So it goes. Bill Pilgrim the unreliable narrator goes through fantastical episodes – from his exchanges with science fiction author Kilgore Trout to his capture by the Tralfamadorians where he has a child with pornography star Montana Wildhack – and his mental instability results in a non-linear plot progression marked by flashbacks. Despite instances of death and destruction as well as moments of horror, the irreverence of the tone further highlights the disruption of warfare and its impact upon individuals. Despite his successful post-war exploits, of working as a optimetrist and getting married with two children, the novel hints at the trauma Pilgrim continues to experience as a survivor with post-traumatic stress disorder.
With elements of science fiction, the novel also makes for an interesting read because the protagonist encounters different moments across space and time. Figuring whether the events actually transpired is not as important, as coming to terms with the persisting trauma experienced by Pilgrim. Opposed to the war and unwilling to fight from the beginning, the American soldier seems to echo Kurt Vonnegut’s view of the war and its destructiveness.
And it is during the historical events and the many accompanying deaths when war is derided, and Vonnegut’s narrative – informed by his personal experience during the Second World War – is briefly featured. Pilgrim was captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge, and he found himself under forced labour in a disused slaughterhouse in Dresden, Germany – where animals are killed for human consumption, perhaps symbolising the sub-human status of the prisoners-of-war – before he had to hide together with the German guards in a deep cellar from Allied fire-bombing in 1945. The philosophical underpinnings of the Tralfamadorians were not as well understood, but the novel to me is a sombre reminder of the ramifications of war, and the extent of human suffering it can inflict upon the living.