Kurt Vonnegut, known for his satirical novels of science fiction and black humour, was an American writer of the 20th century. Slaughterhouse-Five is such a novel; examining the social problems that arise due to war. It’s a combination of Vonnegut’s and Billy Pilgrim’s, the protagonist, story. It leaves a person thinking that it might have happened in another world or times. Mother Night, another novel of such a theme, along with Slaughterhouse-Five, uses concept of delusion to reveal a man’s struggle against himself.
The protagonist in this novel, Howard W. Campbell Jr., becomes a spy transferring messages to the Allies. Finally, disoriented and embarrassed by himself, he goes for the German trial determined to reveal the truth about himself during the World War II. Both of these characters had the opportunities to build a life again after being survived from the war. The characters opted for schizophrenia to take over themselves. Incoherent and incomplete sentences became a way of life for such people. Sick and tired of the way they are, of the way they lived their pathetic lives they go on and in search of something to hold on to. Billy suffers and struggles most of his life but Campbell decides that he was at wrong and should be punished for spying. Billy was a victim most of his life and Campbell abandoned a good life to become a criminal. Both characters deem it necessary and willful to destroy the workings of his thoughts, but the damage inevitably follow from the decisions they took. Slaughterhouse-Five … aim predominantly to consider the problem of dealing with and narrating a traumatic past; the characters struggle with the knowledge of wartime events they have seen or participated in, attempting to find ways to describe, rationalize, or forget the troubling thoughts that plague them.” (Ritter, 1 )
Schizophrenia helped Billy give him the continuity in life but he never achieved it, all his life he jumped back and forth without making sense of how he was and what he became. These are the instances of what really happened to Billy Pilgrim and why he considered Tralfamadorians more informed about the universe than his like. Examples of middle-war or post-war schizophrenia arise due to the reason that a person loses his ability to do simple tasks, to go back to real life where there’s no danger and is constantly being haunted by his war memories. Vonnegut uses the influence of irony to show a science fiction reality which is actually a mental disorder. Creation of extraterrestrials in one’s mind is a common delusion to escape the reality of what’s actually occurring. The moral influence of what Billy faced while he ignored the bad times made him believe that ignorance can be blissful. He went through his first illusion while standing tired and exhausted against a tree; his delusions got triggered out of the fear he had in all his life. He lost his sense of survival, the ability to distinguish between day and night, wakefulness and sleep, of cold and hot. He got captured by the Germans and from then on, started travelling in and out different moments of life. Where other people dreamt of warm houses and clothes, Billy simply went to other times in his life when he had all that.
Billy went from an ordinary human being to a prisoner of war to a haggard old man in just mere days, reliving the moments of his life; swearing whatever was happening to him was true. War made him see life differently, as if from far away; he saw the little complications in life as merely something nothing to be bothered about. When he saw life and he felt nothing. He couldn’t find joy in having a family to love and be proud of, so he found joy in other moments of his life. But his childhood was as worse as the war he experienced. He underwent pure fear for his life way before the war; frightened to death by his father. It could be that his body and mind simply had had enough in the middle of the war. Out of all the embarrassment and ungratefulness, he was made to feel on his mother’s behalf; he eventually felt worthless. He concluded that no one in his right mind would marry the woman he did. He read science fiction novels when he was sick in hospital and that made him see the overall sense of his life. He didn’t have a beautiful body but at Tralfamadore, he was considered beautiful and for the first time he enjoyed owning his body. For him ignoring reality was not the whole solution but half of it, so his schizophrenic tendencies helped him deal with his life in a different way.
The effects of the war were intensified every time he had to visit them again and that always made him act less like a normal human and still as a prisoner of war. His memories haunted him wherever he went; he created many realities to come to terms with the true reality. The unavoidable failure of escaping left him with a choice of living as a fragmented person; each stage of his life became a collection of contradictory personalities. He tried to forget sometimes but it kept coming back to him. He was forever stuck in time, but being stuck in time was only to lessen the effect of the devastating experience. As the World War II ends, he is released from the prison and the book ends; this means that it was all to escape; a mind’s disease to lessen the dire consequences of the war on man. He found solace by visiting all the other moments of his life where he was rich and powerful. He found out that he is a worthless being after all. People listened to him; he was considered an honourable man in the society and was highly respected. Billy denied his considerate instincts and his faith in free will because he wanted to be a Tralfamadore. He imagined the good parts of his childhood where his mother was still proud of her child and had unconditional love for him. But where it all started in the first place, he also remembered that. His mother stopped giving him what he needed the most and his father aroused such fear in him that he was terribly affected.
In the end, all that mattered was the way he dreamt about the way his life should be was something everyone does when scared the hell out of. As Ronald Weary did: “Weary’s version of the true war story went like this: There was a big German attack, and Weary and his antitank buddies fought like hell until everybody was killed but Weary. So it goes” (Vonnegut, 20). He still felt love for his mother and he wanted to know that his child is going to turn out normal even if he didn’t know him. He knew that her daughter was going to be happy in her own odd way. He was worthy to be able to get out of the war without being burned down along with Dresden and thousands others. It is a story of a man’s survival instinct which makes him destroy himself. The whole essence of the novel was that desperate times call for desperate desperateness. He choose to live a schizophrenic life; thinks of himself as a machine, without any ethical compassion or characteristics of a human resisting any outside forces. Billy readily accepts the determinism of the Tralfamadorians allowing him to finally rationalize his unpleasant experiences. He thinks that war is a simple part of the inevitable structure of the universe and sees it as an unavoidable ordeal. He is misunderstood by the people in his life but Tralfamadorians believe and support him. The only time his schizophrenic tendencies leave him is when he witnesses a scene of intense suffering which shows that he still has some emotional baggage left. The imaginations cannot find refuge and are to be confronted at one point in life inevitably; his schizophrenia failing him as his past keep sweeping back in his mind.
Ritter, S (2005). “The Impossibility of Escaping or Rationalizing the Past: Kurt Vonnegut’s Schizophrenic Historical Fiction.” 19 July 2007. Franklin and Marshall College, English Department. 14 June 2009 < http://dspace.nitle.org/handle/10090/757 >
Vonnegut, Kurt (1999). Slaughterhouse-Five. United States: Bt Bound.