Why is time travel important in the novel Slaughterhouse-Five?
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. uses time travel to establish Slaughterhouse-Five within the science fiction genre but also as a metaphor for the unsettled condition of post-war modern life. By offering Billy Pilgrim’s detached understanding of time in a straightforward manner, Vonnegut conveys that Billy believes that these experiences are real. The author avoids any commentary that would indicate any other explanation for the experiences, such as mental problems. This attitude encourages the reader to see the world through Billy’s eyes and thus to empathize with the plight of this traumatized veteran.
Nevertheless, because the reader knows that time travel is not “real,” we can also appreciate the author’s manipulation of time—and space, through the location of action on Tralfamadore—as a figurative way of explaining the destabilizing effects the war. Not just Billy, but everyone, is “unstuck” in some way. The certainties that we took for granted in the pre-war era have been undermined by the massive scale of destruction, whether caused by the Dresden fire-bombing or the atomic bomb.
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