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Billy transcends the physical and psychological borders when Essay

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Billy transcends the physical and psychological borders when he becomes “unstuck in time” . Billy’s perpetual and unpredictable temporospatial jaunts throughout his life emphasize the fictional facet of the novel, thus constantly challenging the reader’s common sense, as does the experience of war. Billy’s abduction by aliens occurs after having suffered a plane crash. According to Billy’s letter, the Tralfamadorians were “two feet high, and green, and shaped like plumber’s friends” , but most importantly, “they had many wonderful things to teach Earthlings”. The traumatic experience of war is unbearable to such an extent, that Billy has to leave planet Earth to attain some kind of mental peace and serenity to be able to make sense of the destructiveness of war. As if being drafted to the military, being captured by German scouts, taking part in a pointless battle against free will and being kidnapped by aliens were not enough, the character of Billy seems to have no control over his life whatsoever, what is more, he is forced to witness shocking things happen, which plunge him out of the normal flow of time to experience his own death before it actually happens.

The “preposterous –six feet and three inches tall, with a chest and shoulders like a box of kitchen matches” young soldier lacked all traditional heroic qualities. Billy is rather a pathetic and pitiable hero, dehumanized and humiliated throughout the novel. In this manner, Vonnegut focuses the attention to the threat war poses for human beings, which risk both their mental and bodily integrity by taking part in such absurd conflicts. Thus, Vonnegut keeps his promise to Mary O’Hare, as mentioned in the self-reflexive first chapter of the novel, that “there won’t be a part for Frank Sinatra or John Wayne” movie, meaning that the mythical and nonexistent glamour and enchantment of war is not the scope for this novel, it is the pure recount as experienced by a baby who was sent off to war.

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Billy’s peculiar nature and function in the novel proves more pivotal than first meets the eye as his “ignorance and naivet? allow one to see more than the informed gaze: a childlike view on things also means liberation from preconceived concepts and interpretive schemata.” Billy, the optometrist, handles instruments purposely created for “measuring refractive errors in eyes–in order that corrective lenses may be prescribed” , hence his role is to help those “lost and wretched” who could not see the distortion of reality caused by war. Through Billy, Vonnegut prescribes lenses for the reader to verbatim view war from a different perspective, since “there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre” , it remains to be staged and exposed in a different light than it is supposed to. Vonnegut does not tell the reader what to look at or how to look at it, he merely offers humanity the necessary tool, which is Billy himself, in order for the reader to become an “active co-creator of meaning rather than a passive consumer” .

4.3 Reaction to trauma: the Tralfamadorians versus God

The most symbolic theme of Slaughterhouse-Five revolves around the dichotomy of predestination and free will. The blurred juxtaposition of predestination with the practice of free will is as old as humanity itself. For centuries, the credence of predestination was a widely accepted fact that God’s intervention into human destiny, in other words Divine Providence, constituted the foundation of human fate which was based on the foreknowledge of God. On the other hand, the notion of free will asserts that humans are the ones who control their actions, hence it would be impossible for God to have foreknowledge. The mutual exclusiveness of predestination and free will had been challenged by philosophers, such as St. Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas’ interpretation of foreknowledge depended on the assumption that God exists and acts outside of time, that is the human notion of time is not applicable to the Godly notion of time. God operates according to the temporal law of Eternity, which overlaps the perception of temporality . Hence, God does not possess foreknowledge as humans would comprehend it, but rather a foreknowledge of an unalterable time sequence, meaning that God sees all past, present or future events at once.

Although Vonnegut rejects Christianity as a solution to calvary, he does accredit the principles of Christian philosophy when it comes to the exercise of free will. With the introduction of the Tralfamadorians, Vonnegut basically elaborates another dimension of the novel. The Tralfamadorians perceive time in the fourth dimension, meaning that time “does not lend itself to warnings or explanations” , as opposed to humans who perceive time as being linear. Similarly to Aquinas’ theory of Eternity, the Tralfamadorians have the ability to see all occurences of time synchronously, thus they already know what the future holds. Since free will relies upon the linear concept of time, the lack of linearity would imply that the future already exists, thus it can not be modified. As all predestined actions are unavoidable, the human effort of trying to manipulate the outcome by choice becomes absurd and ridiculous.

Vonnegut displays a secular attitude towards the dichotomy of predestination and free will. Even though he inserts many Biblical and religious references into the novel, he only does so to diminish and even denigrate the importance of Christianity in people’s lives:

Billy had an extremely gruesome crucifix hanging on the wall of his little bedroom in Ilium. A military surgeon would have admired the clinical fidelity of the artist’s rendition of all Christ’s wounds-the spear wound, the thorn wounds, the holes that were made by the iron spikes. Billy’s Christ died horribly. He was pitiful.

One of the most distinguishable symbols of Christianity is the crucifix, through the apathetic and grisly description of which Vonnegut makes an allusion to the powerless role of religion in the novel. One would expect for any sort of illustration of Christ’s crucifixion to convey the image of the martyr who chose to die for the sins of humanity, however, the crucifix hanging in Billy’s bedroom illustrated a Christ who had a horrible death. The fact that the death of the son of God is to be pitied rather than deified proves that God will spare nobody of death, thus there is no point for a mortal in turning to God for mercy and clemency. What is more, not only does Billy not turn to Christianity for peace, he rather searches for relief from his misery in the teachings of the Tralfamadorians, who serve as a substitute for God in this novel.

Billy realized that the Tralfamadorians “had many wonderful things to teach to Earthlings” , and the most valuable thing he learned on Tralfamadore was “that when a person dies he only appears to die”. As Billy is constantly surrounded by death, faith in a never ending sequel of time gives him the strength to believe that death is not the end of a human life, it is merely the state that particular person is in at the moment and part of the infinite cycle of life. According to Vees-Gulani, all the Tralfamadorians do is help Billy to overcome “his trauma in a way that enables him to function” . In the novel, every mention of death, be it intentional, accidental or natural, is succeeded by the phrase ‘so it goes’, which is used by the Tralfamadorians whenever they reflect on the death of someone. The phrase conveys emotional detachment from the inevitable and overwhelming experience of dying and it just goes to show that “emotionless reaction to tragedy” is the only way to deal with it. The extensive and benumbing use of the phrase throughout the novel further emphasizes the seemingly insensitive use of language.

Vonnegut is aware of the language restraints when it comes to writing about such a striking event as the bombing of Dresden, but the novel’s testimony of war lies in its words. Vonnegut’s choice of words compels the reader to reflect upon the American involvement in World War II and its effects on the American society overall. Vonnegut does not place the blame on neither one of the sides involved in the war, nor does he label them as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. The occurence of war is simply a “continuum of human action, constantly in flux from moment-to-moment and decision-to-decision”.

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