Billy Pilgrim's Coping Mechanism for PTSD in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five

Billy Pilgrim's Coping Mechanism for PTSD in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five

Length: 1243 words (3.6 double-spaced pages)

Rating: Excellent

Open Document

Essay Preview

More ↓
In Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, Billy Pilgrim becomes “unstuck” in time. The question here is, why? The fact of the matter is that he does not actually begin to time-travel. Billy “becomes unstuck” as a coping mechanism to deal with his traumatic experiences during the war. Billy attempts to reorganize his life’s events and cope with a disorder known as post traumatic stress (PTSD).

“Post traumatic stress disorder is a debilitating condition that follows a terrifying event” (Marilyn 8). It occurs when one has witnessed or experienced a traumatic event, such as war, child abuse, or other types of violence. Victims may claim to relive or re-experience events that were traumatic to them. They may even “feel” or “hear” things from the event. Other symptoms may include: “forgetfulness…amnesia, excessive fantasizing…trancelike states…imaginary companion, sleepwalking, and blackouts” (Putman 2). A lot of times, coping mechanisms fail and the following inner dissonance can lead to a multiplicity of upsetting emotional and physical symptoms (Robert Saperstein 2). Some children suffering from PTSD may show traumatic play. This refers to the reenactment of a traumatic experience. Usually, children will change the ending to make it happier. This is an extreme example of using the imagination as a way to escape the terrible memories. Billy has all the symptoms associated with the disorder as he also used his imagination to escape his bad memories.

When Billy Pilgrim goes to war in Germany, he is soon captured by the Germans and taken to a prisoner camp. While there, he is mocked and ridiculed. He is a very passive character, and so is not bothered by this taunting, but when Billy realizes that the war doesn’t just affect soldiers and people, but all animals, such as the horses they find after the bombing of Dresden, his life is scarred forever. He sees that the horses are bleeding from their mouths and that they are in agony when walking. When Billy sees that his colleagues had mistreated the horses, he realizes that that is what war does to the entire world. Billy is forever changed and even weeps (197). This may have been the trigger for PTSD in Billy’s life to begin with.

One of case post traumatic stress disorder tells of a Vietnam veteran sleeping with a gun under his pillow and having nightmares so intense that he woke up strangling his wife. Another time, the same veteran saw a neighbor walking outside after dark and dodged under a bush and started crawling around with a gun (McGirk 1).

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"Billy Pilgrim's Coping Mechanism for PTSD in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five." 123HelpMe.com. 14 Oct 2018
    <https://www.123helpme.com/view.asp?id=179818>.

Need Writing Help?

Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.

Check your paper »

Billy Pilgrim's Coping Mechanism for PTSD in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five

- In Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, Billy Pilgrim becomes “unstuck” in time. The question here is, why. The fact of the matter is that he does not actually begin to time-travel. Billy “becomes unstuck” as a coping mechanism to deal with his traumatic experiences during the war. Billy attempts to reorganize his life’s events and cope with a disorder known as post traumatic stress (PTSD). “Post traumatic stress disorder is a debilitating condition that follows a terrifying event” (Marilyn 8). It occurs when one has witnessed or experienced a traumatic event, such as war, child abuse, or other types of violence....   [tags: Slaughterhouse-Five]

Free Essays
1243 words (3.6 pages)

Slaughterhouse Five: Billy Pilgrim and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

- Within the novel Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, the character Billy Pilgrim claims to have come “unstuck” in time. Having survived through being a Prisoner of War and the destruction of Dresden during World War II, and having been a prisoner used to clear away debris of the destruction, there can be little doubt that Pilgrim’s mental state was unstable. Furthermore, it may be concluded that Pilgrim, due to the effects of having been a Prisoner of War, and having been witness to the full magnitude of destruction, suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which caused him to review the events over and over during the course of his life....   [tags: Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut]

Free Essays
1566 words (4.5 pages)

Why Does Billy Pilgrim Become Unstuck in Time in "Slaughterhouse-Five"? Essay

- In the book Slaughterhouse-Five the character Billy Pilgrim is a reflection of the author Kurt Vonnegut. He is said to become unstuck in time. But what does the author really mean by “unstuck in time?” The story begins after the bombing of Dresden, which caused PTSD that is very common in many people after being at war. PTSD is a very common aftermath of war, or even during war. PSTD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is very common in deployed troops of all ages. It occurs after an event that is, basically, life changing....   [tags: Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut, PTSD,]

