Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughter House-Five”, is by far the most unconventional text we have read during this course. Vonnegut’s unconventional methods and authorial choices, such as his use of dark humour, graphic descriptions of human anatomy, and most notably, his irregular approach to telling a story, in this case, the story of Billy Pilgrim. Vonnegut uses a nonlinear narrative in order to communicate the events of Billy’s life. Vonnegut accomplishes this effect by manipulating both the nature and passing of time in his novel, and proposing a new perspective on time and space, through which the protagonist, Billy, takes an odyssey through. Vonnegut’s non-conforming narrative technique offers us an intimate glance into the character of Billy Pilgrim, and allows us to question the concept of “free will”. Similarly, though through the use of different narrative techniques, Alice walker utilizes an epistolary form in order to present her own artistic creation, who we know as the character Celie in her epistolary novel, “The Colour Purple”. Through the use of an epistolary form, Walker brings the reader and guides them through Celie’s own odyssey through time, and presents a tone towards free will which is in stark contrast to that of Vonnegut’s.
Vonnegut addresses the concept of free will in a more critical light, as can be seen on page 86 of “Slaughter House-5”, “Only on earth is there talk of free will”(p. 86). This of course refers to a conversation between protagonist Billy Pilgrim and one of the time-fluid beings from Tralfamadore, whose inhabitants are known simply as Tralfamadorians. According to the Tralfamadorian perspective, the passage of time occurs in four dimensions, and all moments that will and have happened occur simultaneously. As a result, Tralfamadorians are able to move freely throughout time, as what will happen in the “future” has already been determined. Therefore, the Tralfamadorians argue that “free will” is a foolish concept, as one cannot change what is already bound to happen. By doing so, Vonnegut argues that free will is but a concept, with no real value within the world. However, Alice Walker suggests another perspective on the concept of free will. Her character, Celie, over the course of a twenty-year period, grows and morphs into a courageous and independent woman. However, this is not on behalf of extraterrestrial intervention, but instead the unbroken spirit and resilience displayed by Celie allows herself to create a state of mind that allows her to grow and change into a person she is proud of. By doing so, Walker demonstrates her own tone and perspective on free will, framing it as something that is not only real and profound, but something that can be utilized by the beholder in order to strengthen and better themselves.
To close, I must say that I enjoyed reading the novel “Slaughterhouse-5” by Kurt Vonnegut, even though at times the non-linear narrative technique and irregular passage of time made the book difficult to follow at times. However, the novel still had a profound impact on me as the reader. Vonnegut’s presentation of the absolute absurdity of life, time, and conflict has granted me perspective and insight into how I can approach the finite and passing nature of time. Just as Billy Pilgrim is unstuck in time, forever witnessing each moment of his life, I will attempt to approach time similarly, not in a literal sense of course. By reflecting on my choices and their implications, I will gain insight into my effect on others, and thus how I am perceived and remembered, as how others remember you is the determining factors in your legacy of time spent on earth.