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

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

Length: 1566 words (4.5 double-spaced pages)

Rating: Excellent

Open Document

Essay Preview

More ↓
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.

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"Slaughterhouse Five: Billy Pilgrim and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)." 123HelpMe.com. 19 Nov 2019
    <https://www.123helpme.com/view.asp?id=179822>.

Need Writing Help?

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

Check your paper »

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Essay

- Epidemiology At least 50% of all adults and children are exposed to a psychologically traumatic event (such as a life-threatening assault or accident, humanmade or natural disaster, or war). As many as 67% of trauma survivors experience lasting psychosocial impairment, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); panic, phobic, or generalized anxiety disorders; depression; or substance abuse.(Van der Kolk, et al, 1994) Symptoms of PTSD include persistent involuntary re-experiencing of traumatic distress, emotional numbing and detachment from other people, and hyperarousal (irritability, insomnia, fearfulness, nervous agitation)....   [tags: Post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD]

Research Papers
723 words (2.1 pages)

Essay on Ptsd ( Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ( Ptsd )

- PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) has always been an issue especially with those that have experienced sexual assault, a traumatic accident or injury, being a prisoner of war, or participated in combat. Sadly, ever since the Iraq war, PTSD has been becoming even more widespread. Soldiers have been diagnosed with chronic PTSD and the medication has not been helping. PTSD causes a variety types of symptoms including: flashbacks, nightmares, recurring visual images of the traumatic experience, negative mood, avoiding situations that can cause a flashback, feeling disconnected from other people, being easily started, insomnia, and poor concentration....   [tags: Posttraumatic stress disorder]

Research Papers
1376 words (3.9 pages)

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ( Ptsd ) Essay

- This article covers a wide range of information regarding post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD. First, it explains about what this disorder is and how it could possibly affect the person, PTSD can develop from different sources and there are a few symptoms that are needed to officially diagnose. The article also explains PTSDs categories in which PTSD is described, such as intrusion, avoidance of reminders, and hyperarousal. PTSD can be a deadly disorder to have; the issue with PTSD is symptoms could be presented right away or multiply months from the event....   [tags: Posttraumatic stress disorder]

Research Papers
1326 words (3.8 pages)

Essay on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ( Ptsd )

- One in eight military veterans return from war with some form of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD can come with many symptoms such as re-experiencing a traumatic event that happened, avoidance of everyday things, and felling numb to everyday things, and arousal symptoms. PTSD has always been a big risk of the military when our soldiers are over seas living conditions are not great, and there nights they are lucky if they get an hour or two of sleep which is mentally physically and emotionally draining....   [tags: Posttraumatic stress disorder]

Research Papers
795 words (2.3 pages)

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ( Ptsd ) Essay

- What is PTSD. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that 's triggered by a terrifying event - either experiencing it or witnessing it. PTSD is the primary injury among veterans returning from war. It is said that 7-20% of people who experience a traumatic event, develop PTSD. With how today is, war after war, shooting after shooting, the general public is becoming more aware of PTSD. In this essay, you will learn more about post-traumatic stress disorder. I will explain more of what PTSD is, signs and symptoms to be aware of, treatment options, and more....   [tags: Posttraumatic stress disorder]

Research Papers
1504 words (4.3 pages)

Essay Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ( Ptsd )

- PTSD is a psychological disorder that most commonly affects those who have been through a traumatic experience. Furthermore PTSD can affect anyone, though it’s most commonly associated with soldiers and first responders. In Three Day Road both Xavier and Elijah suffer this and is identified from their actions during and after the war. Finally PTSD comes in a variety of symptoms that can affect anyone who have survived a traumatizing experience. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD is a psychological disorder that is brought about after encountering a traumatic experience....   [tags: Posttraumatic stress disorder]

Research Papers
1081 words (3.1 pages)