Research Papers
698 words (2 pages)

Essay about Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

- A man begins to cry. Not because of sorrow or joy, but because he’s terrified. The man who once enjoyed viewing the firework show that symbolized the freedom of his nation now cowers, because of the hardships he endured to maintain the freedom of his nation. Like many war veterans, the man suffers from PTSD. Billy Pilgrim, a WWII veteran, also suffers from PTSD. While Kurt Vonnegut wrote his novel Slaughterhouse-five before PTSD became an official diagnosis, the protagonist of his story, Billy Pilgrim, displays the disease’s symptoms....   [tags: post war hysteria, billy pilgrim, ptsd ]

Research Papers
879 words (2.5 pages)

Slaughterhouse-Five and the Psychological Consequences of War Essay

- “How nice- to feel nothing, and still get full credit for being alive” (Vonnegut 181). In Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five the main character Billy Pilgrim experiences few emotions during his time in World War II. His responses to people and events lack intensity or passion. Throughout the novel Billy describes his time travel to different moments in his life, including his experience with the creatures of Tralfamadore and the bombing of Dresden. He wishes to die during most of the novel and is unable to connect with almost anyone on Earth....   [tags: Slaughterhouse-Five Essays]

Free Essays
1382 words (3.9 pages)

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr Essay

- ... (29) As stated above, the time travel aspect of this novel is simply a metaphor of how Billy Pilgrim is struggling with letting go of his past and the above quote demonstrates this completely. Vonnegut writes that Billy walks through one door in 1955 and comes out another one in 1941 and that he visits random moments of his life. Billy visiting random little moments of his life could just be a sign that, because the war affected him so strongly, that he is having trouble letting go. The next quote where Vonnegut addresses the after effects of war is, “Billy is spastic in time, has no control over where he is going next and the trips aren’t necessarily fun” (29)....   [tags: violence of war, fire-bombing, germany]

Research Papers
1401 words (4 pages)

Analysis of Slaughterhouse-Five, a Novel Written by Kurt Vonnegut Essay

- ... He soon married and had three children, and worked at General Electric and wrote and published short stories to support his family. In 1952, his very first novel, “Player Piano” was published. Over the next 17 years, Vonnegut published 5 more novels, including Slaughterhouse-Five in 1969. This was the book that launched his fame, and a film adaptation of the book soon followed in 1969, which was successful and only increased his popularity further. He went on to write 9 more novels before his death in 2007....   [tags: Germany, Bombing, World War II]

Research Papers
1184 words (3.4 pages)

Religion and War Essay

- Soldiers come home feeling displaced in the world and sometimes see their life not worth living. In World War II , lifestyles and ideas changed; it tested multiple theories of what was true or not.Some encounter PTSD or post traumatic stress disorder dealing with the pain of knowing what they have seen or experienced during their time away. Life is never the same for these soldiers. There is also the thought of not being able to control what happens in time. Whether it is wanting to change the past, present, or future, some people feel helpless....   [tags: free will, Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-five]

Research Papers
1301 words (3.7 pages)

Two Sides of Billy Pilgrim in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five Essay

- Two Sides of Billy Pilgrim in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five War can destroy. War can teach. In Kurt Vonnegut's book Slaughterhouse Five, the central character, Billy Pilgrim, is the outcome of a test. In creating and developing Billy Pilgrim, Vonnegut's intention is to show the effect of modern war on a sensitive person who tries to play the game the way society expects. This, along with family influence, shapes how Billy acts in his two different lives: life in the military and life alone....   [tags: Slaughterhouse-Five Essays]

Free Essays
411 words (1.2 pages)

The Life of Billy Pilgrim in Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children's Crusade

- The Life of Billy Pilgrim in Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children's Crusade         Marked by two world wars and the anxiety that accompanies humanity's knowledge of the ability to destroy itself, the Twentieth Century has produced literature that attempts to depict the plight of the modern man living in a modern waste land. If this sounds dismal and bleak, it is. And that is precisely why the dark humor of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. shines through our post-modern age. The devastating bombing of Dresden, Germany at the close of World War II is the subject of Vonnegut's most highly acclaimed work, Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children's Crusade: A Duty Dance with Death....   [tags: Slaughterhouse-Five Essays]

Research Papers
2034 words (5.8 pages)

He was later diagnosed with PTSD and was told that his condition would cause such symptoms but that his family would need to be supportive and caring. Another case tells of a child that has been sexually abused. She struggled to separate her imagination from reality and thinks she is actually hearing, feeling, and, when asleep, even seeing the traumatic experience again (Putman 1).
Billy’s disorder is not recognized, by even doctors, because this disorder was not named and studied until after the Vietnam War. Before PTSD was named and studied, everybody with this disorder was either told to “get over it” or declared senile, crazy, or insane and normally sent to asylums or to prison. They were considered outcasts and society tried to ignore them. Nearer to the world wars, people tried to ignore it more than condemn people who suffered from it.

