A Quote on Adversity

"Adversity is the state in which man most easily becomes acquainted with himself, being especially free of admirers" -John Wooden

Monday, March 31, 2014

Destiny's Darling: The Challenges within Slaughterhouse Five

The life of Billy Pilgrim is a life of suffering. The “hero” of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five is seemingly running into adversity at every turn.  Whether it is the Firebombing of Dresden, abduction by aliens, or spastic time travel Billy Pilgrim is in a perpetual state of suffering. Despite all these unfortunate events, Pilgrim somehow finds the resolve to prevail. He draws on the past present and future to beat the challenges in front of him to ultimately stare down misfortune and win. Pilgrim’s victories can also be attributed to the man who created him, Kurt Vonnegut. This is because he is Vonnegut’s grand literary mechanism and proverbial looking glass through which the atrocities of war can be glimpsed. He serves too much of a higher purpose to not fail. In essence, Billy Pilgrim is a darling of destiny.

Vonnegut’s protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, has been blessed-or cursed-with the amazing ability to time travel. Although, it is not at his own command as to when he can travel or as to where Pilgrim finds himself moving back and forth in time. This proves to be extremely advantageous for Pilgrim because it fosters resolve and strengthens his will. He has seen the full scope of his life and fully comprehends the path in front of him. In essence, he can see the dawn of an amazing,rejuvenating day in the pitch black of night. One example would be Billy’s death. Billy, having several times experienced his death, is comfortable with the prospect of his demise: “It is time for me to be dead for a little while-and then live again,” (Vonnegut 143). Although this may be viewed as failure in the face of adversity, it is not. There is something graceful and wise about Billy’s words. He is not fighting death nor time. He is simply greeting death as an old friend and going graciously into the night. His words evoke a comparison to Jesus, who conquered adversity despite dying. Billy Pilgrim has all the answers to the test in Vonnegut’s novel. However, it would not be the same impactful novel without this trait. It keeps Billy resilient and moving forward at all times. It allows him to stare down the barrel of the challenges that face him and not blink.

Another aspect of Billy’s triumph in the misery is the fact that he is Vonnegut’s mechanism against war. Pilgrim serves a key role throughout the entirety of Slaughterhouse Five and not just because he is the protagonist. Vonnegut needs Pilgrim. He needs him so that he can deliver his anti-war message. Billy is Vonnegut’s vessel and looking glass. A bridge between the world of fiction and reality. It can be contended, however, that this case can be made with all the protagonists of every piece of literature ever put into print, with Pilgrim it is different. It is different because Pilgrim survives despite greeting death at every turn. For example, he is one of two survivors in a massive plane crash, then is able to survive the severe skull fracture caused by the crash, and this is all wrapped together with the fact that he survived one of the deadliest bombing in the history of war. The odds of surviving one of those is infinitesimally small, let alone all three. He is always finding himself in an increasingly bleak state, yet somehow is able to beat the odds and escape. This pattern is not coincidental in the slightest. It is Vonnegut at work, preserving his dear character til the bitter end. Without Pilgrim, the book falls apart. It loses any connection between fiction and truth with the loss of Pilgrim. For example Pilgrim’s interactions with the Tralfamadorians contributes heavily to the anti-war theme in the book. None of which could ever be realized without Pilgrim. Billy’s victory against adversity is not all attributed to himself. He had a little bit of help, but sometimes it is better to lucky than good.

Billy Pilgrim is a literary character for the ages. Although he is not the hero commonly seen in literature, he is the hero the book deserves. His ability to conquer adversity is uncanny because it is unique in every way. He is the exception to the rule that heroes must seize victory in a flashy, epic climax. Pilgrim seemingly gets lucky and somehow is able to seize adversity. He is winning ugly. Plus it doesn't hurt to have the author on your side.

No comments:

Post a Comment