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Slaughterhouse Five

.. ok Billy Pilgrim does not have to feel remorse for being saved because that is how it was and always will happen. He does not have to feel guilt or remorse because there is no reason to. There is nothing that can be done about war and death, they are as easy to stop as glaciers. (Vonnegut 3) The death of all those innocent people could not be stopped, it was predetermined by some unknown force just as the destruction of the Universe, by a Tralfamadorian testing a new fuel, is also predetermined and unstoppable.

Vonnegut uses irony by having Billy Pilgrim an Optometrist, whose job it is to help others see the world more clearly with greater acuity and sensitivity. Billy believes it his job to prescribe corrective lenses for Earthling souls. So many of those souls were lost and wretched, Billy believed, because they could not see as well as his little green friends on Tralfamdore. (Vonnegut 25) This is in essence what the Tralfamadorians teach him that the Human view of time is erroneous (Tanner 198). The Tralfamdorians give Billy an analogy of how humans perceive time: Human vision is something so narrow and restricted..to convey to themselves what it must be like they have to imagine a creature with a metal sphere around his head who looks down a long, thin pipe seeing only a tiny speck at the end.

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He cannot turn his head around and he is strapped to a flatcar on rails which goes in one direction (Vonnegut). Billy by accepting the Tralfamadorian view of the world frees himself from the metal sphere and from his guilt. Much of Billy’s guilt rested on his view of time and nature. Before he was introduced to the Tralfamadorian viewpoint he believed in crusading against war and the death of the innocent and felt guilty and upset when another human’s life was blindly taken. After coming to newly understand the limits of human vision and the naivet of human-kind, namely that one can change what will happen and guide one’s actions Billy felt no sympathy for death and made no attempt to right injustice and stop the atrocities of war.

Although Billy finds peace in the many positive aspects of the Tralfamadorian mind-set, there also exist many negatives to his new vision. The many aspects of Billy’s life which his new vision touch are clearly outlined in Slaughterhouse-Five. For example, whenever there is a tragic death or an entire city is destroyed Billy says what all Tralfamdorians say so it goes. Billy does not feel remorse or anger when he hears of the war in Vietnam because it is just a frame in time, which has, is and always will happen. Just as the universe will be destroyed by the Tralfamdorians but no attempt is made to stop it.

At one point in the novel Billy sees a war movie in reverse, he describes it as follows: The formation flew over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored in neatly racks.When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were shipped to factories where operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents..so they would never hurt anybody again. (Vonnegut 64) Vonnegut uses this imagery to dramatize effectively the cruelty of bombing. Billy’s Tralfamadorian view of this war film is an obvious improvement over the forward version.

However, with the Tralfamdorian view also comes a heavy price. The cost of this new vision is the human conscience and the concern for life (Tanner 198). The Tralfamdorian view extracts the human conscience, which separates humans from the rest of the animal world. The price for a guilt free life is the most precious part of human life, emotions. (Tanner 198) With the Tralfamdorian view comes another steep price, free will. Billy is told by the Tralfamadorians that free will is a uniquely human belief.

(Schatt 82) He is told that war, disease, and even the end of the universe is all pre-determined, and that nothing he does can change what will happen. The notion of free will is what gives human life meaning. Part of the spice of life is the feeling of accomplishment one has when he succeeds or the feeling of sorrow when he fails. These feelings cannot exist when one’s actions are not of one’s own choice but pre-determined. When all that happens, is decided by an unknown force, failure, triumph and sorrow cannot exist because one is not responsible any longer for bringing about those emotions.

This can easily explain why Billy’s life is so dreary and depressing. His acceptance of the Tralfamdorian world has freed him from his guilt, but it has also freed him from living. On his tombstone it is written everything was beautiful and nothing hurt. Although this message on the surface would seem perfect, it in reality points to the short-comings of Billy’s life. One cannot enjoy life and happiness, if he has no feelings and lacks all remorse.

In the end of his life Billy is unenthusiastic about living, while stoically enduring it, which may be a sign of the accidie which settles on a man with an atrophied conscience. (Tanner 199) Billy pilgrim has full knowledge, of who, when and where he will be murdered, yet he does nothing about it. While this could be looked at as an acceptance of the Tralfamdorian way of life, it also points to the fact that Billy does not want to stop it because life offers him nothing. The price of for Billy’s release from guilt, was Billy’s release from humanity. Slaughterhouse-Five clearly expresses Vonengut’s terrible outrage at the catastrophic fire-bombing of Dresden.

But it does more than that. It’s underlying theme is not just against the atrocities of Dresden but against all War. Vonnegut’s unorthodox stylistic approach which lacks any sequential path, draws the reader deeper into the Tralfamadorian world. Although Vonnegut’s character was able to reconcile his life to some extent, Vonnegut was not. Vonnegut was never able to answer his own Why me? but in truth a broader question exists Why any of us? English Essays.

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