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ( Ptsd ) Essay example

- Effects of PTSD PTSD is a psychological disorder that most commonly affects those who have been through a traumatic experience. Furthermore, PTSD can affect anyone, though it’s most commonly associated with soldiers and first responders. In Three Day Road, both Xavier and Elijah suffer this and are identifiable from their actions during and after the war. Finally, PTSD comes in a variety of symptoms that can affect anyone who has survived a traumatizing experience. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD is a psychological disorder that’s brought about after encountering a traumatic experience....   [tags: Posttraumatic stress disorder]

Research Papers
1348 words (3.9 pages)

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ( Ptsd ) Essay

- So why did I pick the topic of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. this topic because it holds tons of interest society and a lot of research is still needed. The fact that many believe that PTSD only effects the military is a statement that have been written in many articles. To understand how PTSD has affected the military coming back from war, let me briefly explain a little about when PTSD was actual recognized in the military. Post-traumatic stress Disorder (PTSD) is a severe and complex disorder precipitated by exposure to a psychologically distressing event....   [tags: Posttraumatic stress disorder]

Research Papers
735 words (2.1 pages)

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ( Ptsd ) Essay

- In the years since the United States was drawn into a global war on terrorism by the attacks of September 11, 2001, Americans have made significant commitments to support the men and women who have served on the front lines of the conflict. Soldiers involved in this events often seem to develop a set of common symptoms in spite of the different events they have experienced. This essay discusses Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and its effect on combat soldiers involved in the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars....   [tags: Posttraumatic stress disorder]

Research Papers
1208 words (3.5 pages)

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ( Ptsd ) Essay

- Post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD, is a problem that many people face on a dai-ly basis. People from many different backgrounds, ages, and races are vulnerable to the problems that PTSD can cause. Not one type of person is immune to the possibility of experiencing a life-time of PTSD. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) describes PTSD as a “serious, potentially debilitating [mental] condition.” According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), PTSD is caused by “traumatic events, such as military combat, assault, and accident or a natural disaster, can have long-lasting negative effects.” Many facts involving PTSD continue to be uncovered as r...   [tags: Posttraumatic stress disorder]

Research Papers
1582 words (4.5 pages)

This eventually leaves to the group splitting up, which brings about the death of one group and the detention of the other group by the local Nazi forces in the area (Vonnegut, 48, 49) . Billy’s experiences as a Prisoner of War (POW) are harsh, as very few are not, but they are not unexpected. Kurt Vonnegut, the author, describes the train, which brought the prisoners from the fronts to locations deep within the German border, as being crowded, and again an area where Billy Pilgrim becomes the object of ridicule and scorn (Vonnegut, 70, 78).

Yet it gets even worse for Billy Pilgrim. The haunting he already has due to the trek and its circumstances is increased by two events. Firstly, Billy Pilgrim becomes acquainted with, and a friend to a fellow POW, a colonel who lost his entire regiment throughout the course of the fighting of the Battle of the Bulge (Vonnegut, 66, 67). The second is the death of a fellow enlisted soldier, Roland Weary, who looked after Pilgrim on the trek with the other soldiers; Weary stayed behind with Pilgrim when the break occurred and thus Weary blames Billy Pilgrim for his death (Vonnegut, 79, 80). The first experience shows him what Acute Stress Disorder can do to the mind, what it can do to a person on the last legs of their life. The second is an occurrence that passes by unknown to Billy Pilgrim, but it affects his life, and his mental capacity, just as effectively as the death of the Colonel does in his memories. What this reveals to the reader is that another man had been “given charge” to kill Billy Pilgrim after the war. This man, who was the sole comforter of Roland Weary during the latter’s final minutes on the train ride, promises to avenge Weary’s death by killing Pilgrim (Vonnegut, 84). But Vonnegut goes even further in his writing. Not only does this confidant, a Paul Lazzaro by name, promise (and proclaims that promise to Billy Pilgrim) but he ends up working in the same Slaughterhouse as Billy Pilgrim resides in during their days as POWs while in Dresden.

