Seminar Prewrite
Billy Pilgrim is a middle-aged man living in the mid-1900's, primarily in his hometown,
Ilium, New York. Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time, causing him to travel
uncontrollably to and from various events in his life. Billy is an optometrist who has become
enlisted in World War 2 as an American soldier. When he arrives in Belgium from America,
he is almost immediately taken as a prisoner of war by the Germans and is taken to a POW
concentration camp. Right before he is taken as prisoner, he experiences his first shift in
time; this is when Billy discovers his ability to time travel. He sees his entire life instantly:
past, present, and future, all at once. He heads to Dresden, and then a firestorm is sent over
the town, incinerating thousands of people. He survives the attack, along with many other
fellow soldiers, because they are locked in an airtight meat locker. Billy returns to Ilium,
and meets Valencia, an obese, rich woman to whom he gets engaged to for her money. On
the night of their wedding, Billy is kidnapped by plunger-like aliens, known as
Trafalmadorians. He goes to Trafalmador, where the aliens seem to explain everything to
him; how there is no purpose of dwelling on the past or future, because everything is always
happening at once – it always will happen, it always has happened, and always does happen.
Billy gets in a plane crash, and he is the only optometrist to survive. He goes to the hospital,
and as Valencia hears of his crash, she goes to the hospital to see him. While en route, she
crashes, but continues on to the hospital. In the parking lot of the hospital, she dies of
accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. Billy already knows how he will die; in 1976, after
Chicago has been bombed by the Chinese. It has happened, it does happen, and it always
will happen.
2. I think intertwining science fiction into the story creates for a more entertaining storyline
and may also explain some of Vonnegut's beliefs and thoughts. For example, he talks about
how the Trafalmadorians taught Billy Pilgrim their knowledge about time and life.
Everything always has happened, always does happen, and always will happen, no matter
what. I think this explains that Vonnegut believes in pre-determined fate, and to explain his
thoughts in a sensible way through a war novel with just average story telling would have
been a challenge. Introducing aliens and time travel helped justify his beliefs, and created a
more interesting story to enjoy.
3. A) Page 117, Paragraph 5 : “He always has pressed it, and he always will. We always let
him and we always will let him. The moment is structured that way.” I think this passage is
important because it reflects Vonnegut's beliefs of fate - almost the whole story is somewhat
based on this quote to a certain extent, because when Billy time travels, he experiences
moments that always have happened, always will happen, and will never change.
B) Multiple pages, no certain paragraph: “So it goes.” This is an important passage in the
book, because no matter what person passes away, from a famous political figure to German
soldier, all deaths are of equal importance - they are inevitable; they always have happened
in a certain way, and always will (according to the Trafalmadorians).
C) Page 167, Paragraph 4: “Trout, incidentally, had written a book about a money tree. It
had twenty-dollar bills for leaves. Its flowers were government bonds. Its fruit was
diamonds. It attracted human beings who killed each other around the roots and made very
good fertilizer.” The production and want of things, items, stuff, objects – the greed of it all
is what makes our world seem to go round; people kill each other over power and money
daily, especially in war.
D) Page 101, Paragraph 5: “I think you guys are going to have to come up with a lot of
wonderful new lies, or people just aren't going to want to go on living.” This statement
shows that propaganda, lies, and deceit seem to keep things moving on; advertisements, for
example, deceive people all the time, yet somehow still lure in paying customers from all
E) Page 77, Paragraph 3: “Well, here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of this
moment. There is no why.” This quote is important because it helps explain that everything
has a specific time and place; it always has happened, and it always will happen – this
situation was unchangeable and inevitable for Billy.