, it is deemed utterly meaningless and insignificant, and it is in this particular facet of Tralfamadorianism that Billy Pilgrim latches onto to keep himself from deteriorating after the war. Billy Pilgrim is willing to accept Tralfamadorianism after witnessing the atrocity of Dresden and takes on the attitude that, “given the absence of free will and the inevitability of events, there is little reason to be overly concerned with death” (Harris, “Themes” 1). Billy Pilgrim, in his later years, even shares these ideas with other people because he has grown so comfortable under the shield, Tralfamadorianism, that separates Billy Pilgrim from reality: It is entirely in keeping with his calling, then, when he has learned to see time in an entirely new Tralfamadorian way, that he should try to correct the erroneous western view of time, and explain to everyone the meaninglessness of individual death, because everyone lives forever in the eyes of a Tralfamadorian (Lewis 1).Since Tralfamadorian time is everpresent and ominous, a person’s death is only one portion of the entire, collective lifespan. Tralfamadorianism is fundamentally an elaborate escape method that Billy Pilgrim creates to make his life simpler and to lessen the impact death once had on his life. To emphasize the absolute meaningless of death, Kurt Vonnegut uses the phrase “so it goes” over eighty times within Slaughterhouse-five after every instance of death that is mentioned. This phrase is not only a way for Billy Pilgrim to distract himself from his own death but it also allows Billy Pilgrim to denote the deaths of others as well (Green 1). “‘So it goes’ is a reminder that no matter how important we think our death or the death of a loved one is, there have been countless billions of deaths before us” (Green 1). This unsympathetic statement coincides with the theory of Tralfamadorianism because in a pre-destined world, nothing can be done to escape or alter death. Tralfamadorians do not give death any special thought because they view death as outside their realm of control. “In allowing instances of death to trail off into oblivion with ‘so it goes,’ Vonnegut conveys to the readers that death, the ultimate sacrifice in war, can be a rather indifferent matter” (Young 1). With less emphasis on the final outcome of life, Billy Pilgrim is able to view death as an insignificant result of a pre-destined life. This attitude can be applied to war situations as well, and allows Billy to remember World War II as a detached bystander rather than a pained participant. When Kurt Vonnegut brings the reader to the climax of the novel, the bombing of Dresden, Billy’s sense of helplessness is finally understood. Just as individual deaths do not have specific meaning, it was not the individual deaths of war that have an impact on Billy Pilgrim, it is the collective death toll of war that causes him to resort to Tralfamadorianism (Young 1). After Billy Pilgrim mentions his experience at Dresden multiple times in Slaughterhouse-five, the actual event itself does not live upto Billy Pilgrim’s description. Vonnegut’s choice to describe Dresden with little detail emphasizes that “ultimately, Vonnegut’s ‘famous book about Dresden’ is less about Dresden than it is about the impact on one man’s sensibilities” (Harris, “Time” 2). Slaughterhouse-five focuses mainly on the impact that death and war have on Billy Pilgrim in a psychological respect and how one day’s experience at Dresden changes his view of free will. Once the bombing of Dresden is described, it is clear why Billy Pilgrim used Tralfamadorianism as an escape method to forget about the horrors of war and death that were revealed to him. Dresden causes Billy Pilgrim to reexamine his life and his values, which reflects Vonnegut’s examination of free will and fate. “For Vonnegut, war is not an enterprise of glory and heroism, but an uncontrolled catastrophe” (Harris, “Themes” 2). It is the sense of helplessness that war inflicts on people that gives Vonnegut an anti-war outlook. This helplessness, when applied to Billy Pilgrim’s life, is what causes him to invent Tralfamadorianism: Billy’s being “unstuck in time” is both a literal event and a metaphor for the sense of profound dislocation and alienation felt by the survivors of war, while the aliens from the planet Tralfamadore provide a vehicle for Vonnegut’s speculations on fate and free will (Harris, “Themes” 2). Becoming unstuck in time is another way of admitting that after World War II, Billy Pilgrim removes himself from the active world of decision-making and allows his life to consume him under the false pretenses of pre-destination. The way in which the bombing of Dresden is presented, through a memory, demonstrates that free will triumphs over fate because Billy Pilgrim made the conscious decision to remember Dresden, not revisit it. This active, conscious decision that Billy Pilgrim makes shows an inconsistency with Tralfamadorianism because Billy demonstrates control over his life. (Vonnegut 102). “For the first time in the novel, Billy Pilgrim remembers a past event rather than time-travelling to it. Time-travel, it seems, would have made the event too painful. Memory, on the other hand, supplies a twenty year buffer (Harris, “Time” 2). Billy Pilgrim obviously created Tralfamadorianism so that he could disconnect himself from his life and remain distant from the occurrence of death and war. Billy Pilgrim’s choice to remember Dresden, rather than relive it, also proves the triumph of free will over fate because Billy Pilgrim had to make a conscious, active decision. “If he fully accepts the Tralfamadorianism view, then he could simply choose to look forward to moments beyond or before Dresden, but instead he feels emotional pain while reliving his prisoner days” (Hines 2). The fact that Billy Pilgrim used his free will to choose to remember Dresden demonstrates Tralfamadorianism’s ineffectiveness in providing an escape for Billy Pilgrim from death and war. It is with this last major decision that “Vonnegut finally answers the question [What is the meaning of life?] by affirming that man must arbitrarily make his own purpose” (McGinnis 1). Kurt Vonnegut could not be clearer, especially after the remembered scene at Dresden, how vital free will is to human existence. Free will is what gives life its purpose and is what allows people to make active decisions, such as the decision Billy Pilgrim made to remember, not revisit, Dresden. The decision to remember, not revisit, Dresden demonstrates the clear triumph of free will over fate and liberates Billy Pilgrim from his uncontrolled time travel. The plot of Slaughterhouse-five introduces the reader to concepts of free will and fate, in the context of death and war, and then arrives at the conclusion that humans control their destiny. Slaughterhouse-five is an anti-war novel unlike any other, in which Kurt Vonnegut not only informs, but persuades the reader to actively examine their view of destiny. The timeless struggle between free will and fate could not be presented in a more compelling manner than through the inner struggle of a war-torn veteran.

