Prompt 1- Topic 5
Montana Wildhack wears a locket that is engraved with the text, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom always to tell the difference” (Vonnegut 209). The same words appear inscribed on a plaque in Billy Pilgrim’s optometry office wall (60). This commonly known prayer, otherwise known as the Serenity Prayer, is strikingly relevant and significant in Billy’s life and how he goes about it. The prayer appears in both Billy’s real life and his Tralfamadorian life which indicates the likelihood that his Tralfamadorian life is an idealized world that Billy has created for himself. Billy’s inclusion of this prayer in both worlds is a sign that it is, for Billy, something of interest or importance. The prayer expresses a profound message that embodies what Billy is yearning for. Despite the optimistic message presented by the prayer, it is quickly undermined by the narrator’s remark that, “among the things Billy Pilgrim could not change were the past, the present, and the future” (60). However, this remark plays a key role in making the prayer fulfilling for Billy. The ways in which Billy lives his life both reflect and contradict the message of the prayer due to the Tralfamadorian teachings that also mirror and oppose the prayer.
The message of the Serenity Prayer and the knowledge that Billy has obtained from the Tralfamadorians create a conflict of differing viewpoints. In Billy’s office, “a lot of patients who saw the prayer on Billy’s wall told him that it helped them to keep going” (60). However, the patients’ attempts to relate with Billy were void because “Billy had a framed prayer on his wall which expressed his method for keeping going, even though he was unenthusiastic about living” (60). Unlike the patients, Billy is not thrilled about life because he is in a mental conflict due to his understanding of time from the Tralfamadorians. What Billy has learned from the aliens creates the central conflict in his life. Billy attempts to live with a Tralfamadorian vision and philosophy which contradicts the non-circular, linear view of humans on Earth. The Tralfamadorian teachings suggest the naivety of thinking that having the courage to change or being able to tell the difference is even possible. The Tralfamadorians teach Billy that “All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we all, as I’ve said before, bugs in amber” (86). They propose the ideology that everything in the universe and in time are predetermined and set according to how they already are. Consequently, this means that all moments and actions in time are unchanging and are set to occur. Tralfamadorians would argue that humans never know the difference between the things they cannot change because there is no difference since nothing is negotiable in a universe of arranged moments.
Despite the contradictions between the Tralfamadorian views of the universe and time and the Serenity Prayer, they also act in union to bring peace to Billy. This prayer expresses the profound meaning of his existence that he is looking for. When Billy recounts his experience of the bombing of Dresden to Montana Wildhack, he does not warp back in time, but instead, remembers what happens. When recollecting his memories, it says “Billy told her what had happened to the buildings that used to form cliffs around the stockyards… ‘It was like the moon,’ said Billy Pilgrim” (179). Billy’s use of the past tense indicates that he was remembering his past in Dresden rather than actually travelling there. However, such as when he encounters the barbershop quartet, Billy cannot escape his experiences in Dresden. This implies the heavy psychological impact that the bombing of Dresden had on him. Billy wants to find a way to accept what he cannot...