Vonnegut, in Slaughterhouse-Five, claims that time is relative. He claims that everything exists in different states across time. He does this narrating through the perspective of Billy Pilgrim, who is a soldier in the Second World War. Billy Pilgrim is captured by the Germans, and as his capture takes place, his first instance of bending time happens, and he sees and experiences his whole life in one sweep. Later, Billy is being shipped in a crowded German POW rail car. Once he arrives at the camp, he suffers a breakdown and gets a shot of morphine, which induces another round of time tripping. Billy and his fellow POWs move on to Dresden, which is a pristine city untouched by the war. One night, Dresden is carpet bombed by the Allies using incendiary “fire-bombs”, which obliterate the city and suck all the oxygen out of the air, which kills every living thing, but Billy and his fellow POWs are able to survive by shacking up in an airtight meat locker. To skip forward in the plot, Billy is kidnapped by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore, who explain to him the relativity of time, and with their help, Billy realizes that he exists throughout every time point of his life, and not just in what they perceive as “the present”. Through this realization, Billy makes a recording of the exact time and place and manner of his death, and the book ends on a positive note, with Billy saying that though he will experience the “violent hum” of human death, he will never truly die. He will just continue existing at a point in time where he is still alive.
It is at this point, that I take issue with Vonnegut’s idea of time. For me, Vonnegut ruins what could have been a perfectly good premise for hopeless optimism. Vonnegut’s idea of the perception time is more or less a happy one. What I gather from Slaughterhouse Five, is that Vonnegut claims that time is not flowing, rather it is stagnant and it is a human-made illusion that time flows. He claims that people can jump around and relive happy periods of their lives, as time is only what you perceive it to be.
A more interesting depiction of time, according to me, is in Ray Bradbury’s 1952 story called “A Sound of Thunder.” For those of you unfamiliar with this literary brilliancy, it is a short story which talks about a company called Time Safari Inc, which in the year 2055 allows people to go back in time to hunt exotic animals, especially dinosaurs. One of the main characters of this story, Eckels, goes back in time to kill a T-rex, where his guide explains to him that in order to prevent changes in the past altering the future, they make sure to leave no trace of their being in the past, and only kill animals that have been scouted before hand and are due to die within minutes of being hunted. Hunters who do not respect these rules are heftily fined. Eckels in his enthusiasm agrees to their conditions, but freezes up when the monstrous T-rex actually appears. Confusion ensues, and his guide Travis has to kill the T-rex for him. It seems like all is right and they haven’t disturbed the past, even though Travis is furious at Eckels and threatens to kill him. When they return to the year 2055, where to their horror they realize that people talk and behave differently, and there are horrible implications of the political changes, which implies in turn that they messed up and made some mistake in the past. Eckels inspects his boots, and notices a tiny butterfly that he accidentally crushed which set in motion a series of small changes that amplified exponentially. Travis is enraged and raises his gun at Eckels, and the novel ends with the titular “sound of thunder” which implies that he killed Eckels. It makes an interesting side note that Ray Bradbury wrote about the Butterfly effect before the term the Butterfly effect was even coined.
To me, Bradbury’s perception of time seems a lot less naïve and a lot more realistic than Vonnegut’s ridiculously happy-go-lucky, optimistic viewpoint. Bradbury insinuates that time lost is in fact, time lost, and mistakes made in the past cannot simply be ignored by going back to a state of existence that occurred before the mistake happened. Conclusively, I would have to agree with Bradbury on this topic: Mistakes can, with time, amplify, and the only way to correct them is by CORRECTING them, not skipping back to a more convenient time.
“The Scourge of ‘Relatability’” by Rebecca Mead takes aim at individuals’ laziness in reading. This short article proposes that our complaints about works of art not being “relatable” are nonsensical. Mead says it is a failure of our imagination when we do not easily relate to a text or a play, and that authors do not necessarily create their works so that we can mirror ourselves against them. In summation, Rebecca Mead argues that it is silly to complain that a work is not relatable because the author of the work did not create a story intended to emulate the reader’s life.
I agree and disagree with Mead’s attack on the concept of “relatability.” I will first explain how I disagree and then proceed to explain why I agree. I disagree that it is unfair for a reader “to demand that a work be ‘relatable’.” It is perfectly justified for a reader to want to read a novel or watch a play in which the reader can relate to a character or an experience of one of the actors. Along the lines of what Sigmund Freud said, we seek to identify ourselves through imitation of another figure in works of art. Thus, the reader is justified in demanding that a work be relatable.
