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

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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. In order to understand how these factors, the destruction of Dresden and ‘PTSD’, came to make Billy Pilgrim “unstuck” in time, one must review over the circumstances surrounding those events.

The human mind is a part of the body which current science knows little about. Trigger mechanisms, and other factors within the brain are relatively unknown to current humanity. Therefore, in order to produce a diagnostic on why Billy Pilgrim became “unstuck” in time, the reader of Slaughterhouse Five must come to terms with situations concerning the experiences described in the novel. Billy Pilgrim starts out, chronologically, as a fairly basic infantryman in the United States Army during the last Nazi offensive of the war, also known as the Battle of the Bulge (Vonnegut, 32). That battle resulted in fierce fighting, and also in massacres (such as the one that occurred near Malmedy, France), and the reader may be sure that there were men who became mentally unsound due to the effects of what they experienced there. Pilgrim is taken in by a group of soldiers who have found themselves behind the Nazi lines and are required to travel, by foot, back to friendly lines (Vonnegut, 32).

According to what research exists, severe hardship such as would exist on that journey could be enough to bring about a case of Acute Stress Disorder, but this combined with what followed afterward is certainly enough to bring about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (National Institute of Mental Health, Symptoms of PTSD). Again, look towards the following: during the trek Billy Pilgrim doesn’t move as quickly as the other soldiers desire to move, and so he is often lagging behind, and often the subject of scorn.
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