Schizophrenia Of Billy Pilgrim In Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer

Schizophrenia can be described as “a long-term mental disorder of a type involving a breakdown in the relation between thought, emotion, and behavior, leading to faulty perception, inappropriate actions and feelings, withdrawal from reality and personal relationships into fantasy and delusion, and a sense of mental fragmentation. ” In Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt’s second self, Billy Pilgrim, can be characterized as a “time traveling”, depressed, optometrist that copes with the war very uniquely.

At the beginning of Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut gives us insight that he is the author of this book, his purpose being, telling the heart-aching truth about the attack on Dresden. In spirit of composing this novel, he visits an “old war buddy” Bernard V. O’Hare. The strained afternoon where O’Hare and Vonnegut discussed the events that occured at Dresden, was one of the few appearances of O’Hare Vonnegut included in this novel. You would imagine a war buddy of Vonnegut would at least be a main character, however, Vonnegut failed to include him throughout the entire novel. This may have been intentional where early in the novel, we get a sense of tension when it comes to the O’Hare family and the war. It is described in the first chapter that the ambience of the O’Hare residence was inhospitable when Vonnegut arrived. O’Hare’s wife gives us her animosity of the war. Knowing this, Kurt Vonnegut may have included Bernard V. O’hare, however in a different character much like he did with himself and Billy Pilgrim. Another possible explanation of this failure to include O’Hare throughout the story is due to “Billy’s” schizophrenia.

It is also in the beginning of this novel where Kurt Vonnegut includes insight of the book where he says, “This is a novel somewhat in telegraphic schizophrenic manner of tales of the planet tralfamadore”. He may have used this line to parallel the sequences and events that would occur later on, with little to no advisement. This wouldn’t be the only parallelism that significant in this book that can explain Billy’s schizophrenia. For example, the description of “mustard gas and roses” was mentioned in the beginning of the book along towards the end, both used to describe different things. One of which that reminded him of the war, and one of him during the war. This raises the question, how does schizophrenia play part of this? To answer this, schizophrenia may impair one’s concentration and memory resulting in fitting things in to fill the void of an event or description.

In addition, the use of the planet Tralfamadore can also explain Billy’s schizophrenia where when he becomes “unstuck in time”, in other words confused, he travels to the future, past, and even fantasy. Billy’s mentality has been stressed over so long he convinces others that he had been abducted by Tralfamadorians and held captive in a controlled human habitat. Like described before, schizophrenia may obstruct one’s memory to the point where they begin fabricating fantasy to fill the voids of reality, much like Billy’s trips to Tralfamadore when things get patchy or overwhelming in his stories. In like manner, when Billy finds himself in the mental hospital, he forgets why he is there in the first place. Needless to say, his placement in the facility may have been necessary instead of what he described voluntary. He is reminded that he had “checked himself in”, however we are told this story by himself. He may have been checked in by his daughter, Barbara Pilgrim, may have checked him in due to her constant watching over him in a sense of protection.

Another point relating to Billy’s schizophrenia is his behavioral aspects and his mental state. Many times throughout the book, Billy finds himself very dull and almost lifeless when dealing with others socially. His mood, also, does not fit the situations he describes as well. For example, the famous “so it goes” can be described as apathetic considering the fact this is his statement to whenever something dies. Moreover, this phrase is not only used for the death of people, but also to describe inanimate objects. Furthermore, in the weddings included in the novel, Billy Pilgrim finds himself detached, experiencing no emotion at typically joyful occasions. Not only does this describe Billy as emotionless but also having inappropriate emotional responses to situations occurring around him.

Lastly, in 2002, it was revealed that Kurt Vonnegut, author of Slaughterhouse Five, “was originally misdiagnosed as paranoid-schizophrenia, but was really a combination of bipolar disorder with elements of schizophrenia”.

In conclusion, I believe Billy Pilgrim Was Kurt Vonnegut’s shell of a man depicting his struggles of having elements of schizophrenia, especially when trying to wright a book with impaired memory. The fabrication of fantasy and reality alongside inappropriate emotional responses can be interpreted that Billy Pilgrim is indeed schizophrenic.


Read more