On the other hand, I agree with Mead that the rejection of a work due to a lack of reflection with a character is “our own failure.” We cannot give up on books, plays, or movies! There is a character in each of these forms of art with whom we can identify, and it is our job to find that character. Like Mead says, if we reject a work because we cannot identify with a character, then we are not stretching our imagination to its full potential. When we give up on a work of art, we are not willing to try hard enough. We assume a story will be cut out just for us. But if this were the case, there would need to be an infinite number of stories worldwide. I agree with Mead that we need to take a step back, realize that stories are not custom made, and then delve back in and let our creative juices flow in an effort to identify with a character.
I will now back up my agreement and disagreement to Mead’s claims with references to “The Yellow Wallpaper,” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Gilman’s text depicts a mentally insane woman who is stuck in a room decorated by yellow wallpaper. The woman is babied by her husband John, and she thinks there are women crawling in the walls, aching to be released from behind the yellow wallpaper. By the end of the story, the woman has stripped all the walls of the yellow wallpaper and has fully lost her sanity.
First, I will utilize Gilman’s story to explain the reasons I disagree with Mead’s notion that readers should not complain when they cannot identify with a character in a work of art. It is fair for a reader to want to identify with a character in a work of art because that is what we do. We find someone who lives similarly to the way we live because that excites us. In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the narrator and main character is a woman who has a mental illness and is confined in a room. Not many people can identify with this. The narrator is cared for by her husband and a woman named Jane. She is in a room of yellow wallpaper and she thinks women are crawling in this paper. Only a handful of individuals can identify with this situation. In order to be able to identify with it one must have a mental infirmity. The woman in this story goes insane over yellow wallpaper and I don’t know how many people go crazy over something this trivial. Thus, it is justified for a reader to complain that “The Yellow Wallpaper” is lacking a character which the reader can relate to. The story will not be intriguing to someone who has never felt what the narrator is feeling.
Now I will discuss why I agree with Mead that a reader is a quitter if he or she rejects a work because he or she cannot find a character to identify with. In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the reader can identify with the narrator on a broad level. Though the narrator is mentally deranged and stuck in a room of yellow wallpaper (something which does not occur in many people’s lives), the wider scope of the story is that the narrator is trapped and driven insane by something trivial. We can all identify with this, and therefore the reader needs to work harder to identify with broad themes in a work of art. While very few of us have mental illness and are trapped in a yellow room, we all have something tiny that ruffles our feathers and this is what the reader can relate to. I agree with Mead that the reader ought to work hard, stretch his or her imagination, and find at least a theme to identify with in a story before giving in. Again, a character who we perfectly identify with will not be handed to us on a silver platter. We must search for this character or what this character is going through in order to relate to a work of art.
I think growing up in a generation where we are consumed with social media and showing off everything – from what we eat to our daily selfies- we constantly crave attention and want to be relatable to our fellow peers. Personally when I think of the word relatable, I think of something that is ordinary or standard. I think being “relatable” to something has just categorized us into a narrow perspective on things. Just because you can’t sense a connection with an idea or thought doesn’t mean that its not credible. I agree with Mead’s thoughts on relatability and how rejecting a piece of work just because it doesn’t reflect us or our ideas is going to hurt yourself and be your loss because you fail to see literature from other perspectives. If we always felt like we agreed with a piece of writing, our minds would never be stimulated to question our differences.
Now looking back to all the literary pieces we read pertaining to tight spaces, there wasn’t a single one that I could fully relate to in a literal sense. For example, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, I could never relate to being an African American woman who struggles with slavery and the fight to live. However, this doesn’t mean that I think this novel isn’t credible. As you read through the novel and realize that she was abused at such a young age makes me want to not believe her life story- but I think I realized that her in order to relate to her pain I need to understand the circumstances she was in. I praise the perspective the novel is written in and although I can’t relate, I feel a strong connection of compassion for Jacobs. I believe that relatability doesn’t always have to be your mirror image, but something that you sense a connection with, have it be physical, emotional, or spiritual. If you can accept the fact that people are different than you can learn to accept that their point of view is relatable.
On a personal note, growing up as a first generation Indian I had some trouble relating to American customs. I still remember my mom giving me rice and curry for lunch rather than the usual Lunchables box. Being so young, I felt uncomfortable because I felt like I couldn’t relate to others, and felt like what I was doing was wrong. However, as I grow up I embrace my differences and realize that I will not be someone else’s definition of “normal”. I have my own identity, my own story and if people cant recognize my individuality than it’s their loss.