Counterculture and Slaughterhouse-Five

Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five is, at first glance, nothing more than a science fiction tale of one man’s travels to another planet and his ability to view his life out of chronological order because of his power to time travel. There are too many similarities to historical facts, human philosophies, and Vonnegut’s own life for readers to believe that this novel about another world was created solely for entertainment, though. In looking at the deeper meaning behind this piece, we see that the physical setting is always Earth, and that the travels that Billy Pilgrim takes are simply hallucinations, created either from chemicals or Pilrgim’s head injuries. By understanding Vonnegut’s experiences with war and placing the publication of the novel during the late 1960’s, readers are able to see that the author is condemning not only the Vietnam War, but also the counterculture movement that ignored the problems of the war.Vonnegut’s condemnation of war comes quickly in this piece, as the book begins with the author’s narration about the creation of the piece. In attempting to create a novel about his personal experiences in World War II, Vonnegut visits one of the men that was with him in Dresden, Bernard O’Hare. During their conversation, O’Hare’s wife, Mary, becomes upset because she believes that Vonnegut will glorify the thrill of victory over the enemy, furthering the romantic fascination the man has with war. She argues that they “were just babies then,” robbed of their innocence and forced to witness unnecessary violence that either haunted them or had been repressed so much that they forgot a great deal about the experience. The writer agrees with her view and pledges that the book will not celebrate the war.Chapter Two begins the saga of Billy Pilgrim. Quickly, we are informed of the parallels between Vonnegut and Pilgrim, such as their identical ages and their imprisonment in Dresden. Pilgrim, though, has a special gift, given to him by the Tralfamadorians, which is the ability to travel throughout time. Here, the Tralfamadorians are supposed to represent a society following the ideals of the counterculture, who were given extrasensory powers by the drugs that they ingested. It is possible to hypothesize that Billy’s first encounter with the Tralfamadorians was a result of the half-full bottle of champagne that he drank at his daughter’s wedding. Whether or not the drink was spiked with a psychoactive substance is debatable, but Vonnegut does support this conclusion by incorporating the “Drink Me” phrase (73), reminiscent of a scene in from the movie Alice in Wonderland, created in 1951. Remember that during the late 1960’s, the story was used by the counterculture to illustrate the hypocrisy they felt that parents had, for parents taught the story which was laced with numerous drug references, yet taught children that drugs were bad (ex. “White Rabbit” by the Jefferson Airplane). Pilgrim’s trip to Tralfamadore resembles a visit to a counterculture haven such as the Haight-Ashbury district. Just as Billy and Montana are put in a zoo, tours of San Francisco in the late 1960’s included the famous hippie haven, where tourists witnessed a culture that was entirely foreign to them. The Tralfamadorian guide that talks to Billy upon his arrival reminds readers of a leader like Ken Kesey, especially since he is referred to as a guide. This is the same term that is used when Kesey refuses to be the guide for Sandy’s unauthorized trip in the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. (EKAAT, 97) In addition to the similarity in wording, the Tralfamadorian philosophies also resemble those of the counterculture. Echoing Kesey’s sentiments at Berkeley, the guide tells Billy to close his eyes to the bad. He tells him that there is no such thing as free will, for one’s life is planned, thus there is no reason to try to stop it. Instead, one must go with the flow, experiencing whatever time period he is taken to as it occurs. Both good and bad experiences may be recalled, but the Tralfamadorian informs Billy that the trick is to “Ignore the awful times, and concentrate on the good ones.” (117)Since the book is semi-autobiographical, one wonders whether Vonnegut experimented with any psychoactive substances and hallucinated this alternate reality. Regardless, the novel shows even if he did, both he and Billy do not agree with the Tralfamadorian’s helpless views. One of the first indicators is that Billy is taken against his will and placed in a cage. He is not given the option of returning to Earth and is only released after his captors grow bored of him. Another example of Billy’s refusal to accept Tralfamadorian beliefs is the long quotation found on the wall of his office (60), taken from the inscription on Montana’s locket, which serves both as a reminder of her and as Billy’s belief that some parts of the future can be changed if one has the courage to do so. The creation of the world is done solely as a condemnation of counterculture values, as it emphasizes the hopelessness of their views. By repeatedly using the phrase “So it goes” following any bad situation, Vonnegut mocks those who simply accept or ignore the bad experiences that life brings us. His use of the phrase so frequently annoys the reader, especially in a situation such as the inevitable destruction of Tralfamadore.(117) In addition, the destruction of the planet emphasizes that society can not survive if it is unwilling to change.In following typical structure for science fiction pieces, Vonnegut makes the aliens the misguided race and uses them to illustrate the views that he disputes. In a technique that I have seen used in other science fiction pieces, such as film Planet of the Apes, the aliens are really our current civilization if societal trends continue. His preoccupation with the Children’s Crusade, an event that occurred 750 years earlier, shows that society has not taken the courage to change its violent ways. The author sees the counterculture philosophy of shirking responsibility and going with the flow to be even more detrimental, since society is already showing its inability to change based upon history. In addition, by showing that the world was ended by experimentation with new fuels, much as the United States and Russia had been experimenting with atomic weapons at the same time as the book’s publication, Vonnegut expresses his urgency for societal change. In this respect, since the Tralfamadorians represent a human civilization enveloped in counterculture ideals, the novel is Vonnegut’s plea to society to take notice of what is happening and change it by ending war before mankind destroys itself.

Foreshadowing of Events in Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse Five’

