"Slaughterhouse Five" by Kurt Vonnegut: Influential Experiences in Billy Pilgrim's Life

Essay by seanlvnHigh School, 12th grade March 2007

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In "Slaughterhouse Five" by Kurt Vonnegut, Billy Pilgrim, the protagonist, undergoes several monumental changes through his experiences that not only influence him but rather revolutionize his life. From the bombing of Dresden, to his abduction by the Tralfamadorians, to his return to Illium after the war and ultimately getting stuck in the never-ending 4th dimension of time, he is transformed and he and his perceptions revolutionized.

Billy's first monumental revolutionary experience occurs during his involvement in the war; that is after the carpet bombing of Dresden when he emerges to find mass devastation of a beautiful city once unaffected by the war. Upon leaving the meat locker, Billy and the other prisoners are forced to excavate corpses from the rubble. This is the inception of his feeling of indifference towards life; after all witnessing the death of something close to 130,000 is hardly an event one could walk away from unscathed, especially when dealing with corpses hands on.

His newfound stoical percept of life is manifested by his expression, "So it goes." This phrase follows every mention of death in the novel, thereby equalizing them. Whether the death is of his father's or simply of an ostensibly insignificant person, Billy treats them all the same with the phrase "so it goes" simply because they are all the same as his inherent value for life has diminished; a clear symptom of his undergone private revolution.

Following his involvement in the war, after being saved by Russian forces, Billy returns to Ilium and finishes optometry school. He gets engaged to Valencia Merble, the obese daughter of the school's founder. His father-in-law secures him in the optometry business and he and Valencia raise two children and grow rich. This sharp contrast from the itinerancy and abnormality of war to settling...