There are many reasons as to why it is possible that Kurt Vonnegut’s intention in the novel Slaughterhouse Five was to portray Billy Pilgrim as a Christ-like figure even though we will never truly know. Vonnegut uses many literary devices to make the reader question Billy’s purpose.
The first instance of Vonnegut representing Billy as a Christ-like figure is Billy predicting his own death and Jesus doing so as well. When Billy is predicting his death, he “invites the crowd to laugh with him” as he talks about his death at the baseball stadium knowing that nearly an hour from then he would be shot. (Vonnegut 181) He wanted his followers to be there to hear him state how he will die. This holds a lot of similarity to how Jesus gathered his most loyal followers, the twelve disciples, for dinner to tell them about how one of them would betray him and how he was going to die soon. Another similarity between these two is how Billy’s followers did not believe him, they wanted to figure out a way to get around their leader’s death. Likewise, the disciples were in disbelief that Jesus would die and insisted that he should find a way around his crucifixion. Both Billy and Jesus tried to make it clear that their death could not be avoided, it was something that had to be done.
When Billy goes with the German, “middle-aged, scrawny corporal” without a fight is another reason why Vonnegut really may want Billy Pilgrim to appear as a Christ-like figure .(67) He is completely accepting of the fact that there is nothing he could do to get out of the adventure he is about to embark on. He does not fight because he knows that fighting will not change anything. This is parallel to how Jesus behaves in John chapter 18 in the New Testament of the Bible. He let the Roman soldiers take him, even though he knew that it would result in his own crucifixion on a cross on display in front of others. He knew it was something that he was going to have to go through whether he fought or not.
Later John chapter 19 goes on to talk about how Jesus was trapped on a cross with no way off on display in front of his friends, family, and completely random strangers. This really resembles the time Billy is abducted and held in the glass dome with no way out with Montana for “the myriads of Tralfamadorians” to see. (169) Another minor detail that is similar between Billy and Jesus is that Billy is an optometrist, an eye doctor. Jesus displayed his healing power when he healed the eyes of a blind man who could not see from the time he was born.
Although there are a good number of examples as to why Billy can be seen as a Christ-like figure, Billy did do some things that Jesus would not have done. While the number of times it happened is unclear, Billy did cheat on his wife Valencia with Montana Wildhack the “motion picture star” at least once.(168) Another difference between the two is that Billy is seen as a weak person “with a chest and shoulders like a box of kitchen matches”. (43) Jesus was not seen as a weak person. He had a peaceful strength and was known by his followers to be firm but loving.
Another point why it may be Vonnegut’s intention to portray Billy as a Christ image is when Billy “Bursts into tears” out of compassion for “the condition of his means of transportation” when speaking of the horses. (252) This is the first time in the whole war that Billy just breaks down. He is surrounded by death, killing, and war but it is the horses who were completely undeserving of the way they were treated that made him cry. This relates to the time that “Jesus wept” in John chapter 11 out of compassion for Lazarus’ sisters. Jesus did not weep over the death itself because he knew that Lazarus would soon be resurrected. He wept out of compassion for the sisters while confronting the deceased man. This is the only time in the Bible that Jesus cries and that is what makes his reaction so significant. Both characters display their compassion and humanness in these scenes.
One way that Billy and Jesus are similar is how both were average people until they are re-born. Before they are re-born they both follow their dads. Jesus followed his father, Joseph, by learning about carpentry, and Billy focused on following in his father-in-law’s footsteps with optometry. Jesus’ rebirth occurred when John the Baptist baptized him. Billy’s rebirth takes place when he first goes to Tralfamadore. Once both are re-born they start to build a group of followers who are transformed by the beliefs of these leaders.
After Jesus was baptized his life revolved around spreading the gospel and teaching others about to grace of God. After Billy first goes to Tralfamadore he starts to gain a following by spreading his thoughts that were based off things he learned from Tralfamadore like the fact “that we will all live forever”. (269) Each of their beliefs caused Jesus and Billy’s sanity to be questioned, especially because each of their teachings originated from omniscient beings. People hated Jesus because of the message that he spread, and people did not like the way his messages made them feel. Billy’s daughter thought that he was going crazy with some type of mental disease eventually causing her to get mad at him easily because the things that he often says are insane.
The way that the Tralfamadorians encouraged Billy to see things is another similarity to Jesus that Vonnegut adds. Billy says that no one is ever dead, people are just experiencing different times. Just as Jesus’ teachings said that you are never really dead. You are just not on Earth.