The Suffering of Billy Pilgrim from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Slaughterhouse Five, a Novel by Kurt Vonnegut

Billy Pilgrim’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

In Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Billy Pilgrim, the protagonist, is a veteran from World War II and a prisoner of war survivor from the firebombing of Dresden, Ger many. Billy is said to have become “unstuck in time,” saying he can walk through a door one moment, and find himself in a completely different time and place the next (Vonnegut 10). While Billy has described from the beginning that he has survived the war, been abducted by aliens, and has lived his life throughout multiple time periods, it can be argued that Billy is really just suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and the whole concept of time travel is merely just his hallucinations.

Billy is an unreliable narrator. The chapters in this novel are made to be vignettes, showing how abrupt and out of place all of Billy’s stories are about his life. These stories do not seem to be true, but are effected by other events that Billy may witness or read about, but they do not directly relate to himself.

In the first few chapters, Billy starts talking about his experiences on the planet Tralfamadore, but only after he gets in the plane crash and suffers an injury to his skull and becomes “unstuck in time” (Vonnegut 11). This event parallels the incident in one of Billy’s books, “Céline and His Vision”, where Céline gets his skull cracked and suddenly there are “noises in his head” that he previously mentions within the first few pages of the book (Vonnegut 9).

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This is only one of the several instances where Billy mentions seeing, reading, or hearing about something, and soon after, the same inci dents seem to occur to himself.

It is believable that Billy is a veteran from World War II, that much can be said to be truth coming from the narrator. Experiencing the decimation and tragedy from the firebomb ing at Dresden would truly be a traumatic experience, one that would absolutely take its toll on any person’s mind who may have witnessed or been a part of the event; this was the case for Billy. Most servicemen experience some type of PTSD after their time of duty, but for war veteran’s, the traumatization can severely affect them in the worst ways imaginable. The loss of sanity and the beginnings of hallucinations, all while believing it to be the truth, are signs of serious PTSD, the kind that Billy Pilgrim more than likely suffers from. This disor der corrupts his judgements, senses, and memory, making every story he tells unbelievable except that he war involved in WWII. This fact ensures that Billy Pilgrim is not truly travel ing through time and space, but merely hallucinating or imagining the whole thing.

The past history and traumatic experiences Billy Pilgrim went through in WWII led him to becoming an unreliable narrator, one that is sure to be suffering from some form of PTSD. Billy’s disorder causes him to imagine events that happen to him, causing him to say he has traveled all throughout space and time, when really he is just recalling a story he re cently read while putting himself in the place of one of the characters. In reality, Billy could have been abducted and could possibly move through different places and times, but it is more reasonable and likely that the war veteran experienced something so traumatic, that it left a mark on his life forever, and changed the way he perceives his own life.

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The Suffering of Billy Pilgrim from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Slaughterhouse Five, a Novel by Kurt Vonnegut. (2021, Dec 27). Retrieved from

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