THIS IS A NOVEL SOMEWHAT IN THE TELEGRAPHIC SCHIZOPHRENIC MANNER OF TALES OF THE PLANET TRALFAMADOREThe foreshadowing of events in Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ is as much a subtle indication of things to come as it is an expository technique whereby the major plot points of the story are blatantly spelled out as facts, leaving us to proceed through the novel and watch helplessly as each of those points is hit, in turn, as promised. In addition, however, foreshadowing is more than just a structural technique used by the narrator: it is also a defining aspect of Billy Pilgrim himself – it is a part of his character, as his knowledge of future events influences his behavior throughout the story – and, on a grander scale, foreshadowing is woven into the very fabric of the narrative, for this is a story in which past, present, and future intersect and all events that occur are known before they take place.”I’ve finished my war book now,” announces the narrator – perhaps Vonnegut himself, though we cannot be sure – in the opening section of the novel, and already the end is in sight, for we know now that the story is told in flashback, and that the chronological sequence of events concludes with the writing of the very novel that we are reading. The narrator continues:The next one I write is going to be fun.This one is a failure, and had to be, because it was written by a pillar of salt. It begins like this:Listen:Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.It ends like this:Poo-tee-weet?And sure enough, we turn to the next page to see the novel proper beginning with the words: “Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time,” and when we turn to the last page we see the novel ending with the chirping of a bird: “Poo-tee-weet?” Combined with the circular effect of the song of Yon Yonson, which ends as it begins and goes on forever into eternity, and with the narrator’s observation that “Somebody was playing with the clocks… The second hand on my watch would twitch once, and a year would pass and then it would twitch again” – we see that this is most certainly a novel structured somewhat in the telegraphic schizophrenic manner of tales of the planet Tralfamadore.But what exactly is that supposed to mean? On the very first page of the novel, before the story even begins, we are told of the planet Tralfamadore as if its nature should already be known to us, yet only when we are informed that it is “where the flying saucers come from” are we then able to infer that it is a place with a civilization that is of some consequence to the story – for we infer also that if the flying saucers are coming from Tralfamadore, they must also be going to another place, presumably Earth; but still, these inferences and impressions are as much as we can deduce from this abrupt introduction to Tralfamadore. Similarly, we see that the novel is subtitled “The Children’s Crusade” – why, we do not know. Neither of these things has any significance to the story the first time they are brought to our attention, but later, when they are explained – as the planet on which the ‘fourth-dimension’ aliens reside and as the title that the narrator promises his friend Mary he will use for his book, respectively – in retrospect, their significance becomes great. In addition to the method of foreshadowing already discussed, the novel’s foreshadowing now also takes a form more subtle than the spelling out of certain events, based upon assumption of knowledge already held rather than the exposition of knowledge not yet attained. In this instance, instead of candidly telling us what will happen in the novel, the narrator speaks of things that have already happened, thus foreshadowing their eventual occurrence later in the story. Vonnegut’s dual use of both major, precognitive foreshadowing and of minor, retrospective foreshadowing is not a common technique to use for foreshadowing in particular or for fiction in general – unless you happen to come from Tralfamadore.”The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore,” Billy Pilgrim writes in a letter, “was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past. …All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist. [The Tralfamadorians] can see how permanent the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them.” The style of the novel, therefore, reflects the perspectives of the Tralfamadorians, telling us about future events in one instance and then presuming that we have already been told about them in another; sometimes specifically stating what will take place in the future – a more ‘active’ foreshadowing technique – and sometimes assuming that events that will take place in the future have already happened and that we know about them, and proceeding from there to talk about them as if they were familiar to us – a more ‘passive’ foreshadowing technique. The effect of these two types of foreshadowing is a general feeling of ambivalence toward the future, largely empty of any kind of emotional connection to events that have yet to occur.”His name was Howard W. Campbell, Jr. He would later hang himself while awaiting trial as a war criminal” the future is written, and is inevitable, and so it goes. “Billy predicts his own death within an hour. He laughs about it, invited the crowd to laugh with him. ‘It is high time I was dead,’ he says. ‘Many years ago,’ he said, ‘a certain man promised to have me killed. …Tonight he will keep his promise'” and he does, and Billy goes down just as he said he would, and his death is expected, planned, premeditated, inevitable, and so it goes. We infer this not only from the words Billy uses, but from the change in tense on the narrator’s part: Billy says “It is high time I was dead,” but he said “Many years ago, a certain man promised to have me killed”; we move from the present into the past within the space of a single sentence. Other instances of foreshadowing rest on a similar level of subtlety: “Billy has gone to sleep a senile widower and awakened on his wedding day” and “Billy sat down in the waiting room. He wasn’t a widower yet” – not yet, but now we know that he will be, and, when the time comes that he is a widower, we expect it to happen, and the event is once again imbued with a sense of inevitability, and is therefore drained of the emotional power that spontaneity would otherwise bring. “So it goes,” notes the narrator anytime anyone or anything dies. Death is not a significant event but is instead a mere formality, and this thinking reflects not only the thoughts of the Tralfamadorians, but also those of the confused and bewildered and desensitized American soldiers who, like the narrator, were – are – will be caught by surprise in the bombing of Dresden. Except one.”Billy, with his memories of the future, knew that the city would be smashed to smithereens and then burned in about thirty more days. He knew, too, that most of the people watching him would soon be dead. So it goes.” Yet as Billy marches through the streets of Dresden, he is part of a “light opera” – or more than that, “Billy Pilgrim was the star [of the light opera].” Earlier – or later – during his time in the Tralfamadorian zoo, Billy asks the Tralfamadorians why they don’t have war on their planet. “Today we [have peace],” a Tralfamadorian tells him. “On other days we have wars as horrible as any you’ve ever seen or read about. There isn’t anything we can do about them” – once again, emotional detachment from an inevitable future influences the behavior of this character and the narrator’s attitude towards him (or it) – “so we simply don’t look at [wars]. We ignore them. …That’s one thing Earthlings might learn to do: Ignore the awful times, and concentrate on the good ones.”What we have in Billy Pilgrim, then, is a character who is foreshadowing incarnate, who, with “memories of the future,” is able to look at a soon-to-be-decimated city with a smile on his face while acting like a “star” instead of taking the opportunity to warn the citizens of that city about the inevitability of their fate. The actions of this character are then related to us by a third-party observer who earlier described himself as “a pillar of salt,” alluding to the Biblical tale of Lot’s wife and therefore painting himself with the same brush as one who cannot help but look back and reflect on the past. This then equates to a structure in which we have, firstly, the observation that in addition to being a novelistic technique on the part of the narrator, foreshadowing is also a character trait that impresses itself upon the very essence of Billy Pilgrim, whose knowledge of what will take place is an influence on the things he does and does not choose to do; and secondly, a comparison between those individuals who look at the world the way the Tralfamadorians do, and those who do not: the narrator, a figure in the present, forever concentrates his thoughts on the past, and he is contrasted against Billy, a figure in the past, whose “memories of the future” allow him to concentrate his thoughts not on Dresden, even though he is there when it is about to be bombed, but on the good times, and the light opera is a good time, and this ability to choose which events to concentrate on allows him to smile and act like a star even though he knows what this city has coming to it. With events being foreshadowed in Billy Pilgrim’s actual personal chronological timeline in turn influencing the essence of his character, as well as events being foreshadowed in terms of the order of events in which the narrator introduces us to his character, Billy is able to escape from the misery of Dresden into happier times while on the other hand the narrator, even though he lives in happier times in the present with his old friends, still cannot, nor will ever be able to, escape the misery of Dresden, and the misery of the past.The past, by necessity, defines the entire novel and gives it a framework around which it is structured, and moreover, it allows for foreshadowing in general: future events in a novel of this sort are meaningless without some past indication of the importance of their occurrence; otherwise, it would be nothing more than a straightforward account of ‘real life,’ and the story of a man who has “come unstuck in time” is anything but realistic. The very first chapter, for instance, outlines the novel as a whole, with a vague, ‘passive’ reference to “the slaughterhouse” – given the way the subject is treated with such familiarity, the narrator assumes we have made at least some acquaintance with the subject, and because we know we have not yet, we expect to be acquainted with it later on – and the specific, ‘active’ statement that “One guy I knew really was shot in Dresden for taking a teapot that wasn’t his,” which doesn’t pay off until the very end of the novel: “Edgar Derby was caught with a teapot he had taken from the catacombs. He was arrested for plundering. He was tried and shot.” The first chapter also contains a throwaway line that forecasts the appearance of a significant character: “Another guy I knew really did threaten to have his personal enemies killed by hired gunmen after the war.” Consider also the way that characters, too, are introduced almost as arbitrary plot elements whose only apparent function is to flesh out the story with more background detail – the writer Kilgore Trout, for instance, and the actress Montana Wildhack – yet they metamorphose into major players as the story progresses. But aside from gimmick value or simple evidence of design, what purpose do such introductions and such throwaway lines buried in the prose contribute to the overall effect of the novel?Consider now the way in which a Tralfamadorian novel is written and read: “Each clump of symbols is a brief, urgent message – describing a situation, a scene. …Tralfamadorians read them all at once, not one after the other. There isn’t any particular relationship between all the messages, except that the author has chosen them carefully, so that, when seen all at once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep. There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What [Tralfamadorians] love in [their] books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time.”The plane crash in Vermont of which Billy is the only survivor is foreshadowed, referred to first simply as “the plane crash” and expanded upon later. Billy’s encounter with Montana Wildhack in the Tralfamadorian zoo is foreshadowed retrospectively when we realize that the words etched on Montana Wildhack’s necklace are the same as those that are printed and framed and hung on the wall of Billy Pilgrim’s optometry office many years later, even though the first time we encounter them chronologically is in that same office. Billy’s public speeches on the subject of Tralfamadore are all foreshadowed in his letters, even if not explicitly: we know they are coming, or that they have already occurred and that we are about to have the blanks filled in. Billy can see all of these events, which is why none of them surprise him and he always plays by the rules of time: “I didn’t think the time was ripe,” he tells his daughter when she asks him why he has never spoken about Tralfamadore to her. But the narrator – and we, ourselves – cannot see all of these events at one time, which is why this is a novel only somewhat in the style of the tales of Tralfamadore. Billy, however, plays along with the demands of time and fate, which is why he understands that the events he later encounters are not only inevitable, but are necessarily inevitable: things cannot happen any other way.If Slaughterhouse Five is indeed “a novel somewhat in the telegraphic schizophrenic manner of tales of the planet Tralfamadore” then, with its myriad of throwaway lines and seemingly-insignificant characters, each of which has a pay-off later in the book although not necessarily later in the chronological sequence of events that constitute the story, Slaughterhouse Five itself might also be read in the way of Tralfamadorian novels, to “produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep” by concentrating the potency of each “brief, urgent [scene]” and the rhythm that is established by the interweaving texture they produce – to the point where every significant event in the novel is, by its very nature, an instance of foreshadowing. By necessity they must all be, for they are seen through the eyes of a man for whom past, present, and future intersect, whose story is told by another man – “a pillar of salt” who spends his days forever reflecting on the moments that have led up to his present life: moments that, had he but seen them in the way Billy Pilgrim was able to, would have been revealed to him as the foreshadowings of fate and the antithesis of the Earthling-only conception of ‘free will’ that they are.