The Scourge of “Relatability”
Rebecca Mead establishes many different opinions on how we use “relatability” to judge literature and works of art. Mead uses her article “The Scourge of ‘Relatability’” to articulate the history of the word, the different meanings behind ‘relatability,’ the surge in the use of this word, the qualities that constitute ‘relatability,’ the difference between ‘identifying’ and ‘relating’ to a work of art, and the consequences of demanding “relatability.” I agree with Mead, when she states that the value of literature or a work of art should not be judged solely on how easily the audience can relate to the story or character, but I do not agree with how Mead places all the responsibility on the reader or audience to find ways to establish connections with the artist.
While relatability is a tool that can be used to measure the effectiveness of communication in artwork, it should not be the only means used to determine something’s value. In contrast to Mead’s belief that it is the responsibility of the audience to interpret artwork, I believe the responsibility should be evenly split between the author and audience when making connections and establishing understandings through works of art. Although I saw how important the use of tools other than “relatability” actually were in measuring the value of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” I also believe that the way Charlotte Perkins Gilman reflected on the experiences of women in the 1800s to help women relate to the narrator was crucial in getting her message across.
Although there are many points in “The Scourge of ‘Relatability’” that I can agree with, the major point that can be supported by “The Yellow Wallpaper” is the idea that the value of literature and films should be based on more than just “relatability.” When Mead talks about how relatability is wrongfully being used as the main tool to assess value, I can’t help but agree that art can still be very valuable without being relatable. “Relatability—a logism so neo that it’s not even recognized by the 2008 iteration of Microsoft Word with which these words are being written—has become widely and unthinkingly accepted as a criterion of value, even by people who might be expected to have more sophisticated critical tools at their disposal.” When reading “The Yellow Wallpaper,” I found that I could relate to the narrator due to the fact that we are both female, but could not really relate to this narrator on any other basis because of our different historical context and ethnic identities. Although I could not relate to the narrator on a cultural and historical front, I was able to use other tools like clarity and creativity to assess the overall value of “The Yellow Wallpaper.”
While I understand why Mead believes “relatability” should not be our only criterion for judging whether or not a film or piece of literature is any good, I don’t agree with the emphasis that Mead places on leaving “relatability” completely up to the audience as opposed to both the audience and the artist. According to Mead, “To reject any work because we feel that it does not reflect us in a shape that we can easily recognize—because it does not exempt us from the active exercise of imagination or the effortful summoning of empathy—is our own failure.” In order for a film or work of literature to successfully reach the reader or viewer, I think that the author must provide some sort of framework that a good majority of people can relate with through direct or indirect experiences. As the author provides the opportunity for the majority to relate to the piece, the audience must use this opportunity to dig into their life experiences to solidify this potential connection. In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Charlotte Gilman establishes a plot in which an individual is oppressed. Although men may not be able to identify with the gendered oppression faced by the narrator and women across the globe, it is their responsibility to look into their life experiences for a time when they were oppressed for perhaps another reason.
Although Mead makes a lot of claims in “The Scourge of ‘Relatability’” that I don’t particularly agree with based on my reading of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” I think she also makes many claims that effectively capture the importance of reflecting on the way we “identify” and “relate” with different texts. In many ways, artwork can be used as a mode of communication. While it is incredibly important for artists to relay their messages in ways that the audience can try to understand, the ability of the audience to make their own personal connections to a piece of art is what ultimately leads to a sense of value and appreciation.
Rebecca Mead, staff writer for The New Yorker, writes the article, “The Scourge of Relatability.” The purpose of Mead’s article is to analyze overtime the term “relatability” and to question “[w]hat are the qualities that make a work ‘relatable,’ and why have these qualities come to be so highly valued?” She remarks:
“Since Freud theorize[s] the process of identification – as a means whereby an individual develops his or her personality through idealizing and imitating a parent or other figure – the concept has fruitfully been applied to the appreciation of the arts. Identification with a character is one of the pleasures of reading, or watching movies, or of seeing plays, though if it is where one’s engagement with the work begins, it should be where critical thought ends.”
