sleep a senile widower and awakened on his wedding day. He has walked through a door in 1955 and come out another one in 1941. He has gone back through that door to find himself in 1963. He has seen his birth and death many times, he says, and pays random visits to all the events in between.
Billy is spastic in time, has no control over where he is going next, and the trips aren’t necessarily fun. He is in a constant state of stage fright, he says, because he never knows what part of his life he is going to have to act in next. (19)
Thus what the reader confronts is a non-chronological state of events. For example chapter two begins with a short biography of Billy to the year 1967 when he is a widower, has had a radio interview and a letter published about his experience in the planet Tralfamadore. During an argument with his daughter he travels in time to the battlefield in 1944 where he was first unstuck in time; there he traveled to his pre-birth, to the unpleasant memories of his childhood with his father, to 1965 when his mother passed the way; then to the New Years’ Eve in 1961; back again in 1944 he traveled to 1957 to his office. And finally the chapter ends with his being captured by the Germans in winter of 1944.This is the case for the rest of the chapters; full of flashbacks, random travels to the life time events from his birth in 1922 to his death in 1976. Therefore the reader needs to put these scattered pieced of puzzle together in order to make a vivid image out of it.
As mentioned before the system of self-preservation for a traumatized person goes on permanent alert and the psychological arousal continues as if the danger might return at any moment (Herman, 35).One result of sucha mood is lack of concentration. In the novel slaughterhouse-Five, it’s not only Billy Pilgrims, but also the narrator of chapter one who is sufferingfrom PTSD. Billy’s being unstuck in time isanobvious proof; his time travels are also the result of lack of concentration of a narrator who is indeed suffering from the same disease.
3.3 Intrusion Elements: A Psychoanalytical Reading of Slaughterhouse-Five
3.3.1 Traumatic Narrator
The second important symptom of PTSD is intrusion in which the traumatic moment becomes encoded in an abnormal form of memory which breaks spontaneously into consciousness with all the vividness and emotional force of the original event. Traumatized people relive the event as if it was recurring in the present with flashbacks during waking states and traumatic nightmares during sleep.
I used my daughter’s crayons, a different color for each main character. The destruction of Dresden was represented by a vertical band of orange cross-hatching, and all the lines that were still alive passed through it, came out the other side.
The end, where all the lines stopped, was a beetfield on the Elbe, outside of Halle. The rain was coming down. The war in Europe had been over for a couple of weeks. We were formed in ranks, with Russian soldiers guarding us…thousands of us about to stop being prisoners of war. (5)
Writing a book about war and specifically what he had experienced in Dresden had become an obsession with the narrator since he came back from the Second World War, yet each time it was postponed due to various reasons such as his inability to recall enough memories for writing a book or others considering the subject useless, “why don’t you write an anti-glacier instead?” as Harrison Star, a movie- maker, told him (3). Therefore he always had the plan in mind but could not fulfill it.
In the quote above, he is explaining about one of the outlines of his story he had made on the back of a roll of wallpapers using colorful crayons. While he is describing the colors that signifiedthe characters and the events, all of a sudden the tense of the sentence shifts to the present and the end of his story becomes the end of the war he attended twenty years earlier which led to the end of his captivity.His descriptions of this scene continues in four paragraphs in present as if he is lost there and living at that moment and experiencing the events.
The narrator’s mind is so much obsessed with the atrocities he has witnessed at war and more specifically Dresden, that whatever he says or does is dominant by it. This is the main reason for talking about the incident in the first sentence of the first paragraph,” All this happened, more or less(1), and then he tells the reader about his return to Dresden, his intention of writing a book about Dresden and finally all the pain and anxiety he took in the process of writing about it. The word Dresden is frequently repeated in almost every paragraph, twenty-two times in the chapter. It seems like, time has stopped there and every small reminder evokes traumatic memories.
One significant example is when he is talking about his working experiences as a police reporter for the famous Chicago City News Bureau, the first story he covers is about a young veteran whose ring was caught in the ornaments of the elevator of the office he was working for, the floor of the car went down and the top squashed him. When as a reporter he was asked whether that incident had bothered him or not, his response was: “Heck no….I’ve seen lots worse than that in the war” (8). And then he continues,”Even then I was supposedly writing a book about Dresden” (8).This is an obvious example of his obsession with Dresden in every aspect of his life since war.
3.3.2 Traumatic Billy Pilgrim
The whole story of Billy Pilgrim is full of flashbacks to his unpleasant memories at war from 1944 to 1945, when he enlisted as a chaplain’s assistance, was injured in an attack, imprisoned by the Germans in Dresden and witnessed the bombardment of the city. In chapter two, three and eight, these flashbacks to are repeated for three times; in chapter six and seven, two times and the maximum of flashbacks belongs to chapter five in which he travels to the years 1944 and 1945 for five times. Some of these flashbacks happen during waking states resulted from small reminders that evoke traumatic memories; some occur as nightmare during sleep. For example when Billy was on his way to Lions Club luncheon meeting in 1967, the neighborhood of Ilium’s black ghetto reminded him of “some of the towns he had seen in the war” (48). The scenes he passed by looked like “Dresden after it was fire-bombed” (49).
