To most people today, aliens are seen as creatures made up in a short story of a Goosebumps novel in order to scare young children. To others, aliens are real and out there, living far off on another planet. What if they were real? What if there were aliens out there who knew more about earth then those who live on it? What if there were aliens out there who knew what the future would hold? In Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, “Slaughterhouse Five”, there are aliens, better known as tralfamadorians, that do exist and serve many purposes.
Through the characterization of the tralfamadorians, Vonnegut expresses his own views and opinions on time, fate and free will, and memory. He does so by direct use of these aliens, them being his voice in the novel. Their ideas of time, fate and free will are stemmed from inside Vonnegut and his ideas on those parts of life. Through the tralfamadorians ideas of time, the readers see that Vonnegut himself believes that the human interpretation of time is constricted to just a sliver, a single moment.
Vonnegut also uses the tralfamadorians to show that his beliefs in fate are stronger then his beliefs in free will. First, through Vonneguts use of the tralfamadorian’s perception of time, it is shown that the author believes that humans, or “earthlings”, are restricted in regards to time. They are only being able to see a single moment, and once that moment passes it is forever gone. Tralfamadorians, unlike humans, are able to see time as a whole. They can see the past, present and future all at once, whereas humans can only see the now, a single moment.
Vonnegut clearly demonstrates his view on time through the tralfamadorian tour guide’s metaphor of a human being having “his head encased in a steel sphere which he could never take off. There was only one eyehole through which he could look, and welded to that eyehole were six feet of pipe” (115). The author’s use of this metaphor paints a clear picture to the reader’s of how time is perceived to humans in comparison to how time is perceived to tralfamadorians. Humans are stuck in a single moment of time, it passing as quickly as it comes.
The tralfamadorians are able to see every moment all at once, just like when they read, they “read [symbols] all at once, not one after the other” (88) as humans do. By putting the human perception of time in juxtaposition with the tralfamadorian perception of time, Vonnegut conveys to his readers his idea that humans are stuck too much in the now and should be less present-minded. Vonnegut also uses the tralfamadorians to present his ideas of fate. Again through juxtaposition, Vonnegut compares the human belief in free will to the tralfamadorian belief in fate.
Because fate always overcomes free will with the tralfamadorians, the readers see that Vonnegut believes that human’s idea of free will is all just an illusion. Since humans are stuck in one moment of time and cannot see the in to the future, they have created an idea that they have free will and power over their actions. The tralfamadorians think that this idea is sad, which is Vonneguts way of using satire to make fun of humanity. When Billy Pilgrim discusses the end of the universe with the tralfamadorians, they inform him that it is a human being who ends it.
This is another way that the author shows how humans think they are overpowering and intelligent above their means. Billy, being a human believing in free will and the power of actions, asks why the tralfamadorians can’t stop it. Their answer depicts a pure and real belief in fate, and the fact that it will always win, because the human “has always pressed [the button], and he always will. We always lets him and we always will let him. The moment is structured that way” (117).
The tralfamadorians also explain how they had “visited thirty-one inhabited planets in the universe, and [they] have studied reports on one hundred more [yet still,] only on earth is there any talk of free will” (86). It is through this comparison of earth and other planets in the universe that Vonnegut show’s his readers that humanity’s idea of free will is absurd and a mere illusion, fate is what the universe is made up on. Tralfamadorians also hold a different view on memory then human’s do. For them, memories do not really exist since they can return to any given moment whenever the wish to.
They can feel all the emotion that was felt, sense everything around them, whereas a human can only feel and sense a single moment as they are currently in it, they cannot physically return to it like a tralfamadorian can. The tralfamadorians also try to show Billy how important it is to remember only the good memories, to “spend eternity looking at pleasant moments” (117). Throughout the entire novel, the ideas of the tralfamadorians seem to have been adopted from the ideas of Vonnegut himself, but in this case it may differ.
The tralfamadorians say to “ignore the awful times” (117), yet Vonnegut’s novel is based on an awful time. Through this, the reader may see that Vonnegut does not entirely agree with that particular belief that the tralfamadorians hold. Had he believed that one must forget the bad memories and “concentrate on the good ones” (117), he would not have written a book based on a bad memory. In regards to the ideas and beliefs of memory, Vonnegut may be using the tralfamadorians to express what he wishes humanity could do, but in reality, all memories, both good and bad, are carved in stone in our minds.
In conclusion, through the ideas and beliefs of the tralfamadorians in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five,” the author expresses his opinion on time, fate, free will, and memory. The readers see that Vonnegut believes humans are too stuck in the moment and present-minded, that fate will always overpower humanity’s illusion of free will and that humans should be able to ignore all the bad memories and focus only on the good ones, reliving them whenever one pleases.