Mead concludes that artists do not need to target or connect with their audience; however, it is the responsibility of the audience to reflect and think critically of the artist’s work. I both agree and disagree with her points. That said, I disagree with her first point. I think artists/writers/actors/TV and radio hosts etc. should think about their message and their intended target audience so that their delivery comes across powerfully, successfully, and genuinely. It is a disservice, in my opinion, for an artist/writer/actor/ TV and radio hosts etc. to simply write without any attempt to connect to someone. Ignoring the audience does not result in a win-win situation. For me, regardless of the forum used, the message is critical; the message should not be spoon fed to me but should make me think, reflect, and to challenge my personal views. Otherwise, why write? Moving on, I agree with the second point. It is important for the viewer/listener/reader to connect with what the person is trying to convey. The audience does not need to relate to the character but should attempt to walk in that person’s shoes. In other words, the audience should attempt to venture outside of the box. The process of stepping out of the box and into another person’s shoes enables someone to open their eyes more clearly and broadly and to think more freely and tolerantly. Gaining a new perspective by looking beyond relatability stimulates personal growth.
This new, perspective experience – looking beyond the relatability of the character(s) – happened to me after reading Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs. First off, I am not the intended target audience, a white northern woman during the time of slavery in the United States. Despite the fact that I’m not the intended audience, I am still able to relate to Jacob’s poignant themes and messages about abandonment, suffering, and freedom. It is a combination of these themes and messages as well as Jacob’s determination and her relentless desire for hope that surpasses the lack of relatability of her character, Linda Brent. Jacobs teaches universal truths about will power and self-belief as well as spurs political activism. From her writings about the harsh and the brutal conditions of slaves, I am able to connect more clearly with the abuses of others. The Life of a Slave Girl encourages me to question the morality and humanity of what is going on around me. Sadly, Ira Glass declaring “Shakespeare sucks” because “Shakespeare is not relatable, unemotional” misses the poignant point of reading/studying/watching Shakespeare and learning from it. In my opinion, it is not important to relate to Richard III per say but to identify right from wrong and freewill from fate as well as identifying and relating to the other themes and messages of justice, power, and manipulation. These concepts are not only pertinent today but also are relatable today. Again, similar to Richard III, it is not critical for me to see myself in the same mirror as the characters in the “Twelfth Night;” however, what is important is the concept that things are not what they seem.
It is hard for me to imagine that many people can personally relate to a person that lived over 500 years ago. However, their experiences, feelings, hopes, purpose, and legacies should be shared regardless of a personal connectivity. It is their message that is purposeful not their relatability.
I challenge you to think about your favorite book or movie. What are some characteristics that make it your favorite? How would you describe it to your friends? Is it funny, intense, intriguing? What would you say about the character development? Are the characters easy to connect with? Relatable?
In reading “The Scourge of ‘Relatability’” by Rebecca Mead, many interesting points are brought up about reliability in films and novels. According to the article, many would agree that one defining characteristic of a “good” verses a “bad” movie or book is how relatable it is. For example, critics will rave about movies that are easy to connect with, that tug on our heartstrings, such as those with romance. The article uses the example of movies based off of John Green books. Which the overall theme of young love is always present. An example from class is the movie, The Breakfast Club. Many of us have been through high school, and have seen the different groups with their specific interests. Maybe we haven’t met people from other groups while sitting in detention, but we can relate to the students and their personal stories. Many of the themes within the movie we can connect with, such as the pressure of social acceptance, the high expectations of authority figures, or the task of trying to define yourself. This movie has stood the test of time, and personally I think it is due to the relatability of the characters and their situations. Personally, I agree that many of the books and movies I enjoy are those that are in someway relatable to my life. In being able to, not only be sympathetic with the characters, but also empathetic you as the reader or viewer are able to establish a deep relationship with the characters.
This being said, Mead does present an interesting point. The characteristic of “relatability” is relatively new. The word “relate” has changed meanings over the years. Specifically, Mead brings up how during “Shakespearean time” relate meant “something that could be told” or “connected to another thing”. Recently, the meaning has been transformed into more of a personal definition. We say things are relatable when the reader or viewer can see themselves and empathize with the character or situation.
As much as we enjoy the feeling of connectedness through movies and books, aren’t there some times when we enjoy ones we don’t connect with, just as much? Mead argues that fabricating “relatability” as a criteria for some work to be “good” is very limiting. To an extent I disagree, however I do also agree with this. As an audience, we can’t always connect to the situation, but rather the circumstances may provoke us to see something in a different light, or to learn about a new experience. An illustration of this is Incidence in the Life of a Slave Girl. Jacobs writes this book with the correct notion that her audience would not be able to directly connect with her experiences. Sure, to an extent we can sympathize with her, but we will never truly know the horrendous predicaments she describes. We cannot say we have been treated maliciously as a slave, whipped, beaten, sexually abused. Despite not being able to directly relate with Jacobs, many (including myself) found this book to be “good”. Although it wasn’t “relatable” it was very thought provoking and eye opening.
