Billy Pilgrim has not come unstuck in time; Billy has become a victim of violent warfare. Common to many soldiers of war, he has witnessed such horrific events during the bombing of Dresden that he has acquired Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In order to avoid the reality of his cruel life and of the war, Billy has become dependant on escapism. Through escapism he has created the planet of Tralfamadore and the Tralfamadorians. Billy Pilgrim has become a victim of PTSD after having served in the military during World War Two.
Although not officially diagnosed until the 1980s, the mental disorder had been terrorizing its victims throughout history. One will understand Billy Pilgrim inevitably suffers from this disorder when one discovers what it is to have PTSD: “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened. Traumatic events that may trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, or military combat.
People with PTSD have persistent frightening thoughts and memories of their ordeal and feel emotionally numb, especially with people they were once close to. They may experience sleep problems, feel detached or numb, or be easily startled. ” Billy Pilgrim epitomizes a victim of this mental disorder. Throughout his life, beginning with his near death experienced when his father used “the method of sink-or-swim”(43) and tossed Billy into the deep end of the pool, Billy has experienced many traumatic events that could have triggered the effects of PTSD.
The first sign of his symptoms became evident behind enemy lines when Billy was attacked by a fellow soldier: “Billy was down on all fours on the ice, and Weary kicked him in the ribs, rolled him over on his side. Billy tried to form himself into a ball” (51). In reaction “Billy was involuntarily making convulsing sounds” (51). Billy’s mental disorder is deep rooted. However, Billy most evidently suffers because of the bombing of Dresden. He witnessed the effects of one of the most horrific and unnecessary military assaults in the history of the United States.
Furthermore, during his stay in Dresden, Billy witnessed an equally evastating scene when “poor old Edgar Derby” was killed by a firing squad for stealing a teapot form the rubble of Dresden, and Billy had to dig his grave. The murder of his mentor and leader had an equivalent effect on his mental health as the bombing of Dresden. Billy was unable to cope with the loss of Derby with whom he had become good friends. The aftermath of these events is catastrophic throughout the life of Billy Pilgrim. Billy became emotionally numb. Because of the war he failed to have a relationship with his wife or his son and did not try to deter him from going to war despite his own experiences.
Furthermore, what Billy perceives as time travelling is merely “frightening thoughts and memories” from the war from which he seems emotionally detached. Billy constantly refuses to talk bout the war despite his wife’s best efforts. Billy’s symptoms of PTSD are also evident when he sleeps. In order to calm his anxiety Billy has to use “Magic Fingers”(62), a vibrating electrical blanket that helps him fall asleep. Billy also gets nightmares, because when he falls asleep in the boxcar in Germany that is taking him to a prisoner’s camp, the other prisoners refuse to sleep next to him due to his whimpering and kicking.
Every so often, for no apparent reason, Billy Pilgrim would find himself weepeing” (61). He is not in control of his emotions. Billy was also easily startled. When a siren went off “that was simply announcing high noon” (57) and “scared the hell out of him”(57), ‘he was expecting World War Three at any time”(57). Billy Pilgrim’s life is one that outlines the life of someone suffering from PTSD. Because of his experiences in Dresden, Billy has become emotionally and mentally unstable, but not insane and exhibits textbook symptoms of one suffering from PTSD.
Billy’s acquisition of this harmful mental disorder led him to create a fantasy world where “everything was beautiful and nothing hurt”. Since the first time Billy claimed to have come unstuck in time while in the forest leaning against a tree, he has depended on an alternate reality in which he has created a new life for himself to avoid thoughts of the horrific events he witnessed while in Dresden. Although Billy claims that he was abducted by the Tralfamadorians, in reality, he was captured by the Germans. The reason that the Tralfamadorians exist is so that Billy can escape from the harsh reality of being a prisoner of war.
Although separate in Billy’s conscience, the Nazis and the Tralfamadorians are interchangeable. Billy’s adventures on Tralfamadore all have significant and undeniable connections to his life: “He came to in what he thought might be a building on Tralfamadore. It was shrilly lit and lined with white tiles. It was on Earth, though. It was a delousing station through which all new prisoners had to pass. Billy did as he was told, took off his clothes. That was the first thing they told him to do on Tralfamadore, too” (83). Billy constructed Tralfamadore from his personal experiences in order to shield himself from reality.
