Death and Time in Slaughterhouse-Five

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Death and Time in Slaughterhouse-Five

We all wish we could travel through time, going back to correct our stupid mistakes or zooming ahead to see the future. In Kurt Vonnegut's novel Slaughterhouse-Five, however, time travel does not seem so helpful. Billy Pilgrim, Vonnegut's main character, has come unstuck in time. He bounces back and forth between his past, present, and future lives in a roller coaster time trip that proves both senseless and numbing. Examining Billy's time traveling, his life on Tralfamadore, and the novel's schizophrenic structure shows that time travel is actually a metaphor for our human tendency to avoid facing the unpleasant reality of death.

Because he cannot control time
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There are plenty of other moments of time, they reason, when that person is alive. Therefore, death can be overlooked as a chronological inconvenience.

This philosophy of life and death they instill in Billy himself, speaking to him in a disembodied voice which floats down into the zoo cage which serves as his home:

"We spend eternity looking at pleasant moments--like today at the zoo. Isn't this a nice moment? "Yes." [Billy answered] "That's the one thing Earthlings might learn to do, if they tried hard enough: Ignore the awful times, and concentrate on the good ones." (117)

But ignoring death and its suffering is exactly what Billy should not be doing, Vonnegut suggests. To do so makes him, like the Tralfamadorians, alien and inhuman. He has no sense of his own mortality, an awareness he needs in order to understand that, as Stephen Marten has observed, "life is valuable not because it is infinite but because it is so scarce" (11).

Curiously, Vonnegut uses the Tralfamadorian idea that books, like life, should have "no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects" (88). As he states on the title page of , his novel is written "somewhat in the telegraphic, schizophrenic manner of the tales of the planet Tralfamadore" (i). True to his promise, the book has no orderly plot but
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