Mead’s article looks at “relatability” in a completely negative way. I agree with her point, that sometimes relatability isn’t everything and that we cannot always judge the quality of a work by how much we connect with it. However, relatability is not a negative thing either. In saying this, we should be wary of how quick we are to judge a work and shouldn’t base our opinions on merely the “relatability” of it.
Conveniently the blog post is illuminating the theme of time and religion, something I could not help but wonder about while reading Slaughterhouse Five. I am a Protestant Christian, Episcopalian to be exact. But what does that mean for my understanding of time? As a Christian I think about time linearly. I live this life, time goes on, I die, and then hopefully I am rewarded with heaven, whatever that means I can’t tell you. What reading Slaughterhouse Five made me think about was time in a circle. Over and over living your same life. Your choices are concrete and exist in time independent of your “will”. So where does this concept leave me with respect to my religion. If time is circular what incentive is there to act a certain way? Why be a good person? But then again ever moment is already dictated so if you are a bad person its who you always were and its who you always will be. Then where does that leave prayer? Prayer, the act of asking a higher being for some type of change or blessing would seem pointless. Whatever the future is cannot be changed, it is what it is, there can be no higher power changing your future.
Slaughterhouse Five impacted me immensely. Much more than I expected. It is now one of my favorite books, but with that said it scares me. Do I have no choice in the direction of my life? My chest is tightening even thinking about that. But why should it? Shouldn’t the knowledge that I have no control over my fate provide me with a sense of relief? A sense that I can let go of all anxiety regarding the future and just live. Be who I am. I think the finality of time as its described in Slaughterhouse Five is what I struggle with.
I believe as humans, we crave control. We crave the knowledge that whoever I am today, I can be a new person tomorrow. But Slaughterhouse Five refutes that. Who you are is who you are, who you were, and who you always will be. So then I suppose you have to ask yourself are you ok with that? Are you trusting enough of yourself to come to the realization you are this moment is all you have? In a strange way Slaughterhouse Five is really about coming to terms with who you are, where you have been, and where you are going. Without the ability to choose a slice of time to live in, or go back and change mistakes you must live and relive every single moment of your life. Every mistake, every success, is always going to be there.
Given all the above, where do I stand in relation to God? We Christians are constantly told we are not finished products, we have the power to change, to become better, to take control of our future. But do you? Or do you simply enjoy the illusion you can alter your fate? If time is what the tralfmadorians say it is, the answer is the latter. Is it possible though that you might not have control over your actions but you have control over your soul or intention? You do what you do, but you can do so gracefully or barbarically. You can live with joy in your heart or you can live with hatred. Fear or optimism. That’s how I rationalize my religion with tralfmadorian time. Yes, maybe my fate is decided, but my soul is my own and that allows me to become who I chose.
During my senior year of high school I took a course called “World Religions”. Over the four months in which the course ran, we studied five religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Out of all the things that I learned during the semester, the thing that resonated with me the most was the Hindu concept of time. In Hinduism, with each cycle of life we move closer to enlightenment. The number of cycles that you must pass through is dependent on karma. Once you have overcome karma, your body doesn’t need to pass onto another form and you are free to reach the kingdom of God. In this kingdom, time doesn’t exist. Time is a cyclical function of life and death; without the life and death cycle; there is no need for time.
In his book Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut establishes the possibility of being “unstuck in time”. His protagonist, Billy Pilgrim is known for becoming “unstuck” and time traveling at random to different points in his life. Billy has no control over this and seems to accept his fate. The concept of time falls under a theme that is applied to many aspects of life in the novel: letting things be. Vonnegut shows us that death is inevitable, being abducted by aliens certainly is inevitable, and time is not something that can be controlled. Billy understands that the events of his life are unchangeable and decides to buckle up and enjoy the ride.
This concept of time relates to the Hindu conception in that they both are cyclical to some extent. In Vonnegut’s book, there is no linear pattern to Billy’s life, just events that he visits like places on a map. In Hinduism, the events of one life are insignificant; it’s about the cycle. You could move forward or backward on the cycle of time depending on karma. The key difference between these two ideas is that for Vonnegut, although time changes, the facts will always remain the same. You will always die in the same way, you’ll always marry the same person, and there’s no reason to waste energy trying to change things that are set in stone. In Hinduism, you can manipulate aspects of your cycle depending on behavior. With good behavior, you can make your journey to enlightenment shorter or you may be reborn into a better life. With bad behavior, you can move backwards in the cycle.
