In Slaughterhouse Five, what is the significance of the name "Billy Pilgrim" and why does Vonnegut put him in Ilium?

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sullymonster | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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"Billy" is a common name, one of the most common male name in the English language. By naming his protagonist Billy, Vonnegut is identifying him as an everyman, a character with whom readers can identify. Our experience is heightened by believing that he is an "average joe", just like us. Readers can put themselves in his shoes as he journeys.

The surname "Pilgrim" is reference of Billy's role in the novel. He is the time-travelling pilgrim, seeking truth and peace, like so many pilgrims who have come before him. It is a spiritual and intellectual journey he is on throughout the novel, coming to a sad truth of helplessness in the end.

Vonnegut places Billy in Ilium as reference to Troy, the city made almost mythical through Homer's epic poem, the Illiad. The characters in the Illiad, the historical figures that mix-in and interact with the mythical and divine, are larger than life. The adventure is larger than life. So, therefore, is Billy's adventure. By using this allusion, Vonnegut wants us to universalize Billy's experience and see the allegorical meanings associated with the protagonists path. Like so many characters in the Illiad, Billy is at the mercy of forces beyond his control.


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