The building reminded him of Tralfamadore because that building was the basis of his imagined fantasy world. To cope with the humiliation Billy faces when the Germans “laughed and laughed” (90) at his appearance, Billy manipulated the situation, imagining he was being observed by the Tralfamadorians in his artificial habitat. Comparisons are also evident through similarites in attitudes of both Germans and Tralfamadorians alike. When first abducted, Billy asks the Tralfamadorians “why me? ” (76) and the little green aliens respond “why us for that matter? Why anything? Because this moment simply is” (77).
Equivalent to this when an American prisoner asks the Nazi guard why he beat him, the guard responds “vy you? Vy anybody? ”(91). Billy’s life on Tralfamadore is parallel to his real life. Furthermore, Billy, unable to confront the atrocities he has experienced, resigns himself to the Tralfamadorian philosophy that he has no control over his life and vicariously escapes through the novels of Kilgore Trout and time-traveling hallucinations. “The name of the book was The Big Board. He got a few paragraphs into it, and then he realized that he had read it before- years ago, in the veterans’ hospital.
It was about an Earthling man and woman who were kidnapped by extra-terrestrials. They were put on display in a zoo on a planet called Zircon-212” (201). Billy has unarguably discovered Tralfamadore through the literary works of Kilgore Trout. His story is so identical that the only altered detail is the name of the planet. His mate on Tralfamadore is also formulated from his personal experiences: “A jaded sailor stepped away from a movie machine while the film was still running. Billy looked in, and there was Montana Wildhack alone on a bed, peeling a banana”(205).
Because Billy is also trying to hide from his present life, he imagines that a young actress is stuck on Tralfamadore as well. Billy married Valencia because she is rich, not because he is attracted to her or loves her. Valencia is overweight and unattractive and so Billy imagines that he is being held captive with the lovely Montana Wildhack, yet another form of Billy’s escapism. Furthermore, when Billy reads that Montana has probably been murdered he laughs because he “knew where Montana Wildhack really was, of course. She was back on Tralfamadore taking care of the baby”(204).
Billy is clearly not unstuck in time because it was never explained how he was allowed to return to Earth and Montana was still captive on Tralfamadore Billy is so haunted by the events of his past that he decides to create the Tralfamadorian concept of life in which he thinks that he is not responsible for anything, has no control over anything and only visits the happy moments in his life. This comforts Billy because he feels guilty for his inability to take action throughout the war and with this attitude he is able to avoid any blame or shame he may feel otherwise.
In his critical essay, David L. Vanderwerken explicates Billy’s mindset: Simply, it frees man from responsibility and from moral action. If all is determined, if there is no why, then no one can be held accountable for anything, neither Dresden nor My Lai. In his personal life, Billy's indifference and apathy toward others are clearly illustrated. Chapter Three offers three consecutive examples of Billy's behavior: he drives away from a black man who seeks to talk with him; he diffidently listens to a vicious tirade by a Vietnam Hawk at his Lions Club meeting; he ignores some cripples selling magazine subscriptions.
Yet the Tralfamadorian idea that we can do nothing about anything fully justifies Billy's apathy. When Billy preaches this dogma as part of his "calling," he does a great service for the already apathetic by confirming their attitude; he provides them with a philosophical base for their apathy. By exercising one's selective memory, by becoming an ostrich, one may indeed live in a world where everything is beautiful and nothing hurts. Perfect. No wonder Billy is a successful Comforter; he has fulfilled Eliot Rosewater's request that "new lies" be invented or "people just aren't going to want to go on living”.
His acceptance of this misguided philosophy leads to his eventual death. Billy could have avoided death at that particular moment but, instead, he accepted that is was his fate and decided to refute free will. By accepting the Tralfamadorian concept of life, Billy ultimately wishes his life went like this: “Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt”(122). Only in the Tralfamadorian world can one pick and choose the good moments from life to relive endlessly. The fact of the matter is that most human lives entail suffering. As a witness of terrible violence, Billy Pilgrim struggles greatly to explain how life can be so brutal and meaningless.
Billy's trauma over the war is so severe that he has to leave Earth to find comfort after all the violence he has seen. Billy Pilgrim is neither insane nor unstuck in time. Billy is merely suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and, in attempt to cope with the symptoms, has resolved to escapism from which he has created Tralfamadore and its inhabitants. Billy has escaped the harsh realities of his real life by creating an alternate universe in his mind through the literary works of Kilgore Trout and through his personal experiences.