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Slaughterhouse V Essay

829 words - 4 pages

Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five” is a sardonic novel chronicling the experiences of Billy Pilgrim, a World War II veteran, survivor of the Dresden firebombing, and protagonist of the novel. Billy is a very unreliable narrator who has become “unstuck in time”. Billy is constantly journeying through time; at one moment he’s a flourishing optometrist and the next he’s a prisoner of war in Germany. Billy is forced to deal with an existential crisis presented forth by the great destruction he witnesses. These horrible atrocities that Billy encounters (bombing of Dresden, execution of Edgar Derby, etc.); however, are all really means to an end. They expose Billy to a contrast, that is, a way ...view middle of the document...

Another key aspect of Existentialist thought is the idea that human beings have free will and are totally responsible for what they make of themselves. Furthermore, Existentialists believe that things only have the meaning that we assign to them. In “Slaughterhouse Five”, when Billy travels to the alien planet of Tralfamadore, the Tralfamadorian definition of time and free will is explained to him. Billy is told that “All time is time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is”. The Tralfamadorian also adds that “If I hadn’t spent so much time studying Earthlings, I wouldn’t have any idea what was meant by ‘free will’”. These quotations reflect the Tralfamadorian view that time is predetermined and unchangeable, and therefore, it is pointless to try and change anything because we are trapped in each individual moment like “bugs in amber”. This concept makes Billy believe that everything he has gone through, no matter how terrible, couldn’t have gone any other way. Henceforth, the Tralfamadorian definition of free will is the complete opposite of that of Existentialists, who believe the individual person is a free and responsible agent in determined their own development through acts of the will, while Tralfamadorians think humans don’t have any free will – everything is already fixed.
In regards to death, the Existentialist view and Tralfamadorian view are both related and conflicting in a couple of areas. To the existentialist, death is an...

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