A Look into the Human Mind
In his powerful novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut tells of a man named Billy Pilgrim who has become unstuck in time. He walks through a door in 1955 and comes out another in 1941. He crashes in a plane in 1968 and ends up displayed in a zoo on the planet Tralfamadore making love to Earth porno-star, Montana Wildhack. He ends up in the cellar of a slaughterhouse when Dresden is bombed to ashes during World War II; Billy, his fellow Americans, and four guards were the only ones to live through the bombing. The Boston Globe best explains the book when it says it is “…poignant and hilarious, threaded with compassion and, behind everything, the cataract of a thundering moral statement” (back cover). Vonnegut looks into the human mind of a man, traumatized by war experiences and poor relations with his father, and determines insanity is the result.
Billy’s father is a source of his instability from the beginning. Mr. Pilgrim treats Billy as if he has no feelings and he is a disgrace to him. Unfortunately for Billy, fathers are very influential in a boy’s growing up. In a terrible encounter with his father when Billy was young, Mr. Pilgrim sets the stage for Billy’s insanity:
Little Billy was terrified because his father had said Billy was going to learn to swim by the method of sink-or-swim. His father was going to throw Billy into the deep end, and Billy was going to damn well swim. It was like an execution. Billy was numb as his father carried him from the shower room to the pool. His eyes were closed. When he opened his eyes, he was on the bottom of the pool and there was beautiful music playing everywhere. He lost consciousness, but the music went on. He dimly sensed that someone was rescuing him. Billy resented that. (43-4)
Billy is also traumatized by the extreme loss in his life. Everywhere he looks, he experiences great loss. First his father dies in a hunting accident, then he gets in a plane crash and everyone aboard dies but him, and while he is in the hospital recuperating, his wife dies of carbon monoxide poisoning. There is so much death surrounding his life, that it...