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Death and Time in Slaughterhouse-Five

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Death and Time in Slaughterhouse-Five

We all wish we could travel through time, going back to correct our stupid mistakes or zooming ahead to see the future. In Kurt Vonnegut's novel Slaughterhouse-Five, however, time travel does not seem so helpful. Billy Pilgrim, Vonnegut's main character, has come unstuck in time. He bounces back and forth between his past, present, and future lives in a roller coaster time trip that proves both senseless and numbing. Examining Billy's time traveling, his life on Tralfamadore, and the novel's schizophrenic structure shows that time travel is actually a metaphor for our human tendency to avoid facing the unpleasant reality of death.

Because he cannot control time travel, Billy is forced to relive again and again some of the most painful parts of his life. For example, Edgar Derby, his wartime father-figure, is senselessly executed by the Germans for stealing a teapot, while Valencia Pilgrim, his own wife, dies accidentally from carbon monoxide poisoning after her car's exhaust system is damaged in an accident...

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