It’s quite possible. Vonnegut’s portrayal of the extraterrestrials known as Tralfamadorians is nothing short of amazing. Their knowledge, insight, and beliefs are both stunning and thought-provoking. To be quite honest, it was the only element of the story that grasped and kept my attention. Who would have thought that upon opening a book titled Slaughter House-Five that they would have been greeted by aliens resembling toilet plungers and swept away to another planet?
Although the Tralfamadorians did add an interesting twist to the plot of the story, one still has to wonder what Vonnegut’s purpose for planting an alien race into his supposed “anti-war” book is. The Tralfamadorians had a significant influence on Billy Pilgrims life, and the way he looked at life in general. Throughout Billy’s life he was surrounded by death- he was the lone survivor of a plane wreck, survived the bombing that demolished the city of Dresden, his wife died of carbon-monoxide poisoning, and so on, but he doesn’t mourn the same way most Americans do.
As Billy puts it,” Now, when I myself hear that someone is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is ‘So it goes. ‘” (27) What exactly is that supposed to mean? As Billy explained it,”… when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just the way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance.
They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever. ” (26-27) According to Billy Pilgrim, when a person “dies” they are not gone forever. Their body just happens to be in a bad condition at the moment. I suppose the closest thing that I can compare that to is watching a movie.
On Earth life is almost like we are stuck watching a very long movie at a movie theater. Once a scene is gone you can’t rewind at your convenience, and if you don’t like a scene, you can’t just fast forward to get ahead of it. On Tralfamadore, life is like buying a movie and watching it at home in your VCR. You can visit and revisit any point of the movie that you’d like. Billy Pilgrim seemed very nonchalant about life. It seems that maybe he was this way because he knew what events would take place in his years ahead.
Vonnegut gives the impression that we have no control over what happens in our lives, that everything is destined, and we shouldn’t not try to change it because it has been, will be, and always has been that way since the beginning of time. One example of this is Billy’s proposal to Valencia. “Billy didn’t want to marry ugly Valencia. H knew he was going crazy when he heard himself proposing marriage to her, when he begged her to take the diamond ring and be his companion for life. “(107) Billy is kind to Valencia never the less.
It seems that if he didn’t want to marry her he wouldn’t treat her so well, but on the night of his marriage he says, “He had already seen a lot of their marriage, thanks to time travel, knew that it was going to be at least bearable all the way. “(120) Billy learned a lot from the Tralfamadorians’ lifestyle and beliefs, but was this indeed the ideal society? It just may be. Maybe Vonnegut was writing about the ideal society of which we should hope to mirror one day. To be able to view things in such a way as the Tralfamadorians would make life a lot easier. Living might be a lot more enjoyable if things weren’t analyzed to death.
Sometimes things happen solely because that’s just the way that the event is supposed to happen, or as Billy Pilgrim would say, “If the accident will. ” Upon finishing Slaughter House-Five, one question entered my mind. Why did Vonnegut choose to include an exterrestrial race in his book about his experiences in World War II? Was his intention to shed light on the fact that there is something bigger than us out there? Maybe we don’t and can’t control our destiny and human beings on Earth are narrow minded. Perhaps neither of those has anything to do with it. No one, except Vonnegut himself, can really explain what their true purpose was.
One thing that caught my eye at the end of the story was the comment, “If what Billy Pilgrim learned from the Tralfamadorians is true, that we will all live forever, no matter how dead we may sometimes seem to be, I am still not overjoyed. “(211) This is supposed to be the author speaking and it seems as though he himself is almost unsure about Tralfamadore and their beliefs. Maybe the whole idea of the aliens abducting Billy, putting him in the zoo, and learning their ideas was simply put in the story to reflect Billy’s personality. He had been through quite a lot in his life, and suffered many injuries.
It is quite possible that the whole thing was a figment of his imagination, and the story is being told from his (slightly off) point of view. For all we know, the whole Tralfamadorian society and belief system could have just been written in to give the author the freedom to use Billy’s flashbacks when and where he wanted in the story. It’s a possibility that there really wasn’t a point to their existence. Or maybe that’s what Vonnegut’s reasoning was- there isn’t always an answer, and we don’t always have to ask why. This is one of the most intriguing things that is said by the Tralfamadorians.
That is a very Earthling question to ask, Mr. Pilgrim. Why you? Why us for that matter? Why anything? Because the moment simply is. Here we are, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why. ” (76-77) Maybe one of the points that Vonnegut tried to make was that we as humans look too deep into things. Maybe faith should just be placed in the fact that things happen simply because they were meant to. Why waste time analyzing everything that happens to and around us, when in the end we usually still end up with nothing, but a little more comfort if we can place the blame elsewhere.
Upon reading other interpretations of Vonnegut’s extraterrestrials, I have concluded that everyone will take the concept differently. Maybe that’s what he was hoping for. I have taken it into mind, and it has shifted my prospective on things a little, but maybe someone else will see it simply as a figment of Billy’s imagination, or maybe a symptom of a disease. Who knows? It’s quite possible he could have wanted us to grasp the concept of never asking why, and that things simply are, in which case this whole essay would have been quite a waste. I suppose it just depends on how you view things.