Time is defined as “the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole”.() This definition is wrong. Time was created by Egyptians in ancient times. After that, the general public just goes by this concept created long ago. The novel Slaughterhouse Five abolishes that stereotype of time going from one moment to the next, and you can never access your past after it has occured. Kurt vonnegut, the author, completely changes this in his novel. In the novel Slaughterhouse Five, Vonnegut uses imagery, diction, and symbolism to prove that time has no past, present or future.
Even in the beginning of the book, the concept of time is presented. Vonnegut begins to tell tales of Billy Pilgrim, time traveling, and being abducted by aliens. He says on page 23, “Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time.” The word unstuck is very striking. It shows when Billy is not traveling, he feels stuck, stuck in “normal” time. This shows he has a deep understanding that our moments don’t simply pass us, but are always with us. Another example of this is Billy’s emotions of time traveling. “Billy is spastic in time, has no control over where he is going next, and the trips aren’t necessarily fun…he never knows what part of his life he is going to have to act in next”(27). The word spastic, by a definition is something relative or affective to a muscle spasm(). This diction choice by Vonnegut, shows how Billy is not going to from a moment in chronological order, but from one moment to the next. He is not living in the past, present or future.
The novel Slaughterhouse Five, does by no means go in chronological order, and neither does Billy’s time travel. Billy goes from being in World War Two, to a plane accident laying in the hospital, to marrying his wife Valencia. The book begins with Vonnegut’s life, then jumps to Billy’s wedding day, even saying, “He has seen his death and birth many times, he says, and pays random visits to all the events in between.” This provides an impression of imagery, The author put this imagery to help distinguish time doesn’t exactly go in chronological order. Vonnegut likes to focus on death in the novel, in the war, and in Billy’s life. “The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person is to die he only appears to die. He is still very much alive..” Vonnegut uses uses diction specifically with the words appears, meaning only to others, who believe time is linear only see the negative effects of death, and do not see that death is only a moment in time, not the future everyone is destined too. The author emphasizes this on page 142, “If you think that death is a terrible thing, you have not understood a thing I have said… It is time for me to be dead for a little while- and then live again. So it goes.” Vonnegut included this symbolism to show that time doesn’t end or start specifically, but the moments of time all coexist with one another, leaving no past, present or future. Another example of this is demonstrated on page 27, “When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in bad condition in that particular moment, but that same person is just fine in many other moments.” This implies that the symbolism in this quote proves time is not past, present or future, but a series of moments. When Billy’s wife Valencia dies, Vonnegut simply says, “So it goes”(183). Vonnegut included these simple words multiple times throughout the novel, creating an emphasis on Vonnegut’s ideals of death. Readers can see that Billy doesn’t have these sad, mourning views of death, but he believes that death is not the end but simply only a moment in life.
Tralfamadorians also play a large role in the development of time having no past, present or future in the novel. As Billy is captured by these aliens, they teach him many valuable things about time. Tralfamadorians teach Billy, “All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed and always will exist”(27). This diction by Vonnegut makes it very clear he is trying to express time is not just beginning, middle and end, but rather a series of moments. He does this through symbolism. The aliens symbolize The tralfamadorians also state that “All time is all time. It does change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment , and you will find that we are all bugs in amber.” With this quote, Vonnegut used all three elements of language in, diction, symbolism and imagery. The imagery in this sentence may be surprising, but take a close look at the statement. Readers can almost visualize being ‘stuck in time’, and see moments of time flying by, like time does to people. Vonnegut’s goal was to display this, and it goes hand in hand with the concept of no past, present or future, just simply moments one by one in time. Diction also plays a huge role in this quote. For example, this sentence is flowy, long and complex, much like time. But also, the distinct words Vonnegut included, like bugs stuck in amber, show that if someone where to dwell on the past, present or future, they will be stuck, not moving through the moments of time. Another component is the words “simply is” and again, “bugs stuck in amber”.
Vonnegut repeats these words and phrases multiple time throughout the story, and each time has been about time. Vonnegut’s repeats these phrases to get the message across that time has no beginning, middle or end. The Tralfamadorians also tell Billy a long message about time, “The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just the way we can look at the stretch of the rocky mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on string, and that once a moment is gone, it is gone forever.”(27) This diction used provides a sense of relation to many readers. Readers understand what mountains look like, and how the peaks and valleys represent the many moments of time. The mountains have really no start or end, like time. Vonnegut also used these examples of symbolism. Readers can also use imagery, and visualize this example. Vonnegut also carefully chose the words ‘beads on a string’. Readers can visualize moments stacking up, but then Vonnegut further explains that time is unlike beads on a string, but moments all at once.
After time traveling for countless years, Billy finally understands what time truly is. He is no longer going from a moment in his life, time traveling and the continuing, but continuously traveling to moments, even moments which would be considered present day. Vonnegut never makes this “day” clear for a reason. This one, keeps readers wondering about the present day time, but as they reach the end of the novel, the audience realizes Billy is passing through moments of time, no beginning, middle or, end of his life. Through Vonnegut’s diction, his placing of imagery, and use of symbolism develops the theme that time has no past, present or future.
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