Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Slaughterhouse-Five

In Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, a war veteran named Billy Pilgrim gains insight into the idea of the fourth dimension after being abducted by plunger-shaped aliens with a single hand for a head from the planet Tralfamadore.  To see in the fourth dimension is to see all time at once.  On page 27 of the novel, Billy explains that, "All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist.  The Tralfamadorians...can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that it interests them.  It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever."  This way of looking at things presents the argument that humans have no control over the future and therefore their actions cannot affect their future.

Billy Pilgrim first became "unstuck" in time, serving as a chaplain's assistant in World War II.  He basically "time traveled" to another moment in time.  This happens frequently throughout the novel.  He travels to his college days, his optometrist days, his time on Tralfamadore, and even to his death.  Almost his whole life he knew what was to come and he claimed it was futile to try and change the future because, along with the past and present, the future has happened, is happening, and will continue to happen.  There was nothing he could do.  This idea spreads to the anti-war message of the book.  Earlier in the novel, Vonnegut writes about a man who says, trying to stop war is like trying to stop ice glaciers.  It's impossible.  No matter what you do, you can't change what is to come.  I don't think it's necessarily fate, but every moment is already determined, concrete, set in stone, always has, always is, and always will be.