Being Afraid of Death

For me, the most prominent narrative technique of Slaughterhouse-Five was its non-linear timeline. This is reflective of the protagonist Billy Pilgrim’s “unstuck in time” experience, as he becomes “unstuck” in time and experiences events out of sequence. This technique is used to show the concept that time is not linear and can be experienced in a non-sequential manner. This is unlike any book we have read thus far into the year. Whereas The Awakening and The Colour Purple follow a very clear chronological, linear timeline, Slaughterhouse Five often shifts between the past, present, and future, without warning. Events from Billy’s experiences as a soldier during World War II, his post-war life, and his time with the Tralfamadorians are all presented in a jumbled, non-chronological fashion.

“Billy couldn’t be shaking hands with anybody now. He was time-traveling.”

Some events are even revisited multiple times from different perspectives or in different chronological orders. For example, the bombing of Dresden is described at various points in the novel, each time providing new insights and emotional impacts. I found the book a little hard to follow at first as the transitions between different time periods are often abrupt and without any cues or transitions that typically guide readers through a linear storyline. Vonnegut intentionally disrupts the chronological flow of events to emphasize the disorienting and chaotic nature of war and human experience. It reflects the disorientation and trauma experienced by the characters, specifically Billy, during and after the war. It also challenges conventional ideas of time, highlighting the odd and often meaningless nature of life’s events. Thus, this narrative style reinforces the novel’s central themes of free will, the impacts of war, death and offers a unique reader experience.

The thing I found most fascinating about this novel was the Tralfamadorians, and specifically  their perspective on death and time. According to the Tralfamadorians, time is not linear but rather exists as a constant. They perceive all moments in time as coexisting simultaneously. Past, present, and future are all happening at once, and they view the universe as a series of moments that can be experienced in any order.

“So it goes”

The Tralfamadorians use the phrase “So it goes” every time they encounter death, and this phrase is used exactly 106 times throughout the novel. To them, death is just one moment in a person’s existence, and there’s no sense of finality. This repetition emphasizes the inevitability of death. It suggests that death is an inevitable part of life and something that cannot be changed or prevented. Death is something I think about frequently. I stay awake at night thinking about it, thinking if I were to die, how would it happen? Would it be peaceful? What happens after I die? Is there just nothing? For me, the scariest part of dying is the fact that one day there will be absolutely nothing. I will cease to exist, not just my physical body, but my memories I will have gathered over the years, my thoughts and opinions, my morals, my hopes and my fears, everything that makes me who I am will no longer exist. However, In the Tralfamadorian view of time, all moments in a person’s life are permanent. This means that, for the Tralfamadorians, every moment in an individual’s life, including moments after death, exists simultaneously and eternally. As a result, death is seen as just one moment in a person’s continuous existence.

“The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies, he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past.”

I think this is a really interesting and beautiful way of thinking of a persons life, and there is something to be learned from the Tralfamadorians. Tralfamadorians do not dwell on the past or worry about the future. They live in the moment and see no reason to grieve over the deceased. All moments in time are equal, and when a person dies they’re never really gone. I believe the Tralfamadorians and I would have been good friends. One thing I took away from the novel was the importance to live in the moment, and don’t dwell on things you cannot change, such as death.

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