All of this brings the reader to the understanding that Billy Pilgrim has been morphed by what he has seen thus far of hatred, and of humanity’s injustices to humanity during times of war. He becomes even more morphed, even more the clay in the potter’s hands. The final turns of the potter’s wheel is Billy’s walking out onto the city streets after the destruction of Dresden. To encompass what he saw there, to understand what Kurt Vonnegut is trying to show the reader, some research about the circumstances surrounding the attack on Dresden must be understood.

The Firestorm of Dresden, Germany, was created over the course of three days by the bombers of the Royal Air Force and those of the U.S.’ Eighth Air Force. The bombing is not a bombing as we know them, where one bomb, dropping from the sky, can pinpoint an exact building, but the bombing of Dresden was a massed concentration of bombs. In reality, enough bombs were dropped that eleven square miles of the city were consumed during the raging fires (British National Archives). Counting the bodies of those who died during the bombing is not an easy task to carry out; there are reports of bodies being found up until the Nineteen-Sixties, during reconstruction of the city. The damage, in this sense, is fairly imaginable to the human mind. But the damage to the mindsets of the people on the ground is something else entirely. More than likely there was a great deal of mass chaos, for the bombings started during the night, and more than likely people were being burnt left and right in their rush to avoid those burns their carelessness was bringing to them.

Cleaning up after such destruction would be beyond many people, but to one already in the grip of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, more than likely that one’s case of PTSD would be enhanced greatly due to what he experienced. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) establishes PTSD as: “an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened.” (National Institute of Mental Health, PTSD) NIMH further describes the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as lasting anywhere upwards of a month –less than that is called Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) (National Institute of Mental Health, Symptoms). Due to the events described above, it is safe to say that Billy Pilgrim was repeatedly in situations where his person’s well being was threatened by the actions of other individuals, or by other people such as those flying the bombers who leveled the city. Though not much is known about the processes of the human brain, it would be fairly safe to say that a character with a disposition like Billy’s – kind, not harsh in manner or thought, taught to be kind to those he dealt with- would be likely to develop either PTSD or ASD during the period of time immediately after, and perhaps during, the attacks on their person as described by Kurt Vonnegut.

In addition to the above, Billy Pilgrim shows several of the symptoms of PTSD, as described, by both NIMH and by Dr. Frank Ochberg. NIMH divides the symptoms into three categories: Re-experiencing symptoms; Avoidance symptoms; and Hyperarousal symptoms (National Institute of Mental Health, Symptoms). Of these three, considering the “jumping through time” aspect of Billy’s persona, the reader must assume that he suffers from the re-experiencing symptoms of PTSD. According to NIMH, these symptoms include: “Flashbacks –reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating; Bad Dreams; Frightening Thoughts.” As seen by the jumping around in his mindset, it can be assumed that Billy Pilgrim relives his war-time experiences on a near daily basis.

The conclusion of this analysis must therefore be that Billy Pilgrim became “unstuck” in time due to the events of which he witnessed and/or participated in during World War II. Due to the horror of what was occurring around him, and due to the confusion he felt during these events, his mental state degraded to the point where he became locked in viewing the past indefinitely, and degraded into helping him believe his delusion that he was taken from the earth, at the speed of light, and returned simultaneously. Therefore, in reference to NIMH, Billy Pilgrim developed PTSD due to the terrifying events common throughout the Battle of the Bulge that threatened his own person.


Works Cited
1. “Bombing of Dresden: Who’s to blame?” British National Archives. 15 December 2009.
2. “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)” National Institute of Mental Health.
14 December 2009. 15 December 2009.
3. “What are the Symptoms of PTSD”. National Institute of Mental Health. 14 December
2009 15 December 2009.
4. Ochberg, Frank. “PTSD”. PTSD Info. 15 December 2009.
5. Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse Five. New York: Dell Publishing, 1969.

Return to 123HelpMe.com