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Slaughterhouse Five - Manipulation of Time and Place
Kurt Vonnegut's manipulation of time and place adds a science- fiction element to Slaughterhouse-Five. Structarally, the novel is far from traditional.
Billy Pilgrim, the protagonist, jumps from place to place and is in a constant time warp while on the planet Tralfamadore. Since Vonnegut uses the planet Tralfamadore and the Tralfamadorian people to take Billy from place to place and time frame to time frame, in the novel he constantly respects the phrase "So it goes," which describes the Tralfamadorians' view of death. Vonnegut's manipulation of time and place is definitely unusual.
Billy, an optometrist in Ilium, New York, finds himself "time tripping" with the people on Tralfamadore. To the Tralfamadorians time does not exist. Billy can be on Tralfamadore for years, while only being absent from earth for a microsecond (26). Billy's "time tripping" also allows Vonnegut to join the three main settings and experiences of the book: the horrors of the war and Dresden, Billy's normal life in Illim, and his time on Tralfamadore.
Billy has no control over his being in a time warp. In the midst of his life in New York he will suddenly find himself Tralfamadore; he has become "unstuck in time" ( 22). The Tralfamadorians eventually show Billy the important moments of his life, but they do not always show them in sequence. They do this so Billy can fully understand the true reasons for and the importance of the events.
Vonnegut also uses this tactic of time manipulation. He tells and shows the occurrences of Billy's life in a juxtaposed manner which parallels the "time tripping." The "time tripping" and being "unstuck in time" allow Vonnegut to present the events of the war in a sequence through which they would have the greatest impact on the reader.
Vonnegut's manipulation of time and place in Slaughterhouse-Five allows him to use the phrase "So it goes" for special impact . The phrase appears after every death scene. It allows the bridge from death to life, and it also allows Vonnegut to change the time frame or place of the action. According to one source, the phrase "So it goes" appears in the novel over 100 times (Boomhower).
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Vonnegut's unusual manipulation of time and place in Slaughterhouse-Five makes the novel one of a kind. The time tripping and Billy's being "unstuck in time" allow for the book to take many different routes. Furthermore, they allow Vonnegut to present occurrences of the Dresden experience in a way that would have the greatest impact on the reader. The manipulation of time enables Vonnegut to intertwine some science-fiction elements into his anti-war novel.