Identity, Perception & Intersectionality

in Slaughterhouse-Five

 
“How nice - to feel nothing, and still get full credit for being alive.”
 
The inability to point out what is real and what isn't in Slaughterhouse-Five is at the core of what makes this novel unique and perhaps, I argue, is the most effective representation of what it means to be human. Society sets the rules to follow in order to be good citizens, soldiers, patriots, disciples, but as we learn from Vonnegut's work there is no such a thing as moral absolutism, as right, wrong, true or false. Nothing is firm and everything is fluid, apart from the fact that nothing is firm and everything is fluid, and how time, space, culture and perception influence each other in every moment determine who we are as individuals.

Billy Pilgrim is simultaneously a soldier, a veteran, an optometrist and a human exhibit in an alien zoo. He is both healthy and sick, a child and an old man, a preacher and a follower, a traveler and a prisoner. Billy Pilgrim, who has the power to live at all times, is the collection of all his experiences. The blurring between reality and imagination happens in Slaughterhouse-Five like it does in real life. Identity is a product of the mind which is created entirely based on perception. Identity does not need to rely upon empirical facts (if such things exist), but on the way events and encounters are interpreted. Time changes how we interpret our surroundings and surroundings change as we move through space.

By exploring the intertextual references in Slaughterhouse-Five we are transported into new realities. This resembles closely the modern relationship with technology many of us share: the books, songs, historical anecdotes and ideas we find while reading Pilgrim's story equate to the screens of our phones and computers, windows overlooking narratives that affect us and our perception of the world, whether they are real or fictional, whether we get in physical contact with them or not. Billy Pilgrim begins his journey as a weak and inexperienced soldier and dies shot as a public speaker while lecturing about flying saucers. Thanks to the ability to travel through time, Billy can foresee his death, but does nothing to avoid it. He lets go of the need to control his destiny or the hope for a better future, and accepts the events that nature has in store for him.

The mention of Darwin at the end of the novel is a hint to the fact that many characters in the novel search for self-assertion in religious institutions, in the army on in a career, but end up suffering in the same measure, or more, than who abandon faith or need for accomplishment. To place reason above God (of any kind) is to accept the fragility of nature and ultimately live with the awareness that all humans are doubtful, vulnerable and constantly changing.