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Slaughterhouse Five By Kurt Vonnegut Essay

1480 words - 6 pages

A man begins to cry. Not because of sorrow or joy, but because he’s terrified. The man who once enjoyed viewing the firework show that symbolized the freedom of his nation now cowers, because of the hardships he endured to maintain the freedom of his nation. Like many war veterans, the man suffers from PTSD. Billy Pilgrim, a WWII veteran, also suffers from PTSD. While Kurt Vonnegut wrote his novel Slaughterhouse-five before PTSD became an official diagnosis, the protagonist of his story, Billy Pilgrim, displays the disease’s symptoms. Vonnegut uses Billy Pilgrim’s non-linear voyage through time as symbol to reflect his theme of the destructiveness during and after war.
Like most suffers of PTSD, Billy struggles with certain experiences. Yet his turmoil manifest itself as time travel, and Billy’s time travel through those experiences is a symbol for his inability to cope. Billy has his first experience with time travel while he is being shot at. Up until this point of the novel the time line had been linear so in order to cope Billy imagines the first time he was ever truly terrified, but instead of recognizing it as just a memory Billy attributes it to time travel (Vonnegut 43). He is never described as being mentally unsound prior to being in the war, yet coming out of it he begins to time travel frequently and is admitted into a mental institution. The war transformed a simple man from Ilium, New York into a passive participant of his life. His life after his initial encounter with time travel is devoid of any real stability, and while the novel focuses on him, a sense of instability and a lack of certainty is a wide spread sentiment to anyone who encounters a war. The war doesn’t simply disappear after a treaty is signed. It’s legacy remains’ well after the war is over, and in Billy’s case the war never ends. He is forced to relive it and while externally he’s living moment by moment, he relives his entire existence, and it reflects in his “day to day” life. Even when he’s not time travelling he’s still plagued by his past because he doesn’t really have one, he lives in a constant present, and certain triggers cause him to relive them. Vonnegut uses certain “linking devices” that constantly reappear in the novel as an indicator to the subconscious thoughts of war in Billy’s mind (Vees-Gulani 178). Singing men appear multiple times within the novel, but instead of simply being singing men they represent something direr to Billy. For example, a simple barbershop quartet made him physically ill, because it reminded him of for guards he saw after the Dresden bombing (Vonnegut 178). Blue and ivory feet are also a reoccurring sign for death that Billy note’s long after the war is over. Life and death are relative to him, so symbols of death are present even in his most mundane activities. Yet Billy’s experiences would never have come to surface if it were not for the experience of the narrator, Kurt Vonnegut.
Post-war hysteria was...

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