Billy licked his lips, thought a while, inquired at last: “Why me?” “That is a very
Earthlingquestion to ask, Mr. Pilgrim. Why you? Why usfor that matter? Why anything? Because this moment simply is. Have you ever seen bugs trapped in amber?
Here, Billy asks an alien called a Tralfamadorian why they abducted him, and, as a response, the alien explains their species’ view of space-time. To them, all events in time have happened and are happening simultaneously. Nothing can be changed, and nothing matters. The Tralfamadorians’ perspective illustrates the ambiguity of life: The universe exists as a random and senseless place. At the same time, despite feeling powerless, complacency doesn’t sit well with humans. The human struggle to control the uncontrollable rages on no matter how much the higher beings pity them.
“The creatures can see where each star has been and where it is going, so that the heavens are filled with rarefied, luminous spaghetti. And Tralfamadorians don’t see human beings as two-legged creatures, either. They see them as great millepedes—“with babies’ legs at one end and old people’s legs at the other,” says Billy Pilgrim.
Here, as Billy recounts how the aliens see all events at once, readers see the other purpose of the Tralfamadorians in the story: They exist to call Billy’s sanity into question. The imagery is vivid and descriptive, but also totally ridiculous. When no one believes Billy’s stories of abduction, readers can’t quite blame them, even though some of the things Billy says actually make sense. This shaky credibility is the tragic byproduct of witnessing unspeakable things.
That’s one thing Earthlings might learn to do, if they tried hard enough: Ignore the awful times, and concentrate on the good ones.
Here, the Tralfamadorians explain their approach to life, in which they can choose to look at any event and so choose to ignore everything bad. Though their cosmic perspective implies they know best, their methods result in a boring, aimless life. The Tralfamadorians’ lifestyle serves as an indictment of escapism. Human lives may ultimately mean nothing, but assigning some meaning ourselves seems worth the effort.
The vast crowd outside was delighted. All attendance records for the zoo were broken. Everybody on the planet wanted to see the Earthlings mate.
The narrator describes how Tralfamadorians occupy themselves in a meaningless universe: attending the zoo. They place Billy in an enclosure with a beautiful woman named Montana Wildhack and hope the humans will mate for the aliens’ amusement. The scene pokes holes in humanity’s self-importance. Readers might recognize the escapist tendency to distract ourselves with spectacle, and see some of humanity’s most prioritized desires, like sex and privacy, reduced to trifles by a higher power.
There isn’t any particular relationship between all the messages, except that the author has chosen them carefully, so that, when seen all at once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep.
An alien describes Tralfamadorian art to Billy, and in doing so echoes Vonnegut’s own earlier description of his aspirations for this book. The author comparing the Tralfamadorians to himself brings the story’s meta-textual overtones to the fore—like Vonnegut, the aliens are both participants and higher observers. The many levels of “higher beings” call into question whether any being stands as superior, or simply possesses a wider perspective than another.