Slaughterhouse-Five By Kurt Vonnegut: Billy Pilgrim Character Analysis

April 28, 2022 by Essay Writer

When thinking about war heroes that have been immortalized into the brains of many young readers names like Hercules and Captain America. The last person to come to mind would be the unlikely war hero named Billy Pilgrim. In the first chapter of Slaughterhouse-five written by Kurt Vonnegut the reader reads about Billy before the war, and he is described as an awkward and uncoordinated soldier, and as a result, becomes the laughing stock between the other soldiers. Billy earns more hatred from his military comrades when he trains to be a pastor’s assistant instead of a normal soldier, and he is trained for minimal combat due to his position as a chaplain’s assistant and instead of using a gun he was issued a shiny little bulletproof bible. With that said he has no training to operate a weapon productively and wears a uniform not suited for combat by any means. Nonetheless, Billy is put right into the dead center of the infamous battle of the Bulge.

The ludicrous image that is created by Billy’s erroneous clothing and his weak and pathetic body only serves to highlight the fact that he is not a ‘soldier’. Billy found himself stuck in a POW camp and as what is left of his physical strength starts to dissipate and he watches strong soldiers become weak and die, and through this he finds himself in this state of shock that gets him unstuck in time and allows him to remember the past and live in the future all why sitting in a POW camp.

Billy appears to live a life that is clustered with negative events from the past, and he no longer is afraid of death because he claims to know exactly how and when he will die. This thought process makes him a perfect person for the Tralfamadorian philosophy that gives a different perspective on death. This certainly gives the reader the chance to interpret Tralfamadorians as a figure of Billy’s PTSD ridden mind, an elaborate and far-fetched coping mechanism that helps him to comprehend and explain the unnecessary slaughter that he is witnessing. By writing ‘so it goes’ after each death that occurs, the author/narrator is echoing Billy’s sentiments that death is a great equalizer, preferably void of any big emotion.

This is highlighted across the narrative many times: Billy’s father died in a hunting accident before the war. So it goes; a hobo dying in the railway car Billy is traveling in. So it goes; Over 100,000 people dying in Dresden. So it goes; Valencia accidentally killing herself by carbon monoxide poisoning. So it goes; Billy himself being killed by an assassin at the precise time that he had predicted. So it goes. The repetition of this phrase just emphases the calmness of Billy in his attitude towards death, with the thought, that 100,000 dead innocents having the same impact as an anonymous hobo on a train. It gives him a degree of control over his life.

The final thing to consider about Billy Pilgrim is that the novel centers around him so profusely that it makes the cast of supporting characters nothing more than footnotes, only existing in relation to his development and actions in the plot, and this perhaps is a wider metaphor for how Billy treated people during his life, with a detached and indifferent hand.


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