Free Will In Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five

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When starting a novel, or any piece of literature, doing so with Barthes’ observation that any work can simply be looked at as the question minus the answer leads to an interesting reading experience, and a deeper understanding of a novel. This observation applies especially well to Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s Slaughterhouse-Five which raises the question on whether or not humans possess any real free will. Vonnegut, at least in the realm of this novel, seems to believe that there is no free will, and that anything that has or will ever happen has already been decided. This question is also the central theme of the novel, as an alien race called the “Tralfamadorians” can see in the fourth dimension, which is time, enabling them to observe all events,…show more content…
Another example of this acceptance is found in Chapter Six, which recalls how Pilgrim really dies. He is giving a speech discussing the Tralfamadorian concept of time, and in this speech predicts his own death, an assassination made right after the same speech. However, the crowd is not pleased to hear this information, and as a result Billy responds, “If you protest, if you think that death is a terrible thing, then you have not understood a word I’ve said” (ch. 6). Minutes later, he is assassinated. “So Billy experiences death for a while. It is simply violet light and a hum. There isn’t anybody else there. Not even Billy Pilgrim is there. Then he swings back into life again, all the way back to an hour after his life was threatened by Lazzaro—in 1945” (ch. 6). This most clearly illustrates how time consisting of fixed events is a direct cause of a total lack of free will. Because time is how it always will happen, Pilgrim is able to hop from period to period in his life and what happens to him will never change, despite whatever actions he takes. The narrator of the story also illustrates how the concept of death shows that time is how it always will happen, making the existence of free will impossible. At all deaths mentioned throughout the novel, regardless of how significant or insignificant it is to the overall story and message, the narrator adds, “So it goes”. This proves the same concept that the Tralfamadorians taught Pilgrim, and that Pilgrim experiences throughout his lifetime. That is, that death is and inevitable occurrence, and happens at a predetermined time in each living thing’s

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