The Mayflower of Life

“Fate: ‘what has been spoken,’ a power beyond men’s control that is held to determine what happens” (Webster’s Intermediate Dictionary 270). Everywhere in the world, people attribute events to fate because of the belief that one has no control over one’s own life. People freely donate their lives to destiny because they believe life will happen according to a master plan, and they cannot help what happens to them. Therefore they do not try to change their life’s path. In literature, authors have often discussed this master plan in the medium of fate versus free will. Some authors support a fatalistic perspective, others promote free will. One of the writers who has mulled greatly upon this topic is Kurt Vonnegut. Among the many devices used by Kurt Vonnegut in his novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, to support the side of a world ruled entirely by fate are setting, structure, and allusion.One tool used in Slaughterhouse-Five to promote a fatalistic view is setting. Vonnegut often creates premonitions of fate by making connections between the environments of different time periods during the life of his main character, Billy Pilgrim. The author can create fear or happiness or an impending sense of doom by his description of the scenery and characters, such as the Tralfamadorians. By linking various conflicts and characters with their settings, Vonnegut manages to show that the participants in the story are controlled by their environment, not by their free will, as is the popular American belief. Numerous times in the text, Vonnegut does not express a particular emotion about a terrible event, conveying a feeling of fate to the reader precisely because of this apparent lack of feeling. Vonnegut often uses very descriptive imagery of the milieu to convey a feeling that the characters in the scene are ruled by an outside power that has arranged each creature much in the manner of players upon a chess board. Early in the novel, Billy recalls one of his experiences in the army. Billy has been traveling with two scouts and another teenager behind German lines for a few days. A group of German civilians find the Americans out in a quiet forest. The Germans discover the two scouts lying in a clump of bushes and Roland Weary trying to beat Billy Pilgrim to death. Billy, dumfounded, can think of nothing but the angelic face of the young German boy who helps him to his feet, not minding that these very people who rescued Billy have just murdered two men who are now lying, dying, on the ground not very far away. Vonnegut writes:Three inoffensive bangs came from far away. They came from German rifles. The two scouts who had ditched Billy and Weary had just been shot. They had been lying in ambush for Germans. They had been discovered and shot from behind. Now they were dying in the snow, feeling nothing, turning the snow to the color of raspberry sherbet. So it goes (Vonnegut 54).One has a feeling of remorse for the scouts who are dying, but Vonnegut seems to cover up the terrible reality of death while still revealing some of the gory details in the star-crossed setting. One has a feeling that the scouts were destined to die, and the Germans to live, that the scouts were fated to be discovered while waiting to ambush the very people who kill them. Vonnegut uses the raspberry sherbet to express details in the setting, and “so it goes” to promote a feeling of predestined doom. One gathers this sentiment from the sadness of the setting and the way Vonnegut writes so nonchalantly, implying that the deaths were inevitable, that the scouts had to be discovered for Billy to be saved from Roland Weary and continue his pilgrimage through life, for if Billy Pilgrim had been killed, fate’s plan would have been disrupted. At another point in the story, Billy Pilgrim has arrived in a German prison camp. After the horror stories that one has heard about the terrible mistreatment of captives at prison camps during World War Two, one is surprised to find that Billy and the other Americans have survived the showers and are now hustled through gate after gate to their sleeping quarters. One has often heard of the creative services the Nazis invented for the showers, thus creating the reader’s surprise to find the “victims” in a German camp without unharmed beyond the beginnings of starvation. Vonnegut uses the setting to play upon the nerves of the reader by setting up a terrible death that the fatigued Americans are prepared to walk right into, no questions asked. Billy recalls:The Americans halted. They stood there quietly in the cold. The sheds they were among were outwardly like thousands of other sheds they had passed. There was this difference, though: the sheds had tin chimneys, and out of the chimneys whirled constellations of sparks (Vonnegut 93).There is a sense of unavoidable death in the description of the prisoner-of-war camp. This apprehension originates from the horrendous deaths of the Jewish people when they were burned in ovens and ground down to be used as bars of soap and buttons. If the Americans feel this or fear this harmful end, there is no sign; they seem resigned to their fate. If it is the fate of the soldiers to die, they will not fuss, but stand quietly waiting in the cold for fate to carry out their lot. It seems that the Americans feel, after the long journey they have just endured within cattle cars for days without end, fate might as well have her way, and there is no point in resisting what must ultimately happen to them. Vonnegut uses this somewhat terrifying nighttime setting to convey a helplessness and resignation to fate. Later, Billy is on Tralfamadore with Montana Wildhack. The Tralfamadorians do not believe in free will because they can see both the past and the future and therefore do not understand that it is possible to change one’s future. Hence the Tralfamadorians follow the “lesson plan” that they see fate has set out for them. Occasionally, the Tralfamadorians change time, speeding it up and slowing it down as suits them. Montana and Billy have adjusted to the variations, and in time the Tralfamadorian clock is no longer a common topic of conversation, a terse statement sufficing to explain what is happening. Montana remarks simply, “‘They’re playing with the clocks again,’ said Montana, rising, preparing to put the baby into its crib. She meant that their keepers were making the electric clocks in the dome go fast, then slow, then fast again” (Vonnegut 208). Miss Wildhack seems resigned to her fate on Tralfamadore, that the clocks will be changed, and she may not understand what is happening. The domes in this setting connect one’s mind to the great blue sky of the earth, and the earthly and Tralfamadorian shared belief in fate. Therefore, this quote links both Tralfamadore and the Earth through a common description of setting.Another literary device used by Kurt Vonnegut displaying a fatalistic perspective is structure. Many times throughout the novel, the author uses a shifty and irregular structure, floating between events in the story of Billy Pilgrim’s life. This structure almost implies that Vonnegut has no control over the order of the text and therefore no control over life itself, even if only on paper. Vonnegut tells how the story ends before it begins, creating the destiny of the story before the reader has even commenced to make any conclusions about the content. Vonnegut writes:It begins like this:Listen:Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.It ends like this:Poo-tee-weet? (Vonnegut 22).With the structure of this introduction, Vonnegut is creating the destiny of his book. The format of Slaughterhouse-Five makes relations form in one’s mind with the Tralfamadorian novels, and from the Tralfamadorian novels, one’s mind is connected again with fate because of the strong Tralfamadorian belief in fate. Billy tried to read a Tralfamadorian novel once, then commented on its structure, how it was organized, or disorganized, in a rather patternless way. An alien responds, “‘There isn’t any particular relationship between all the messages, except that the author has chosen them carefully, so that, when seen all at once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep. There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects'” (Vonnegut 88). People often remark that Vonnegut’s novel appears to be a Tralfamadorian book. Vonnegut uses this loose structure so that, when the book is read, there is a feeling about life that is extremely insightful in certain areas. By relating Slaughterhouse-Five to a Tralfamadorian novel, one must also think of the Tralfamadorian belief in fate. Vonnegut’s artistic style, what one might call structure, seems to appear often in his disconnected ordering of the events. The author skips “randomly” between events in Billy Pilgrim’s life, traveling through time and space, creating the effect of a Tralfamadorian novel, sans the pleasant, harmonious feeling one receives after reading one such novel. One example of this irregular pattern is evident in Billy’s attempts to inform the world about his experiences on Tralfamadore. At one moment, Billy is in a radio station, the next he is at a hotel on Earth, and then he is back on Tralfamadore. By the end of the novel, such skips create a feeling that Tralfamadore is Billy’s true home, not the Earth. Vonnegut writes of Billy, “He was gently expelled from the studio during a commercial. He went back to his hotel room, put a quarter into the Magic Fingers machine connected to his bed, and went to sleep. He traveled in time back to Tralfamadore. ‘Time-traveling again?’ said Montana” (Vonnegut 206-207). This quote evokes a feeling that Tralfamadore is Billy Pilgrim’s true home because of Billy’s lack of discomfort on this strange planet and his willingness to accept that he was destined to be kidnapped by the Tralfamadorians and transported to a foreign zoo for observation. One obtains a sense of fate in everything Billy does pertaining to his kidnapping and removal from the Earth, his willingness to wait in the backyard for the Tralfamadorian saucer, his acceptance that he will eventually die from a laser shot at a conference when speaking upon the subject of the Tralfamadorians. Billy’s life on Earth is like an unreal extension of his life on Tralfamadore, a quasi-body formed on the Earth for Billy’s entertainment and adventure. Vonnegut uses this structure to form a mold of a fatalistic world by concocting a compound of events that are so disorganized that they could not possibly happen to anyone but Billy because fate has destined his life to be incoherent and disrelated. In this way, Vonnegut uses structure very effectively for his purpose.A final instrument that often appears in this novel is allusion. Vonnegut uses examples all the time that, on the surface, have no connection with the events of a Billy’s life. However, the examples sink into one’s mind and eventually form a general sense of fate by linking the lives of the characters with the lives of people who have already lived and experienced destiny, people whose history has been recorded as an example of the necessity of certain events. Vonnegut makes many connections with Biblical people who were fated to die a certain way, knowing beforehand what their fate would be if they committed a certain sin, but still committing the sin because, even then, these people were human and could not live otherwise. One specific example can be found in Lot’s wife, a woman who has endured many hardships and has finally been evicted from her home because the Lord is about to burn the city and wishes to save Lot’s family. The only way that Lot and his entourage can remain innocent is to walk away from the city without looking back. However, even though Lot’s wife knew the consequences, she still looked back. Vonnegut introduces his book, “And Lot’s wife, of course, was told not to look back?But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human. So she was turned into a pillar of salt?This one is a failure, and had to be, since it was written by a pillar of salt” (Vonnegut 22). Vonnegut is comparing himself to the star-crossed wife of Lot, a woman who knew before leaving that she would be turned into salt if she looked back, but she did look back. The author compares himself to this woman because he is looking back, so perhaps his book is a failure because looking back has turned him into a pillar of salt, but fate had previously decreed that Vonnegut and Lot’s wife would both look back, Vonnegut to his war years and Lot’s wife to the city of her former residence. Later, Vonnegut uses the name of the city in which Billy Pilgrim lives to allude to the journey of Odysseus, a Greek warrior who knew that if he went to war against the Trojans, he would not return home for twenty years. Though he tried hard to prove this curse untrue, Odysseus, though he came time and again so close to his home, did not reach Greece again until twenty years after he had left. The narration says, “Billy was born in 1922 in Ilium, New York” (Vonnegut 23). Ilium is the Greek word for the city of Troy, the city fated by the Greek gods to be destroyed by the Greek army. Another Biblical allusion that appears often throughout the novel is the comparison of Billy Pilgrim to Christ Jesus. One often wonders at this comparison, for its origin is not immediately apparent. However, one quote explains this allusion, describing Billy’s features, habits, and emotions. Vonnegut records, “Billy cried little, though he often saw things worth crying about, and in that respect, at least, he resembled the Christ of the carol” (Vonnegut 197). The carol referred to is “Away in the Manger,” a song unique for its peaceful description of Jesus’ humble birth and surroundings, as well as the young babe’s response to his new habitat. Billy is portrayed as a young child, naïve and wondering at his surroundings, yet peaceful and quiet. However, this is only shown by allusion because Vonnegut never clearly states how young and innocent Billy was when he went off to war. Billy Pilgrim’s naiveté is shown only in the way he responds to the war, and how the war has made him a weeping and disconnected young man permanently, a man so confused that he commits himself to an insane asylum and refuses to see his own mother, though he cannot say why. Billy’s whole life is alluded to as a fated journey that someone has to endure, and Billy Pilgrim happens to be just the candidate fate was looking for.Three literary devices that Vonnegut uses to promote a theme of fate are the atmosphere of the scenes, the construction of his writing, and the insinuation to other connections to fate. Heavily used by the author throughout Slaughterhouse-Five, these utensils are seen everywhere in the literary field. Authors often use literary tools to help them convey a theme to their audience. I find that Vonnegut’s writing argues a valid point that life itself is controlled by an outside force often referred to as fate. However, I have a conflicting opinion because I find that life is one great tree: with every forking branch is a decision, and these decisions come without end. If one sits back and watches one’s life roll by, one is simply taking the straight, wide path, but not necessarily the correct path. Vonnegut implies that Billy Pilgrim could not have prevented his relocation to Tralfamadore, but I beg to differ because he could have simply decided to go to bed and let the aliens return home without any results. Billy does not contest anything put before him, but this does not help to mold him into the best man he could be. One may have certain physical limitations, but people have shown that even these can be overcome by the desire to overcome these disabilities. I believe that God puts decisions before us to make us better people, but the right decisions are not always easy. “I took the road less traveled and it has made all the difference.”

