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What Evidence Is There in the Novel That Billy Pilgrim Is Insane?

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Hank Wang


Novel IV

SAT, 27APR2019

What Evidence is there in the Novel that Billy Pilgrim is insane?

Billy Pilgrim is the fictional main character and protagonist of Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five. He was drafted to join military, fought in the Battle of Bulge, captured by the enemy as prisoner of war, witnessed the Dresden firebombing and lived to tell the story. Later he became rich, got married, had children, survived a plane crash, talked on the Radio and eventually got assassinated. Billy became unstuck in time in 1944, and constantly travels throughout different periods in his life. Billy accepts different values and sees sad and traumatic events differently than others. He accepts a way of life that only he and his imaginations can perceive. There are plenty of evidence in the story that suggest Billy is abnormal, crazy and has many symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Therefore, it is safe to argue that Billy’s experiences in the second World War and other incidents made him insane.

One of the strongest evidences includes the fact that Billy never mentioned about Tralfamadore and Tralfamadorians before he got into the plane crash. Tralfamadore is the home planet to the Tralfamodorians. According to Billy, they are green little hand shaped aliens who can see in four dimensions. In the year 1968, Billy Pilgrim “got into a chartered airplane… It was supposed to carry Billy and twenty-eight other optometrists to a convention in Montreal” (154). The plane took off without incident, but crashed in midway. Billy was the only person who survived the crash. In the book, it also said Billy “was taken to a small private hospital” (157) straight after the crash and during Billy’ unconsciousness in the hospital, “he dreamed millions of things” (157). This sentence is suggesting that Billy is dreaming, and there’s a high chance than one of his few dreams are about Tralfamadore, because soon after Billy recovered from the incident and been taken home by his daughter Barbara, he “sneaked out while the nurse wasn’t watching, and he drove to New York City… He was going to tell the world about the lessons of Tralfamadore” (199). The possible reason why Billy’s imaginations about aliens, their planets, the abduction and the concept of time only appeared after the plane crash, is because the crash left Billy mentally unstable. This supports the theory of Billy going mental and talking about unrealistic events.

Throughout the novel, the amount of traumatic events Billy had to witness during his time travelling can scar a normal man. The constant deaths of people around Billy made Billy mentally insane. For example, after Billy was lost behind the enemy lines during World War 2, he met Roland Weary and another two scouts. The two scouts were “discovered and shot from behind” (54) by the Germans. They were “dying in the snow, feeling nothing, turning the snow to the color of raspberry sherbet” (54). After the German middle-aged corporal made Roland Weary “take off his combat boots” and give it to the German boy, Weary had to walk without a proper shoe. Later he “died of gangrene that had started in his mangled feet” (79) in the boxcar.  In 1968, Billy was in a plane with twenty-eight other optometrists travelling to a convention in Montreal. The plane crashed on top of Sugarbush mountain in Vermont. Everyone died but Billy. One of the American prisoners in Dresden is old Edgar Derby. He was arrested and shot for taking a teapot. Billy’s wife died of carbon monoxide poisoning in her crashed car when she’s trying to reach to hospital to look for Billy. Billy underwent events that would traumatize most men and make them go crazy and insane. In order for Billy to face the truth of people constantly dying around him without collapsing, his mind automatically made up the Tralfamadore creatures to teach him to focus on a good memory of a person’s life. To make those stories sound realistic, Billy will mix part of his life and real events and person into the story. Basically, self-comforting was Billy’s way to avoid going physically insane, but inside him, he was never normal, and never himself again.

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