Slaughterhouse Five Essay

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Failure to take responsibility for one's actions is universally seen as a self-inflicted wound with fateful consequences. However in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, the very nature of social responsibility and free will is challenged. The Tralfamadorians, an alien race from a distant planet, capture protagonist Billy Pilgrim, and introduces him to the fourth dimension. As Billy travels through time and learns that events in time are structured to be inevitable and irreversible, he accepts his fate and is no longer frightened by it–he even accurately forecasts his death to a crowd hours before dying. Through Billy Pilgrim, Vonnegut argues that we are not, by ourselves, responsible for our fate and if we accept future events as if they have already happened, we lose our human perspective on life, much like Billy Pilgrim. Vonnegut criticizes social responsibility using motif in the words “so it goes”, irony in the bombing of Dresden, and foreshadowing in the boxcar when Ronald Weary dies, and asks Lazzaro, a fellow soldier to avenge him. “So is goes” and the Tralfamadorians concept of time is a motif used by Vonnegut that acts as a commentary on social responsibility. The Tralfamadorians can see events in time like a traveler can see the peaks on a stretch of the Rocky Mountains; they can see their birth, death, and anything in between at will. However, they are helpless to change moments in time. For example, since the Tralfamadorians can see all events in time, they know that they destroy the universe searching for new fuels, although there is nothing they can do to prevent it. “'He has always pressed (the button), and he always will. We always let him, and we will always let him. The moment is structured that way'” (117). This leads the reader to question whether or not one is responsible for his or her actions-as events in time are unchangeable and the events in the future have already happened.

The irony of the Dresden bombing builds Vonnegut's...
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