Color Motifs/Imagery in Slaughterhouse Five     

In a literary text, imagery enables the author to appeal to human senses through the use of vivid and descriptive language. Kurt Vonnegut incorporates this rhetorical device throughout the text of his novel Slaughterhouse Five, through the use of color motifs and olfactory imagery. Vonnegut uses imagery to convey the emotions and personal qualities of the protagonist of the novel, Billy. He is able to achieve this by connecting Billy’s character to several motifs that continuously appear throughout the plot of Slaughterhouse Five. Thus, the presence of color motifs and olfactory imagery in Slaughterhouse Five advances and strengthens the characterization of Billy Pilgrim throughout the course of the novel.

Early on in the novel, Billy writes a letter to the Ilium newspaper regarding his experience on planet Tralfamadore. He works on this letter in the cool environment of his basement, where “the temperature in the house was…fifty degrees” since “The oil burner had quit” (26). The cool environment also affects Billy’s body as “his bare feet were blue and ivory” (26). However, “The cockles of Billy’s heart, at any rate, were glowing coals. What made them so hot was Billy’s belief that he was going to comfort so many people with the truth of time” (26). Vonnegut is able to effectively delineate Billy’s delusional character. First, he describes the colors of Billy’s feet as blue and ivory. In Slaughterhouse Five, blue and ivory represent the thin line that divides worldly experiences from otherworldly experiences. To show, whenever Billy is about to “time travel” in the text, his feet turn blue-and-ivory, and he soon ends up in a completely different location and time. Essentially, the blue-and-ivory motif is an indicator of when Billy switches from reality to fantasy, and vice versa. Additionally, Vonnegut utilizes these colors to show that Billy is on a threshold that separates mutually exclusive states (worldly and otherworldly). Billy’s position reflects his state of disillusionment, as shown by his belief that he lives in two worlds: earth, and the four-dimensional planet of Tralfamadore, where inhabitants exist in all times simultaneously. The extent of Billy’s disillusionment is also shown by Vonnegut’s use of imagery and a metaphor: the comparison of his heart to glowing coals. Billy is so invested with his experiences in Tralfamadore that he has a burning passion to publish his escapades in the Ilium. Also, his heart is warmed as he believes that he can impact many people with the truth of time. In reality, Billy’s mental stability has declined significantly since his time in World War II, to the point where he cannot distinguish reality from fantasy. Lastly, the contrast between the cool environment of Billy’s basement and the fiery passion that exists in his heart suggests his disconnection from reality. The cool environment of his basement represents the mundane reality of Earth, whereas the fiery passion that exists in Billy’s heart signifies his delusional character – as he believes that he can change the world by disclosing the truth about time. Therefore, early on in Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut is able to characterize Billy as a delusional man who believes he coexists in two distinct worlds by utilizing color motifs and imagery.

