Is Billy Pilgrim Sane or Insane? - Paper Example

Paper Type:  Research paper
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1685 Words
Date:  2022-05-05


The novel, Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut denotes or entails the life experiences of one Billy Pilgrim who is the main actor as once an American soldier to an assistant of the Chaplain. The book outlines Billy`s character as soldier especially after he was deeply affected by the occurrences of Word War 2 specifically the firebombing that happened in Dresden. As a soldier, Billy is not so much into war and uses all means and ways to ensure that he stays alive. His life changes after he his capture by the Germans to offer forceful labor on a contract basis. However, during his stay there, he experiences extensive bombing that later makes him one of the survivors. Then during his daughter`s wedding, he is abducted by Tralfamadorians and taken to another planet where he is exposed to the realities of life and becomes aware of even what will happen in his future. Billy`s long experiences can be used to examine and analyse the truth about his insanity or sanity.

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From a broader view and context, the life of Billy in the masterpiece is illustrated in a manner that shows his interaction with his environment and the occurrences that happened in his life. Even before arriving at a state of judging Billy`s insanity or sanity, much has to be evaluated is the relationship to what is considered sane or insane. Looking at all the happenings that Billy went through it is clear that the same impacted adverse effects on his mind and psychology. Billy experiences many ideas of soldiers dying especially in the bombing that happened when he was in Germany. Having survived in amongst the many soldiers who died initiated a mental effect on him. Mental health is a crucial factor to consider on vulnerable groups that are directly involved in the war. The intensity of the circumstances later depends on the kind of trauma that one can find himself in (Murthy 25). Billy is then involved in an airplane accident that kills every passenger leaving him as the only survivor. By now Billy had been exposed to various incidents where he almost died. At the thought of all that, it is undeniable to state that he would be viewed as an insane person, especially from his reactions. For example, "Billy wouldn't do anything to save himself."

When he was hospitalized after the tragic accident, his wife planned to visit him. However, on her way she dies out of the pollution from carbon monoxide. Drawing back from his life, Billy admits that he has had seen events in his life happening without warnings. He is in a state where he does not worry and become seriously concerned about the happenings that occurred later in his life. "Billy is spastic in time, he has no control over where he is going... He is in constant state of stage fright, he says because he never knows what part of his life is going to have to act in next" (Vonnegut 23). In most cases it would be rare for people to experience such events where one can basically be confident of the things that will happen next in life. Precognition theory states that there are people who have the capability to obtain information about events that will happen in forthcoming days. In other words, the theory argues that some people have the ability to experience occurrences even before they occur. Billy had been possessed these qualities especially after he was abducted by the Tralfamadorians. Because such truths are rare people criticize them as it was so in Billy`s case. In most scenarios people who a test to having such skills are perceived to suffer from mental illness.

His experience and narration of how he was captured and taken to another planet by the Tralfamadorians is another case that shows an aspect of insanity. Billy makes a visit to a radio station to narrate and give his encounters with the aliens that had kidnapped him. Billy had been placed in a zoo-like facility by the Tralfamadorians and he tries to explain how he went there. "He had been kidnapped by a flying saucer..." (Vonnegut 32) However, thinking that people would believe him, Billy was kicked out of the radio station. Barbara who happens to his daughter is also among the people who do not believe the narrated experiences of Billy. It would be justifiable for people to prove Billy as an insane person. From a wider perspective, he was trying to explain concepts that had not been experienced by other people. Just because his case was special, does not mean that Billy did not have an actual experience in his life about the aspect of knowing the future and the present using what was revealed to him by the Tralfamadorians (Krasnikov 14). Even though Billy was aware of the airplane accident, he decided not to give out the information claiming that time was not "ripe." Individuals who can foretell the future events that will occur are expected to provide physical evidence to affirm their claim. If they are unable to do so, their claims are become irrelevant as no one can relate to them (Franklin, 907).

On another way that Billy might be seen as an insane person is the fact that he does not give his experiences in the foreign planet or any other abnormal factors before he is involved in the plane crash. Before Billy was hospitalized, he was living a healthy life just like any other person. The most important part of what Billy encountered was the personal experiences that occurred after his tragic experiences. People would not believe or even comprehend how it would be possible that he started giving weird stories. For example, his daughter strongly believed that tragic incidents experienced by his father were the real causes of his illusions. "But she thought that her father was senile even though he was only forty-six senile because of damage to his brain in the airplane crash." (Vonnegut 28) It was an affirmed truth to many that Billy was suffering from mental disorders. Bearing in mind that he had first been captured and subjected to forced labor, in Germany, it would be possible that his difficult encounters in life had caused him to bring out another character of him. The emotional pain seeing people perish on two occurrences, both in Germany and in the airplane, the crash would have triggered him to be in the state that people thought he was in. Billy does not see his wife after the plane crash. He is calm and does not mourn as it would be expected. Although no one would understand him, Billy had learnt a lot during the time he spent on the alien planet.

It is an undeniable fact that most people lose their true identity when subjected to repeated trauma especially one that involves shedding of blood. Billy was a victim who experienced a big number of people die during the bombing and also during the plane crash. Soldiers who have been in war for long tend to have completely different lifestyles from their previous ones because of the psychological harm done on them by war. They try to seek for structures and practices that will shape them back to living their past lives. In other words, they can only relate to the people they were before they went to war but cannot live to be the same person. They use this approach to eliminate the adverse harm caused mentally. Their former identity is lost and in numerous cases, the retired war heroes have to live in the identity they gain after being in war (Hemingway 29). From another perspective Billy might have tried to use the cases of Tralfamadorians in the aim of adapting to a life that will not remind him of the past negative experiences. When such an approach is considered, Billy can be termed to be sane. He is creative to make a story about visiting a distant planet and meeting with small green people.

The Tralfamadorians impact Billy with new knowledge, and when he shares the same with people, he is only seen as a lunatic. This is seen when he is thrown out of the radio station when he was explaining his encounters on that planet. The Tralfamadorians taught him to view life in different ways unlike how man view it. Billy then believed that the alien creatures had added knowledge more than man. Seeing life in 4 dimensions and not 3. "These creatures were friendly, and they could see in 4 dimensions." Giving such utterances, Billy would have been thought to be a crazy person. Just like how people perceive the use of the imaginary six sense, no one can justify that Billy was insane or not. The sixth sense perception is not a justified medical truth, but it is applied by one's experience with nature and the environment at large. He is prepared peacefully and calmly waiting for his death because he already knew it (Hamblen43).


In a nutshell, Billy`s experiences and encounters were significant in relating to how humans react and carry on when pressed with different issues in Life. The main subject may not be to determine whether Billy was insane or not but rather to enable man see life in a broader way apart from the typical norms. In one way or another Billy`s encounters might have been ones that contributed to his peace even when negative things came into his life like the death of his wife.

Work Cited

Franklin, Michael S., Stephen L. Baumgart, and Jonathan W. Schooler. "Future directions in precognition research: more research can bridge the gap between sceptics and proponents." Frontiers in Psychology 5 (2014): 907.

Hamblen, Jessica, and Paula Schnurr. Mental health aspects of prolonged combat stress in civilians. National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, 2006.

Hemingway, Ernest. The sun also rises. Simon and Schuster, 2002.

Krasnikov, Sergei. "Time travel paradox." Physical Review D65.6 (2002): 064013.

Murthy, R. Srinivasa, and Rashmi Lakshminarayana. "Mental health consequences of war: a brief review of research findings." World Psychiatry 5.1 (2006): 25.

Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse Five: EnglischeLekture Ab Dem 6. Lernjahr. Ernst KlettSprachen, 2013.

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