The Theme of Time in Slaughterhouse Five
In many novels, the idea of time is handled in different ways to keep the story at a smooth pace. Kurt Vonnegut, the author of Slaughterhouse-Five, uses time as a way to give the reader an idea of what his main character’s life was like and what he had gone through throughout his life. Vonnegut’s manipulation of time may make the story confusing to some at times, but he effectively explains his character’s background through this different use of time.
Throughout the plot of Slaughterhouse-Five, the idea of time is thrown around in several ways. In the beginning of the story, Vonnegut introduces his readers to Billy Pilgrim, the main character of the story who has the ability to travel to different moments of his life without knowing which moment he would be going to. Throughout the novel, Billy’s time travels illustrate the many different things that he had to deal with in his lifetime and all of the things that he went through with the war and his family.
During his life, Billy has to go through torture and torment from being a scrawny little boy when he was little, surviving a plane crash and not being able to be with his wife when she passes away, being a prisoner of war for several years in World War II in Germany, and talking about his being abducted by aliens on a radio talk show. By switching years and moving to different parts of his life like that, Vonnegut effectively explains Billy’s past and how his past has affected him so much. For example, Vonnegut goes back to when Billy was involved in the plane crash in Vermont, when he fractured his skull and was unconscious for several days.
It goes into detail about how Billy’s wife hurried to the hospital as fast as she could, but died of carbon monoxide poisoning on her way to the hospital. As much as time is talked about throughout the novel, this part of Billy’s life shows how Vonnegut tried to explain that time is precious and that everyone should appreciate it as best as they can. Vonnegut also changes the way that time works in his novel through the “aliens” that Billy sees. The reader hears a lot about a group of aliens that Billy Pilgrim meets, who during his time travels take him back to their home planet known as Tralfamadore.
Billy’s travels with the aliens come randomly during his time-traveling spells bring about different insights and lessons that readers can get and put into their everyday lives. For example, on the night Billy is kidnapped by the Tramalfadorians, he asks a simple question that anyone in his position would ask: “Why me? ” The Tramalfadorians respond to him in a way that seems bizarre for humans to think about, saying that there is no why and that the moment just is and that all of them are trapped in that moment.
The aliens basically tell Billy and the readers that time does not matter in life, and that the most important thing to worry about when dealing with time is the moment that is happening right now, not the past or the future. Kurt Vonnegut also introduces the idea of time in his own narration of the story. Along with the previous idea, when the reader is introduced to Billy Pilgrim, Vonnegut makes a statement about Billy: “Among the things Billy Pilgrim could not change were the past, the present, and the future. This statement makes the point that time does not matter and that the only thing that he can do is live in the moment and deal with what is happening right now instead of what has already happened or what will happen later. Although Billy can travel back in time to the places that he used to be and the things that he used to see, he realizes that they are just memories, and that there is nothing he can do to change them because they are in the past. Likewise, he also knows that he cannot change the future because he does not know what could happen to him since it has not happened yet.
This is the point that Vonnegut was trying to get across in Slaughterhouse-Five that people in the world just need to live in the moment and not get so wrapped up in the past or worry so much about the future. There was another part of the story that Vonnegut writes that shows how time is an important part of the novel. In the beginning, when the reader is first introduced to Billy Pilgrim in the second chapter, the first line of the chapter is, “Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time. This statement starts off the story right off the bat with the idea that time is something that cannot be changed or tampered with. The statement seems to hold up as true throughout the entire story, since the reader sees that Billy can in fact travel back in time, but he cannot change anything that he had done and can only watch everything that had happened. The idea of not being able to change time is something that Billy has to face during all of his time-travels and looking back at all of the memories that he went back to revisit.
Slaughterhouse-Five is a novel filled with insights about a person’s time during their life and how it should be spent. Kurt Vonnegut gives the reader many different examples of how time is a precious thing that cannot be changed through his own manipulation of the idea of time with Billy Pilgrim and his time-travel experiences and memories. Through Billy’s experiences, the readers learn exactly what Vonnegut writes about Billy: that “the things [we] could not change were the past, the present, and the future. “