Later on in Slaughterhouse Five, Billy is captured by the Germans and is transported in a train with other American soldiers. The train “[was] marked with a with a striped banner of orange and black, indicating that [it] was not fair game for airplanes – that it was carrying prisoners of war” (66). The orange-and-black motif also appears when Billy has trouble sleeping on his daughter’s wedding night. “The wedding had taken place that afternoon in a gaily striped tent in Billy’s backyard. The stripes were orange and black” (69). The repetition of the orange-and-black motif reflects the effect of the war on Billy. Even in his happiest times, like his daughter’s wedding, he is reminded of the horrors that he went through during the war. In a way, the orange-and-black motif represents Billy’s post-traumatic stress disorder, which starts to show during his time in the war. For example, Billy is ordered by a doctor to take a daily nap, however “Every so often, for no apparent reason, [he] would fine himself weeping…Only the doctor knew. It was an extremely quiet thing Billy did, and not very moist” (59). Billy’s sleeping troubles alienate the other prisoners and “Nearly everybody…had an atrocity story of something [Billy] had done to him in his sleep. Everybody told Billy Pilgrim to keep the hell away” (75). Billy’s PTSD also shows when a siren goes off; “He [expected] World War Three at any time. The siren was simply announcing high noon” (55). Vonnegut effectively uses the orange-and-black motif to illustrate Billy’s PTSD, as the colors trigger him to think about his time in the war. When Billy’s feet turn blue and ivory, he goes downstairs and sees a distorted movie about World War II, where “American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France, a few German fighters planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen” (71). The orange-and-black motif also represents Billy’s view on his marriage, as he associates the stripes on the tent where the wedding took place with the stripes on the train that carried the prisoners of war. Billy feels trapped in his marriage as he did not marry Valencia out of love, he married her for convenience, since her father owns the Ilium School of Optometry (where Billy later studies). Also, when Billy travels back to his wedding night, Vonnegut reveals that “He had already seen a lot of their marriage, thanks to time-travel, knew that it was going to be at least bearable all the way” (114). It is evident that Billy feels trapped, as he talks about how the marriage would at least be bearable. Also, when Valencia tells Billy “I never thought anybody would marry me” (114), all he can manage to say is “Um” (114), which suggests his realization of the predicament he has gotten himself into. The orange-and-black motif effectively illustrates Billy’s sentiments as he was once trapped in a train as a prisoner of war and now he is trapped in a marriage with Valencia, a person who he doesn’t genuinely love. To summarize, Vonnegut is able to utilize an orange-and-black motif to depict Billy’s mental fragility, and to illustrate Billy feeling trapped in his marriage with Valencia.

Throughout the plot of Slaughterhouse Five, the motif of “mustard gas and roses is continuously mentioned. Also, Vonnegut employs olfactory imagery as he uses the smell of mustard gas and roses to enhance the text in Slaughterhouse Five. At the beginning of Slaughterhouse Five, Vonnegut comments “I have this disease late at night sometimes, involving alcohol and the telephone. I get drunk, and I drive my wife away with a breath like mustard gas and roses” (4). Vonnegut admits to having a problem with drunk calling, and likens the smell of his breath to the odors of mustard gas and roses. Interestingly enough, on Billy’s daughter’s wedding night, Billy gets a call from a drunk dialer and claims how he can almost pick up the mustard gas and roses scent on his breath. The drunk dialer is Vonnegut, and the mustard gas and roses motif allows him to connect his personal experiences and memories with Billy. In addition, the odor of mustard gas signifies the war’s influence on Vonnegut, as Billy’s experiences in the war parallel what Vonnegut went through. Therefore, the mustard gas and roses motif establishes a personal connection between Billy and Vonnegut. Moving on, the mustard and gases motif allows Vonnegut to advance the characterization of Billy. For example, Billy has trouble sleeping on his daughter’s wedding night and aimlessly wanders around his house. He walks into his daughter’s empty bedroom, and the phone on her windowsill rings. “Billy [answers]. There was a drunk on the other end. Billy could almost smell his breath – mustard gas and roses” (70). Towards the end of the novel, Billy is back in Dresden, digging for bodies. “There were hundreds of corpse mines operating by and by. They didn’t smell bad at first, were wax museums. But then the bodies rotted and liquefied, and the stink was like roses and mustard gas” (204). The oxymoronic combination of mustard gas and roses allows Vonnegut to illustrate how the war has changed Billy’s character. The fact that he uses the odor of mustard gas to describe the breath of the drunk caller reflects the lasting impact the war has had on Billy, as it seems as if he has not forgotten the horrors he experienced in Dresden. Billy also associates mustard gas with the smell of the corpse mines, which suggests that the odor of mustard gas has a morbid connotation to him. Billy seems to be reminded of the smell of mustard gas often, which reflects his negative experiences as a soldier. Therefore, Vonnegut’s usage of the mustard gas motif gives the audience an insight into how the war has taken over Billy’s serenity, and how he will never be able to forget what he experienced in Dresden. In addition, Vonnegut pairs mustard gas with roses, an unlikely combination, as mustard gas represents the war and his mental trauma, whereas roses are usually associated with love and beauty. The oxymoronic combination signifies how damaged he has become as a result of the war, which is reflected in his characterization of Billy. Also, Vonnegut invokes the odor of roses as sort of a coping mechanism, in order to escape the harsh reality of what he experienced in Dresden. This is used to demonstrate Billy’s mental frailty, as Vonnegut portrays him as someone who is trying his best to move on from his horrid experience in the war, but keeps relapsing due to his PTSD and delusional state of mind. In conclusion, the motif of mustard gas and roses highlights the war’s lasting impact on Billy and allows Vonnegut to create a personal connection with Billy.

The presence of color motifs and vivid descriptions in Slaughterhouse Five advances and strengthens the characterization of Billy Pilgrim throughout the course of the plot. Kurt Vonnegut accomplishes this by utilizing color motifs and olfactory imagery throughout the course of the text. He is able to portray Billy as a delusional man who believes that he coexists in two distinct worlds. Furthermore, Vonnegut is able to illustrate the war’s impact on Billy, by delving into his fragile state of mind. The use of imagery in literature has allowed authors to illustrate abstract thoughts and emotions, by appealing to human senses through the utilization of vivid and descriptive language.

Slaughterhouse Five and Pan’s Labyrinth: A Comparison of Themes, Juxtapositions, and Structure

Guillermo Del Toro’s film Pan’s Labyrinth and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five mirror each other in that fact that both feature a main character who struggles to accept the realities of war, but the works vary in various ways. Details from both Pan’s Labyrinth and Slaughterhouse Five illuminate several juxtapositions of birth, death, fantasy and reality that are highlighted by Del Toro and Vonnegut.

