Saturday, May 5, 2012

Flashbacks and Flashforwards in the Era of World War II

I finished reading Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five earlier this week, and thought I should share some of my thoughts on it with you guys. It's a fun little read, and it goes pretty fast. So sit tight and we'll get through this thing in a jiffy.

Slaughterhouse-Five follows the temporal story of Billy Pilgrim. I say temporal instead of chronological because, well, the story doesn't really follow a linear series of events. In fact, the only chronological set of events in the story are during Billy's time in World War II. The rest of the story is filled with flashbacks to Billy's "past" and flashforwards to his "future," though it is tough to pinpoint exactly where in his timeline he actively resides. However, more on that later.

It's now time for a quick sidebar. In writing this story, Vonnegut drew on many of his experiences as a prisoner of war during World War II. He was imprisoned in Dresden, along with the fictional character of Billy Pilgrim. In fact, Vonnegut puts himself in the story on a number of occasions, often times not interacting with the main character but simply pointing out that he was this or that person doing this or that.

Back to the stuff about the flashbacks and flashforwards and the reason why it's hard to point out where Billy is on his timeline. This may best be explained by the thought process of a race of aliens that abducted Billy Pilgrim sometime in the middle of his chronologic life. You see, the aliens see in four dimensions. To them, time and space can be mutually exclusive. When they see an object, not only do they see it in its current glory, but also in its infancy and its old age. They can see the beginning and the end and all that in between of everything.

However, this brings up one of the best questions that the book poses. If you can see the future, and know what events shall occur, what then happens to your free will? Do you not have a choice anymore? Can you idly float on through life without making choices, or must you take an active part in making the future what you know it will be?

**Like I said, it'll be over in a jiffy. Now that I'm finished with my little "brain-droppings" here, I invite you to come back next week for more short stories and another novel. Until then, keep your nose in the pages you bookworms, you.

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