Determinism and Slaughterhouse-five

The clever writing structures of Kurt Vonnegut such as the lack of a linear chronological order, symbolism, and satirist style of his writing, and fragmented plot in Slaughterhouse-Five raised many interesting themes. This is the second time I’ve read through the book, and I still believe that the fate of free will and fate in the book is one of the most thought provoking motifs that are presented. Throughout the book, it seems that the author’s perspective on the struggle between free will and fate is conflicted. One of the more prominent lines in the book regarding free fate was when a tralfamadorian asked “have you ever seen a bug trapped in amber?” According to the tralfamadorians, only Earthlings perceived free will as being real.
The issue of determinism is consistently present in the book. Billy Pilgrim seems to be unable to exercise free will. Kurt Vonnegut wants to make an anti-war book, but accepts that it is a hopeless cause. Regardless, he still instructs his sons to not partake in violence and to hold contempt for those who deem it necessary. I think it is very peculiar that he writes like that. I find it interesting that you can argue both sides of the theme.
Billy Pilgrim’s soldiering career is a good example and shows the futility of free will in the story. Pilgrim is a very ill equipped soldier, ready to lie down and resign at a moments notice. He doesn’t actually have a survival instinct but still survives the European theater of war. Pilgrim encounters countless other soldiers much better equipped and ready than he was, but death was no kinder to them. This plot arc demonstrates that the decision making that those soldiers had had no effect on their well-being. Perhaps one of the points that Kurt was trying to make is that free will do nothing to stop the endless cycle that he sees as war and death. To make a point against war, he is saying that war is so abhorrent that it takes away what human beings value most: free will.
Billy adopts the tralfamadorian view of free will and applies it to his own life. When we were discussing whether to classify Slaughterhouse-Five as science fiction or to simply say that Billy is insane, it can be said that Billy imagined the tralfamadorians and their views to help him cope with the loss in his own life. Regardless, Billy goes through the book without really attempting to do anything. When he sits on the planet that will imminently crash, he does nothing. This raises interesting questions. Would anything have happened if he tried to stop it? He sits quietly, staring into his impending doom and does nothing to stop it. Kurt Vonnegut uses satire to an extremity; one of the things that came to mind is voter apathy in the United States. Many people are not satisfied with the way government is functioning, or what direction society is going, but refuse to take action because they don’t believe it will do anything. This is just one example of much of the apathy I see in day-to-day life. This may be one of the points that Kurt Vonnetgut may have been trying to bring up. I can’t help but think of it whenever the debate of free will comes into play.
Determinism is a very blurry line in this book. Kurt Vonnegut does exercise his free will, and Billy does seem to believe that chronological order does have an affect on time, but many of the outcomes in the book do not take free will into account. Billy’s final act of free will was telling the world about his experience with the Tralfamadorians. This ended in failure as he was deemed crazy. During his speech, he was also shot. He knew it was happening and did nothing. Billy Pilgrim’s life did sum up that his free will amounted to nothing. Sometimes things are meant to happen, and nothing will stop it
I personally believe that there are some things that will happen regardless, but to say that free will is meaningless isn’t something I’m fully convinced of. War and death will go on, but as long as there are idealistic men that are willing to stand up, there remains a beacon of light. In a lifetime ravaged by death and war, having something to look up to wouldn’t be so bad


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