Kurt Vonnegut and Slaughter-House Five
Chronology of Billy's Life
Because the book is told non-chronologically, it is helpful to reconstruct Billy's life in order. A rough timeline:
The book is
divided into ten chapters. Each chapter is broken into short fragments--moments
or "messages," as the Tralfamadorians would call them, usually
no more than a page long, sometimes shorter. The narrative is non-chronological,
reflecting Billy's "unstuckness"; readers find themselves jumping around in
time just like Billy. In this respect, Vonnegut's book is like a Tralfamadorian
and Keys to the Book
gospel : found on the title page; from the Greek for "good tidings"; victory over death through Christ. What is Billy's gospel? The gospel of Tralfamador?
Billy Pilgrim : what is the significance of Billy's name? What is his character like? "Billy" connotes youth, innocence, vulnerability; "Pilgrim" connotes quest and Christ-like (a "pilgrim" spreads the gospel). In what way is Billy a Christ figure?
foma n [a Vonnegut coinage] : harmless untruths. "Live by the foma that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy," he advises. Ex: (101); also Billy's epitaph (122) and the Serenity Prayer (60). Note that this word does not appear in SH5.
fatalism [again!] n [L fatalis, fr. fatum, fate] : a doctrine that events are fixed in advance for all time in such a manner that human beings are powerless to change them; also : a belief in or attitude determined by this doctrine.
Tralfamadorian Time This is the gospel that Billy brings back from Tralfamadore, one of the philosophical underpinnings of the book. What is Time? How do we defeat death? So it goes. KV's development and deployment of Tralfamadorian time:
Motifs and Refrains
Few Words From the Critics
About KV's humor: "It is not an attempt to defeat an enemy by ridicule, but an attempt to contemplate horror by means of laughter, because laughter, of all our inappropriate responses to total, terminal horror, seems the least inappropriate, the least inhuman." --from a review of KV's Mother Night in the New York Review of Books 31 May 1973.
"There is no beginning, middle, or end to the novel--not in terms of chronological time-scheme nor of plot development. There is also no suspense (we as readers, as well as Billy Pilgrim, learn quite early how and when he will die), and none of the cause and effect relationships of realistic fiction; the book simply reinforces the Tralfamadorian . . . view that what is, is." --Clark Mayo, from Kurt Vonnegut. San Bernadino: Borgo, 1977: 49.