Post War Insanity Essay

1170 words - 5 pages

Post-war Insanity

“This is a novel somewhat in the telegraphic schizophrenic manner of

tales of the planet Tralfamadore, where the flying saucers come from.” Insanity is

a major theme in Kurt Vonnegut’s life and in turn his novels tend to be a release

for his thoughts of mental illness. Vonnegut’s characters tend to embody him

or at least characteristics of himself. His characters generally suffer from mild

insanity and therefore hints that Vonnegut himself is possibly mildly insane. In

each of his novels there are characters that are highly related to Vonnegut such

as Kilgore Trout, Billy Pilgrim, and Eliot Rosewater. Each of these characters

appear in different novels to help develop the plot and continue the relative

theme. The theme of insanity is what dominates the novel Slaughterhouse-Five,

and is what ties all aspects of the tale together.


In the novel Slaughterhouse-Five there is a character that is identical to

Vonnegut. His name is Billy Pilgrim. Both were in the American army and

became prisoners of war. Also, they both witnessed the fire-bombing of Dresden,

Germany. “Dresden was destroyed on the night of February 13, 1945,’ Billy

Pilgrim began. ‘We came out of our shelter the next day.” (Slaughterhouse-Five

179) Billy is a thin frail boy who joined the Army so he would become a man, like

the author. ”World War II attracted them both because they realized that it was

an important time in history. With the horrors of war Pilgrim went into quasi-

insane state he’s described as “…bearded … in a blue toga and silver shoes,

with his hands in a muff (Slaughterhouse-Five 149).” This description is after they

got off of a POW train on a “balmy” Dresden day. Vonnegut also has this

character become “unstuck in time” or on a more realistic level, he has

flashbacks, even though Pilgrims flashbacks flash him to the future as well as the

past. His future is to Tralfamadorian Zoo; Tralfamadorians are little green men,

the Tralfamadorians, as a sort of appeasement to his capture, gave Pilgrim a

beautiful wife. This flash-forward was most likely just a science fiction writer’s

fantasy. His real future is as a Ilium, New York optometrist. His unsticking in time

is just a symptom of Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. It appears in both Pilgrim

and Vonnegut, and later in Rosewater. Which lead to the ever-present flashbacks

and trips to a future space zoo.

Pilgrim also has problems distinguishing the past, present, and future. On

top of that he doubts his own judgement. “He had fallen asleep at work. It had

been funny at first. Now Billy was starting to get worried about it, about his mind

in general. He tried to remember how old he was, couldn’t. He tried to remember

what year it was. He couldn’t remember that either.” (Slaughterhouse-Five 56)

These flashbacks are told later in better detail, “…for he was simultaneously on...

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