The Passive Time Traveler in Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut

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Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, is a novel about Billy Pilgrim, a WWII veteran who claims that he has “ come unstuck in time. ” ( Slaughterhouse Five 23 ). Billy Pilgrim also seems to remember a trip to an alien planet; he spoke of it at a radio show and wrote of it to a newspaper. But most likely, his vivid recollections of extraterrestrial experiences and disposition to passive time travel are simply delusions stemming from a post-traumatic stress disorder. A post-traumatic stress disorder is a disorder caused by recent trauma, or the resurfacing of trauma in one’s child hood. Its symptoms include constant painful memories, reoccurring nightmares and sleep disturbances, among others.

In the prime of his life, his mental stability was tested with a series of potentially damaging events. As a child, his father threw him into the deep end of a pool, in an attempt to make him learn to swim – Billy nearly drowned and had to be rescued and revived. Later in his adolescence he showed signs of a mental disorder when he drastically intensified the risk of death in relatively safe environments, such as visits to a cavern or the Grand Canyon.

During the Second World War, Billy was a war prisoner and witnessed the fire bombing of Dresden – the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. While imprisoned, he attempted to sleep in close quarters with other soldiers, but many complaints arose about Billy’s whimpering and violent spasms during sleep, two examples of sleeping disturbances common to people with post-traumatic stress disorder. After having to dig through the rubble of Dreseden, in search of corpses, he was rescued, only to be honorably released due to his father’s death.

After a short break from traumatic occurrences, Billy had the honor of being the sole survivor of a plane crash; his brain was slightly damaged and while he was recuperating, his wife died, of carbon monoxide poisoning. While he was in the hospital, Billy read science-fiction novels, specifically about aliens and time travel. When he was released, he began working as an optometrist again, but experienced sleep deprivation, which, his doctor hypothesized, was the cause of his random weeping. And most recently, his daughter has been stripping him of his dignity, justifying her actions with claims that her father suffers from dementia and senility.

For many veterans, their participation in a war is enough to cause mental instability, and warrant treatment.

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