In both of these understandings, time is fluid. It does not follow the linear model that we are so accustomed to. Vonnegut and Hindu scholars aren’t the only ones who reject this strict idea of time. It’s very much a Western idea that each day will pass by with 24 hours, each week with 7 days, and nothing in the universe will change it. The truth of the matter is, time is imaginary. Someone had to sit down and make up how long a second was or how many hours to put in a day. The restrictions that we feel based on time are all societal constructions. “There’s just not enough time in the day” is a common saying in Western culture, but in reality there’s as much time as you want. In Hinduism, God is the only one that is truly timeless. Once you’ve come to understand the nature of the universe, you will also be freed from the restrictions of time. In Slaughterhouse Five, the Talmadorians, the aliens that abduct Billy, are also free from the barriers of time. They experience everything simultaneously and in many dimensions. What both of these concepts seem to be telling us is that time is merely a human fantasy. Once we see past ourselves and are aware of the bigger picture, time will cease to exist.
1. Explain at least one idea about time offered by Slaughterhouse-Five. Compare that to the way time works in another piece of fiction (book, movie, etc.) or within a particular philosophical, scientific, or religious system. What do you learn from the comparison?
Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five details the experiences of Billy Pilgrim, a man “unstuck in time,” continuously traveling back and forth through time, experiencing his life in non-chronological order. While the topic itself is unique, time-travel is used heavily throughout popular culture, appearing everywhere from movies, such as Back To The Future, to TV shows, like LOST and Doctor Who. Despite its occurrences in all of these forms of media, time travel is never the same, with each appearance having its own set of rules and features. The four occasions above follow at least one of the following rules: 1. The person, themself, travels through time (Marty McFly in B.T.T.F., The Doctor in Doctor Who, The main characters in LOST), 2. The person’s consciousness travels through time (Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse-Five, Desmond Hume in LOST), 3. Time can be rewritten (B.T.T.F., Doctor Who, LOST), and 4. Time is immutable (Slaughterhouse-Five, LOST (contains both)). Kurt Vonnegut’s usage of Billy’s consciousness traveling and having an unchangeable timeline creates a future that is set in stone, creating a non-paradoxical world, unlike the other above-mentioned usages.
When introducing a world where time travel both exists and can affect the timeline, problems and paradoxes present themselves. In Back To The Future, Marty McFly travels back to 1955, a time where he had never existed prior, and meets his mom who begins to fall in love with him, thus disrupting the timeline. While this is a fantastic plot for a Sci-Fi Comedy movie, it creates an unexplainable, circular paradox: If Marty travels back in time and disrupts the meeting of his parents, he will never be born, which means there will be no Marty to travel back in time to disrupt the meeting of his parents.
Doctor Who prevents paradoxes by describing certain time periods as “fixed points in time.” Some moments in time can be changed if they don’t affect the future greatly, such as the death of an insignificant character. Fixed points, however, include the death of The Doctor, or the destruction of the universe. The Doctor simply cannot travel back in time and change those, as the universe would create a paradox far worse than the occurrence.
LOST explains it as “course correction” and that “Whatever happened, happened.” Despite the efforts of all of the main characters when they travel back in time, they cannot change the timeline, and were always destined to reach the island. The only character that can change his or her own timeline is Desmond Hume, for reasons unknown, other than him being “special.” Rather than time traveling as a person, Desmond’s consciousness moves in time. His mind goes to where his body already exists, allowing him to experience events over, rather than for the first time. Desmond’s ability, however, only allows him to change how something happens, rather than something occurring in general. He decides to buy the ring for his girlfriend after not doing so originally, but his girlfriend still leaves him due to the universe “course correcting” itself.
Slaughterhouse-Five prevents the above problems by creating time traveling more as a “life flashing before your eyes” experience for Billy, rather than actually traveling through time and space. Billy can only react to his life as if he were watching a movie of it; he has no power to affect what happens in the slightest sense. Billy’s time traveling is akin to Desmond’s in the sense that it is his consciousness doing the traveling, and not his body; in essence, he never travels to a time where he didn’t exist. This also creates a paradox-free world where he never has to worry about running into himself in a location, as he is inside of the sole body that existed at the time. No incidents occur in this world that can occur in the worlds of Back To The Future, Doctor Who, or LOST.
In his novel Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut cleverly creates a world where the protagonist can drift freely in a non-chronological world without suffering the paradoxical consequences that come with most time-traveling stories.