Slaughterhouse-Five, Nietszche and John Locke’s Purposeful Life

Like John Locke, protagonist Billy Pilgrim stumbles across his cosmic purpose later in life, after his wife has passed away and his children are grown. Up until this time, Billy lives an ordinary life, proving himself to be professionally successful but unfulfilled and unimpressive. He’s weak, “ridiculous” and passive, characterized as a gangly teenager, a submissive husband and a weepy father.

But at the age of 46, Billy realizes that he has been chosen to proclaim Tralfamadorian wisdom to all Earthlings. He believes he was meant to provide “corrective lenses” to those who cannot see the true nature of time which, for Tralfamadorians, is like viewing a mountain range, where all points of time can be seen at once. Billy believes that he will alleviate the suffering of humans by helping them realize that all things are predestined. Time is a loop–-everything that is happening already happened and will happen again. There is no reason to worry about the future. ( This same notion might explain John Locke’s confidence in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles on the island.)  This is also Nietzsche’s notion of the “eternal recurrence” and a common theme in more than one science-fiction television series, including FlashForward and Battlestar Galactica. In Nietzsche’s words, “This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live … innumerable times more.”  In any case, Billy Pilgrim’s single purpose in life is to spread this gospel of Tralfamadorian predetermination.

Although John Locke’s purpose is not as clear, he does share with Billy a transformation of character through the sudden epiphany of a cosmic calling. They both understand that everyone was brought to the metaphorical island for a reason, whether it’s to push a button or to kill an Other.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: