Saturday, October 24, 2009

Tralfamadores and Death

The whole narrative of Slaughterhouse 5 is one of a time warp where Billy constantly jumps from Dresden to Ilium and even to his death since Billy Pilgrim is “stuck in time”. At first it was a bit confusing and then after a while it became a gift in a way in that you never tired of the story since a new era of time was explored every few paragraphs. And despite of all this time jumping there is a very cohesive story about the devastation that is war and about how difficult it is to put words to a massacre (even though Vonnegut does a wonderful job doing so).

In the tradition of our class as one that focuses on banned books, one could point to the final chapter as a moment in which many ban-worthy suggestions are put forth by the all-knowing Tralfamadores.

On Tralfamadore, says Billy Pilgrim, there isn’t much interest in Jesus Christ. The Earthling figure who is most engaging to the Tralfamadorian and, he says, is Charles Darwin-who taught that those who die are meant to die, that corpses are improvements. So it goes.

In the course of the novel, the aliens that Billy says took him at the night of his daughters wedding and had observed him for years. They possessed the ability to see the entire duration of life within some other dimension and thus they had a completely different view upon death since they knew the person to be alive at some other point in the time continuum. It is from them that Billy gets the same ability to see his life as a whole and yet have many varying versions of the here and now.

With all of these elements in consideration it is obvious the first point of controversy in the above quote is the idea of Darwin, who’s Origin of the Species created the evolutionary theory that some Christians find to be an attack on God and the creation theory. Thus this quote drives in the idea of a Godless universe and that a human could be held in higher esteem than the Son of God.

And on a second level, another problem with that quote is the fact that it says the “those who die are meant to die, that corpses are improvements”. In a novel that depicts the utter horror of war it seems not only distasteful to suggest that some are meant to die when we have seen so many senseless ways to die in the massacre at Dresden.

And yet I do not think that the real meaning of the quote is the controversy but rather, a sage-like acceptance that life does and will come to an end no matter what. And then including this quote within the great line of thought of the whole novel, it could mean that perhaps death is indeed a part of life but that a massacre is an unnatural way to die that breaks the natural processes that move humanity forward.

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