Billy was seen as senile and crazy but his family still tried to ignore that. Billy’s case is not the only precedent to vivid flashbacks and extreme fear towards certain events. As Billy recalls his time in Europe, he feels as if he, too, is actually experiencing past events. In reality, something will trigger Billy’s flashback to the event. An example of this in the book is when Billy’s wife wants to talk about the war and he immediately “travels” to a time during the war (123). What really happens here is that as he tries to remember, he experiences all the sensations that he felt when he was actually there. Another example is when Billy Pilgrim goes white from listening and watching the barbershop quartet. He even admits that it reminded him of a time in the war (172, 177). Towards the end of the book, Billy has decided to portray his death, including the date. The book never says what happened but it could be inferred that Billy Pilgrim premeditated suicide. These are all symptoms that Billy Pilgrim suffers from an extreme case of PTSD.

What exactly is going through Billy’s mind as he “time-travels”? As Billy remembers a situation that he is in during the war, the emotions and sensations are so strong that he feels that he is actually there. The reason he does not tell his story to the reader in chronological order is because he is almost embarrassed about what happened in Germany. He tries to reorganize the events of his life in the order he would have liked for them to happen so they would have been justifiable. He also, in order to cope with the disconnectedness between him and his family, Billy Pilgrim invents an imaginary world.

Billy Pilgrim creates a world called Tralfamadore, and in this world, the aliens that live there, the Tralfamadorians, take care and look after Billy. They put him in a zoo on their planet and gave him a stripper, Montana Wildhack, to mate with. The Tralfamadorians can see in the fourth dimension, meaning time, and they try to teach Billy how time actually works. This is his ideal world.
In summary, Billy Pilgrim is merely a victim of post traumatic stress disorder. As he struggles to cope with the memories of the Dresden bombing, he comes up with a name for his vivid flashbacks and terrible reactions to little day to day things: time-travel. Another coping device is his imaginary world of aliens who can also time-travel. His family thinks he is senile and even his daughter, Barbara asks what she is going to do with him. He puts a great effort towards trying to convince others that he really is travelling back to Dresden and really does experience the firebombing over and over. While Billy tries to live as a normal person “Billy prefers fantasy to real life. It’s a lot safer” (Bly 9). Billy, therefore, does not become unstuck in time, he just suffers from post traumatic stress disorder.


Works Cited

1. Bly, William. Slaughterhouse-Five. n.p., Barron's, 2004. eLibrary. Web. 13 Dec 2009.
2. Marilyn Dickey. "Decade of the Brain: Anxiety Disorders." DECADE OF THE BRAIN: ANXIETY DISORDERS 1997: 1-24. SIRS Government Reporter. Web. 15 December 2009.
3. McGirk, Tim. "The Hell Of PTSD. " Time. 174.21 (Nov 30, 2009): 40. Student Resource Center - Gold. Gale. ALCONBURY HS. 15 Dec. 2009
.
4. Paul Lerner. "The harmony of illusions: inventing post-traumatic stress disorder." Medical History 41.2 (Apr 1997): History Study Center. ProQuest LLC. 13 Dec. 2009 .
5. "Post-traumatic stress disorder". Complete Home Medical Guide. 01 Nov 2004. eLibrary. Web. 15 Dec 2009.
6. Putman, Stacie E. "The monsters in my head posttraumatic stress disorder and the child survivor of sexual abuse." Journal of Counseling and Development 87.1 (Wntr 2009): 80(10). Student Resource Center - Gold. Gale. ALCONBURY HS. 13 Dec. 2009
.
7. Robert Saperstein and Dana Saperstein. "The Emotional Wounds of War." Military Review Jan. 1992: 54-61. SIRS Researcher. Web. 13 December 2009.
8. Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five A Novel. New York: Dell, Print.
Return to 123HelpMe.com