Billy Pilgrim's Struggle With Ptsd In Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five

1855 words - 7 pages

In order to illustrate the devastating affects of war, Kurt Vonnegut afflicted Billy Pilgrim with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which caused him to become “unstuck in time” in the novel. Billy Pilgrim illustrates many symptoms of PTSD throughout the story. Vonnegut uses these Slaughterhouse Five negative examples to illustrate the horrible and devastating examples of war. The examples from the book are parallel to real life experiences of war veterans, including Vonnegut’s, and culminate in a very effective anti-war novel.
Although Kurt Vonnegut does not say in his novel that Billy Pilgrim has PTSD, it is implied by the first hand view into Pilgrim’s mind. Looking at the symptoms of PTSD it’s reasonable to infer that he was afflicted with the disorder. First of all, PTSD is a, “… condition that can occur after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal … Traumatic events … include … military combat” (“Facts About Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder”).
Billy Pilgrim served in World War II and was captured by the Germans, taken as a Prisoner of War (POW) and survived the horrific Dresden fire bombing by hiding out in a slaughterhouse’s cellar. Dresden was a city in Germany that had been virtually untouched by the war before February 13, 1945. Survivors described it as a, “fairy-tale city” before the bombing. After, however, was a different story. It’s thought that 35,000-135,000 people were killed in the firebombing and the justification for this attack is highly disputed. Attacking Dresden was not of immediate military significance and it’s now thought that their railways were the bomber’s target. (Koenig). This situation, along with all of the others he was in, would have most certainly led to a very severe form of PTSD, especially because it was never suspected and therefore never treated.
Some of the symptoms of PTSD are, “… dissociation, feelings of unreality. … Disorientation and confusion“ ("Trauma/PTSD"). Vonnegut writes, in one of the very first chapters, “Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time. Billy has gone to sleep a senile widower and awakened on his wedding day” (Vonnegut 23). Throughout the book we are taken on a spastic and wild journey from one moment in Pilgrim’s life to another. For instance, Pilgrim is walking through the horribly cold, bleak and depressing German landscape with “The Three Musketeers” and ends up being dragged by Weary most of the way. As soon as the two scouts ditch him and Weary and it seems their ordeal couldn’t get any worse, Pilgrim “time travels” to a moment in which he has just won the Presidency of The Lion’s Club and proceeds to gives an impressive speech. (Vonnegut 48-50). This sort of behavior, completely dissociating oneself from the horrible situation at hand, is typical of PTSD. Pilgrim wanted to escape completely from the cold and depressing “hell” he was in and be back in happiness, where he had just won a successful campaign for the Presidency of his club. This is what happens throughout...

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