Slaughterhouse-five and billy Essay

Submitted By lrb5555
Words: 1837
Pages: 8

person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist. […]” (26-27)
Valencia died of carbon monoxide poisoning due to the breakdown of her car’s exhaust system on her way to visit Billy in hospital. Billy miraculously survived the plane crash which killed all the other passengers and crew. He seems to have had much more reason to die than his wife who was in good health and only wanted to see him in hospital. Yet he survived and his wife died. Being ironically contrasted with his own lucky survival, the circumstances of Valencia’s unexpected death look all the more absurd and extravagant so that they insinuate that her existence was meaningless and insignificant enough to be lost in such a farcical way. Billy could not face this fact calmly because Valencia was important and essential to his life. To preserve the dignity of her life, therefore, he believed in such a science fictional element as the Tralfamadorian four-dimensional view, because if those who die only appear to die, he could mitigate the pain caused to him by the loss of his beloved wife as well as annul the absurdity and inhumanity of its circumstances. In this book, the absurd circumstances of Valencia’s death are juxtaposed with the devastating destruction caused by the Dresden air raid. This raid is no more acceptable to Billy than his wife’s death. At the first sight of Dresden, Billy was amazed at the old city with its cultural splendors. “It looked like a Sunday school picture of Heaven” (148). It must have seemed to him to represent human wisdom and virtues. Besides, he saw ordinary life going on there. “There were theaters and restaurants. There was a zoo. The principal enterprises of the city were medicine and food-processing and the making of cigarettes” (149). Dresden did not seem to have much to do with military action. Even those who took care of Billy and other American prisoners of the war there were either young boys or men past middle age and did not much resemble a part of the military force. As a result, the Dresden air raid seemed to Billy a meaningless military action, killing civilians and destroying a magnificent product of civilization constructed by excellent human talents and efforts. It is difficult for him to find any proper explanation for such an atrocious, indiscriminate destruction. Yet if he believes in the Tralfamadorian four-dimensional view, the many lives lost in it and the city mercilessly destroyed will exist in a better condition at another time. The Tralfamadorian view alleviates the pain accompanying the loss of too many lives and such a beautiful city. His belief is therefore a form of escapism as Merrill and Scholl perceive: “Faced with the sheer horror of life, epitomized by World War II and especially the fire-bombing of Dresden, Billy ‘escapes’ to Tralfamadore” (145). Billy’s escapism looks perfectly natural because it is a well-known psychological attempt to “reduce cognitive dissonance.” One’s mind becomes unsettled in a situation which is difficult to explain. This is the phenomenon called “cognitive dissonance” and one tends to look for an explanation to relieve the inner tension created by it. Leon Festinger, one of the most eminent psychologists in this area, describes this tendency: “The existence of dissonance, being psychologically uncomfortable, will motivate the person to try to reduce the dissonance and achieve consonance” (3). Festinger furthermore comments: “persons frequently have cognitive elements which deviate markedly from reality” (11). He observes that in an unusual situation one can easily fall into absurd reasoning without facing reality and that the more difficult the situation is to face, the more easily one retreats from reality and relies on an absurd explanation. In writing…