In another scene while Billy was trying to sleep in his bed but was weeping instead, some crippled men rang the front door. These people were hired by a man to persuade people subscribe to magazines that were never delivered. One of these crippled men, who had only one leg, was on crutches; he was so jammed between his that his shoulder hid his ears. Observing these miserable people through his window, they appearance and the sound that their crutches made, reminded Billy of a time when he and the rest of American prisoners were being marched to their boxcars by the Germans. One of these companies was Ronald Weary who was wearing hinged clogs which had hurt his feet. The time travel Billy makes after perceiving this incident has two of the characteristics discussed above. First, it is made while he is sleeping or at least pretending to sleep and also it is evoked as the result of some reminders which are the crippled men, their crutches and the way they walked.
Billy went on weeping as he contemplated the cripples and their boss. His door chimes clanged hellishly.
He closed his eyes, and opened them again. He was still weeping, but he was beck in Luxembourg again. He was marching with a lot of other prisoners.
Weary’s eyes were tearful also. Weary was crying because of horrible pains in his feet. The hinged clogs were transforming his feet into blood puddings. (52-53)
Judith Herman’sstatement about the strength of emotions at flashbacks is quite applicable to this paragraph. She points out that” small, seemingly insig
nificant reminders can also evoke these (traumatic) memories, which often return with all the vividness and emotional force of the original event (Herman, 37). Billy’ starts weeping while observing the cripples because it reminds him of miseries he had experienced in 1944, therefore when he travels in time he finds himself weeping. Both incidents have the same emotional influence, with the same strength and the same vividness.
Sometimes this influence is so much that according to Herman” even normally safe environments may come to feel dangerous, for the survivor can never be assured that she will not encounter some reminder of the trauma” (37). Such an experience happened to Billy on his anniversary in 1964, while the barbershop quartet of optometrists was singing “That Old Gang of Mine”:
Gee, that song went, but I’d give the world to see that old gang of mine. And so on. A little later it said. So long forever, old fellows and gals, so long forever old sweethearts and pals_God bless ‘m_And so on. (142)
He gave psychosomatic responses to the changing chords; found himself upset by the song and the occasion. As the quartet continued their song, Billy was emotionally racked once again and “fled upstairs in his nice white home” (145). Since the presence of the quartet and their song reminded Billy of his memories of war and more specifically the destruction of Dresden in whichexcept for the American prisoners and their four guards few people survived. Although twenty years had passed since the incident, and Billy was now a wealthy and successful man, there were moments hecould not help thinking about his past life such as his anniversary where he felt upset and hurt. His luxurious house and the glorious party was not the place where he felt at peace because he could not tune out the annoying reminiscences of war; as a result he escaped to his bedroom found refuge in his electronic mattress. The only person he was pleased to have beside him was Spot, his dog.
Billy escaped to his bedroom, even though there were guests to be entertained downstairs. He lay down on his bed, turned on the magic fingers. The mattress trembled, drove a dog out from under the bed. The dog was spot. Good old spot was still alive in those days. (145)
3.4 Constriction Elements: A Psychoanalytical Reading of Slaughterhouse-Five
The third cardinal symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder is called constriction or numbing in which the person is completely powerless and any form of resistance is futile, therefore the patience may go into a state of surrender (Herman 42). According to Diagnostic and Statistical Manuelof Mental Disorders, a person suffering from PTSD should have three or more of the following characteristics: avoid thought, feeling about the incident; avoid activities, people and places; inability to recall; lack of interest in significant activities and finally detachment (APA, 468). This study attempts to follow some of these features both in the narrator and the main character of his story.
3.4.1 Traumatic Narrator
22.214.171.124 The Narrator’s Inability to Recall Traumatic Events
The narrator was insistent on writing a book about his experiences at war and specifically the destruction of Dresden. For him this subject was significant enough to make both a masterpiece and a good fortune out of it. Yet when he started writing, he found it more challenging than what he had expected since he could not recall memories, not enough to write a book about it.
But not many words about Dresden came from my mind then- not enough of them to make a book, anyway. And not many words come now, either, when I have become an old fart with his memories and his Pall Malls, with his sons full grown. (2)
As a result he decided to seek forhis old war buddy,and finally found him on the telephone during his night quest. It is considerable that O’Harewasalsoawake,suffering from insomnia; though he didnotshowenthusiasm