The juxtaposition of birth and death between the two works which are both about war provide an intriguing comparison between the concepts of the works. In Slaughterhouse Five, Vonnegut focuses the novella on death as he repeats one statement following every single death, no matter the location, the purpose, or the person, a statement that finds its form in the phrase “So it goes”. Vonnegut chooses to incorporate the repetition of this phrase to serve as a bridge across time periods and settings, highlighting the pointlessness and unavoidability of each and every death caused by the war by framing all of the deaths so casually and dismissively. There is no choice to accept that death comes hand in hand with war, and the only option that people have is to accept this as true. Vonnegut writes in short, declarative sentences to emphasize the dryness and stark realities of deaths in the war, for there is no need to add details that will seem the deaths war seem more glorious and less horrific than they are. He additionally uses irony to highlight the absurdities of the war and the ridiculousness of so many deaths on a large scale. Vonnegut captures this irony by portraying Billy Pilgrim as a very undertrained and under-supplied soldier who was captured by the opponents early on, yet writes so that he was one of the only people at Dresden to survive the fire bombings, proving just how much death does not make sense. Billy Pilgrim’s survival of the bombing in a slaughterhouse, a place that usually ends life and not preserves it, exemplifies this irony and absurdity.

Contrastingly, Del Toro emphasizes birth in Pan’s Labyrinth. Del Toro begins the Pan’s Labyrinth with an eye level shot Ofelia lying on the ground, but reverses the frames so that they show a resurrection as the blood retreats back into her body rather than showing a death as the blood flows out of her body. The eye level shot connects the audience Ofelia and allows them to immediately initiate their relationship with her that will last from the first scene to the last. Birth imagery fills the movie, from the blood red ink in Ofelia’s book to the closing scene. Del Toro cleverly starts the spread of the crimson ink in the book in the shape of the Faun’s horns that predicts Ofelia’s rebirth in the fantasy world before it morphs into the outline of a uterus that predicts the complications that Carmen will have with her pregnancy. In the closing scene, Del Toro pans the fig tree, the site of the first task, which is shaped similarly to a uterus signifying that she truly has been reborn in the fantasy world after Captain Vidal shot her. These images she is not truly dead and continues to live on her the world of the Faun after her rebirth.

Another incorporated juxtaposition portrays that while the world in Slaughterhouse Five does not exist, the world in Pan’s Labyrinth did exists. Vonnegut’s main clue that proves that Billy’s world full of Tralfamadorians is nonexistent is how he presents events in a chaotic, out of order manner in Slaughterhouse Five. He presents Billy Pilgrim as a man who suffers from the mental trauma he experienced in the war, and resorts to a method of time hopping to cope with that trauma (Vonnegut). Writing in a manner that parallels the ideas of Tralfamadorian time in an inconstant time stream, Vonnegut groups various events sprawled across several years by logic rather than by chronology in a stream of consciousness. This style better reflects the mental chaos that Billy Pilgrim is forced to deal with, and illuminates the confusion that he feels in the world. The stream of consciousness highlights the impact the war had on Billy Pilgram as certain objects or events act as triggers in between the different times as his mind struggles to focus on one aspect of his life. To further demonstrate the nonexistence of Billy Pilgrim’s Tralfamadorian world, Vonnegut creates the symbol of the bird who constantly says “Poo-tee-weet?. This bird conveys a message that there is nothing intelligent to be said about the war, and that words cannot properly express the horrors of war and death. There is nothing intelligent to say about the war and nothing intelligent to think after the war, causing Billy’s mental disorder and invention of the world because he cannot find a way to deal with the world he truly lives in. He cannot find a way to comprehend the war or understand it, so he ends up inventing a realm that helps him cope with the horrors that he has witnessed.

While Vonnegut portrayed Slaughterhouse Five in a less orderly way to reflect the mental chaos engendered by traumatic experiences in the war and Billy’s need to create a world into which he could escape into, Del Toro presents Pan’s Labyrinth in an extremely structured manner. This careful structure, embodied by the Hero’s Journey, key details, and inversion of light amongst various other film techniques, presents the main proof that Ofelia’s world is real in contrast to the proof that Billy Pilgrim’s world is not real.

In the opening sequence of Pan’s Labyrinth, Del Toro uses the panning technique to establish the setting of the story that the off-screen narrator is telling. As the panning continues to the outside of the fantasy world, the white light suddenly turns to yellow light as the narrator states that the princess perished after failing to adjust to the world outside of her kingdom, but that her father believed that she would one day return in a different form. Indeed, this princess does return in the form of Ofelia. Del Toro includes these narrations to set up the stage for the development of the storyline and the proof that the fantasy world exists, for Ofelia too fails to survive in the reality of the fascist Spain that she lives in. This time, however, her death brings her back home to the kingdom.

Del Toro crafts Ofelia into Joseph Cambell’s Hero’s Journey, a collection of universally common characteristics in fairy tales, myths, and various tales. Ofelia is the hero, and as the movie progresses, more and more characteristics of the journey come into play. Her call to adventure occurs after she inserts the eye into the statue and the insect pops out, for the insect later morphs into a fairy that will lead her to crossing the threshold embodied as the entrance to the Labyrinth. Del Toro presents the Faun as the threshold guardian and mentor figure, and during the first meeting of Ofelia and the Faun, a low angle captures the Faun while a high angle captures Ofelia. This low angle indicates the importance of the Faun and the vital role that he will play in returning Ofelia to the kingdom, and the high angle of Ofelia emphasizes the initial difference between the Faun, a representation of the fantasy world, and Ofelia, a representation of the real world. The Faun presents her with supernatural aid in the form of magical gifts, first the book and later the chalk, mandrake, hourglass, and fairies that will guide her on her journey. Del Toro captures the refusal of the call in Ofelia’s doubt of the Faun’s honesty, but she eventually accepts what he tells her, locating a moon shaped birthmark, for a physical mark is often a characteristic of the hero in the Hero’s Journey, and finally opening the magical book for the first time.

Following this acceptance of her journey, Del Toro presents her with a path of trials on which she will face tests, allies, and enemies. The Faun gives her three tasks: go into the fig tree to retrieve the golden key from the frog, obtain the sword from the Pale Man’s lair, and bring her baby brother to the labyrinth so that a drop of his blood can be used to open the portal. Each of these tasks represents a different test that is paralleled in the real war stricken world as the first task is a test of courage, the second test is a test of obedience and temptation, and the last test is a test of self-sacrifice. The rebels hiding out in the forest represent this courage as they too challenge the beliefs of what is established – while Ofelia challenges the real world by entering the fantasy world of the tree on her first task, the rebels challenge the fascist regime in Spain. During the second task, Del Toro has the fairies act as the heralds of the hero’s journey, trying to warn Ofelia about the dangers of eating the food and awaking the Pale Man who represents the Captain Vidal of the fantasy world. Medium shots of both characters are used when each sits at the head of the table, putting the audience face to face with these two villains and emphasizing this connection. Del Toro features a close up shot of the grapes to not only draw a connection to the grapes that were also present on Captain Vidal’s table, but to portray Ofelia’s focus on the food rather than the dangers and warnings presented to her. When Ofelia fails to obey her orders and eats the grapes, she causes the deaths of two of the fairies and almost loses her own life as well, portraying disobedience that is also presented in the actions of the doctor. Though the doctor is ordered to keep the stutterer alive by Captain Vidal, he chooses to kill the man out of mercy, an action that costs him his life as well as Carmen’s because an army paramedic is forced to deliver the baby rather than an experience doctor. The last test of self-sacrifice is merged between the real world and the fantasy world as Ofelia finally becomes the master of two worlds. A close up shot of the blood dripping from her hands in the labyrinth draws the audience’s attention to this detail that marks her sacrifice, and the tilt of the pillar in the labyrinth indicates its supernatural characteristics as it transports Ofelia from Spain into the throne room. Her choice to prevent harm to her brother represents the refusal of the return in the Hero’s Journey and leads to her demise, but it also leads to her ultimate entrance into the fantasy world and her kingdom as she crosses the return threshold.

