Slaughterhouse-Five

by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

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What understanding about time does this quote from Chapter 1 show in Slaughterhouse-Five?

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This is a particularly interesting quote, because it actually seems to contradict later understandings of time presented through the Tralfamadoreans and their curious way of perceiving past, present and future not as separate entities but as one simultaneous understanding of time that effectively robs all creatures of the sense of free will. Any cursory reading of this novel indicates that time and human understanding of it is a major theme, and when this quote from Chapter 1 is analysed in context, the reader comes to understand that actually it points towards the limitations of the human linear perception of time. Note what comes before this quotation about the present:

We went to the New York World's Fair, saw what the past had been like, according to the Ford Motor Car Company and Walt Disney, saw what the future would be like, according to General Motors.

The author experiences a peculiarly Tralfamadorean way of perceiving time, looking at past, present and future almost simultaneously. The quote is therefore perhaps best understood as the author questioning the limitations of the human perception of time and foreshadowing the way in which the Tralfamadoreans view themselves and all life forms as being "bugs in amber," able to perceive past, present and future simultaneously and powerless to prevent their fate.

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