Until the closing scene of the movie, Del Toro used white light to represent innocence, naivety, and purity and yellow light to represent the sickness and violence of reality. Yet in the final scene in the throne room, yellow light that represented reality bathes Ofelia as she comes face to face with the King and her mother while she dies in the white light, an indication that perhaps the fantasy world was real all along, but was only truly accessible to Ofelia after she completed her Hero’s Journey. Several other details support the claim that the fantasy world existed, with the first one being the chalk door, for there is no way that Ofelia could have escaped from her locked room to reach her brother without the magic of it. Another detail presents itself when Ofelia is fleeing from Captain Vidal in the Labyrinth. On her magic flight, she reaches a dead end in the labyrinth but the walls open to lead her to the faun. Yet when Vidal reaches the same wall, nothing happens and he has no choice but to turn around (Del Toro, Pan’s Labyrinth). Ofelia would not have been able to go through that wall entrance if she had simply been imagining it, and she would not have been able to reach the faun before her stepfather caught up with her had the magic not been real. Additionally, once Carmen throws the mandrake into the fire, her health declines immediately. The mandrake was boosting her health, and without it, she ends up dying.

The structure of Pan’s Labyrinth contrasts drastically with the lack of structure in Slaughterhouse Five. If the world in Pan’s Labyrinth had truly been nonexistent, Del Toro would not have organized the film in a way that clearly followed the archetype of the hero in the Hero’s Journey, but rather in a less organized way that reflected Ofelia’s thoughts as the war raged around her. Additionally, the emphasis on birth in Pan’s Labyrinth, rather than on death such as in Slaughterhouse Five, contributes to the idea that Ofelia was indeed reborn in the world of the Faun while portraying that Billy had no world to escape into and truly did die.

Do Not Be a Slave of Fortune: Strange Self-Assertion in Slaughterhouse-Five

Assuming you got a message anonymously, informing you that you were going to die because of a car accident tomorrow at noon, would you use this message to try avoiding death or would you simply accept and embrace your destiny? Many people, presumably, would be willing to make an effort to keep death away. But Billy Pilgrim’s reaction is acceptance. Slaughterhouse-Five, written by Kurt Vonnegut, presents protagonist Billy Pilgrim as accepting nearly all the events that happened in his life, including his own death. Billy is indifferent and apathetic to his surroundings. He appears to be a fatalist, which sends readers the superficial message that Vonnegut is advocating passive acceptance. In contrast, the actual message is hidden a little more deeply. Instead of actually persuading the reader to truly believe in the idea of fatalism and giving up free will, Vonnegut hoped to incite the reader to resist fatalism and consider profoundly what free will means.

Vonnegut uses the sentence “it is structured that way” to explain why events have happened. When Billy is trapped by Tralfamadorian aliens for the first time, he asks for a reason why he is chosen. Instead of giving an explicit answer, Tralfamadorians respond to him with three questions: “Why you? Why us for that matter? Why anything?”(97). Three consecutive “whys” evoke a deeper thought: whether people make decisions just because they are doomed to. Tralfamadorians believe that “this moment simply is” (97), indicating that moments always occur without any reason. However, the inability to think of a reason, or the lack of awareness of one, doesn’t mean that the reason does not exist. Humans are manipulated neither by God nor by Fate. It is they who have the power to choose the path to walk on. Paths are created by choices, while choices originate from reasons. The Tralfamadorians met Billy not because time is structured, or that they are fated to encounter him; they met him because Tralfamadorians made a decision to study Earthlings and they chose to come to the Earth. Tralfamadorians, serve as characters advocating fatalism, also made an implicit decision which indicates Vonnegut actually encourages the reader to stand on the side of free will.

Billy Pilgrim, in an ironic twist on free will, learned to accept and embrace his fate after he met Tralfamadorians. They once told Billy that the universe was destroyed by one of their pilots when “experimenting with new fuels” (149). Facing his question that why not prevent it, Tralfamadorians explained to him that the pilot “has always pressed it, and he always will” (149) and that they “always let him and they always will let him” (149). Tralfamadorians convince Billy that these and indeed any occurrences cannot be altered by any creature. Even though they know how the universe is going to be destroyed, they are not willing to make changes due to their belief in fatalism. Conversely, what if the universe is eventually destroyed just because they take no action to rescue it? It is their belief in fatalism that causes the end of the universe, yet they use the excuse “the time is structured” and fatalism to explain and cover up their fault.

Billy stayed on Tralfamadore for several days, and when away from it he yearned for the “peaceful life” on the planet. What he didn’t know is that they “have wars as horrible as any he’s ever seen or read about on other days” (150). They live tranquilly by “ignoring bad moments” and “spending eternity looking at pleasant moments” since they firmly believe that “there isn’t anything they can do about them” (150). Tralfamadorians deemed it true that occurrence could not be altered, so they used the method of avoiding instead of making an effort to change or make up for bad moments. Indeed, avoiding bad moments could bring much happiness. But all moments are fixed moments. Even though there may be no chance to start over and stop it from happening, it is useless to avoid and simply give up the chance of remedy. Tralfamadorians would not like to make up for those horrible moments or wars because of fatalism. In fact, “fatalism” is their methods of avoiding confronting bad moments and terrible experiences.

Even though the book is full of moments spreading fatalism superficially, there’s no lack of scenes supporting free will, but Vonnegut depicts them in a subtle way. When the commander comes to persuade American soldiers to fight Russians with him, almost no one stands up to speak against him. Vonnegut explains “one of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters” (208). He suggests that soldiers have been tortured by war so long that their only reaction to a new war is acceptance. They have already given up their free will. However, when Edgar Derby chooses to speak up and resist new war, Vonnegut describes him, saying he “was a character now” (208). He addresses the idea that free will offers the ability to possess one’s own characteristics and to be a true character.Billy holds a belief in fatalism, but he is not a fanatic of it. There are also several moments Vonnegut depicts showing free will inside Billy’s heart. Vonnegut implies to the reader that Billy doesn’t like to talk about Tralfamadorians and always keeps it as a secret in his heart. Even when people ask him about it, he denies that he has secrets inside him. However, “Billy went to New York City, and got on an all-night radio program devoted to talk. He told about having come unstuck in time. He said, too, that he had been kidnapped by a flying saucer in 1967” (32). After being through all these experiences, Billy becomes active and makes a decision by himself: speak about Tralfamadorians in front of the public. He doesn’t hide secrets and he isn’t passive any more. He chooses to be himself instead of being a victim of fate.

At the moment Billy decides to unveil his secret and speak about time-travel in public, he is on the side of free will, and so is Vonnegut.Vonnegut always leaves a small space for rumination and refutation when depicting every moment that advocated fatalism. He hopes readers will consider more deeply instead of just looking at the surface. By expressing the message of free will indirectly, he helps us to understand and comprehend those who believe in fatalism, and then build up our own idea. Hence, Vonnegut is making a strong case for the significance of free will.