Slaughterhouse-Five

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Tralfamadorians Character Analysis

Small aliens with one hand and an eye in the palm, the Tralfamadorians, from the planet Tralfamadore, abduct Billy after the war and hold him captive many millions of miles from earth. They keep Billy in a zoo and observe his daily activities and interactions with Montana Wildhack, a movie star who is also abducted. The Tralfamadorians see the world in four dimensions, and to them all moments in time—past, present, and future—exist simultaneously. This informs the Tralfamadorian philosophy of life, death, war, and fate.

Tralfamadorians Quotes in Slaughterhouse-Five

The Slaughterhouse-Five quotes below are all either spoken by Tralfamadorians or refer to Tralfamadorians. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
War and Death Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Dell edition of Slaughterhouse-Five published in 1991.
Chapter 4 Quotes

Well, here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why.

Related Characters: Tralfamadorians (speaker), Billy Pilgrim
Page Number: 77
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage is another take on what it means to be in, and outside of, time. For the Tralfamadorians, time appears like the side of a mountain ridge - a series of peaks and valleys, which can be traversed at will. To humans, of course, time seems unidirectional and impossible to stop. But for Billy Pilgrim, who is "unstuck," time assumes the qualities of Tralfamadorian time.

Interestingly, then, Pilgrim is "trapped" in time when speaking to the Tralfamadorians - but in a manner different from normal human "entrapment" in time. Humans are trapped in time without knowing it. They are imprisoned in a present, and can view the past and speculate on the future. But they do not have the ability to traverse these moments. Pilgrim, however, in speaking to the Tralfamadorians, is able to understand just how the "present" is like an "amber" (sticky sap) in which one is stuck - and how one might move forward or backward to different moments at will. 

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Chapter 7 Quotes

Tralfamadorians, of course, saw that every creature and plant in the Universe is a machine. It amuses them that so many Earthlings are offended by the idea of being machines.

Related Characters: Kurt Vonnegut (speaker), Tralfamadorians
Page Number: 154
Explanation and Analysis:

Vonnegut argues here that, for a human, there can be no more damning fate than to be compared to a machine. Machines, by this logic, are unthinking, unfeeling. They have no souls, they are operated by others - they are robots.

But Vonnegut argues, via the Tralfamadorians, that there is more to being a machine than this. A machine is any complex system that operates in response to the world. By this definition, of course human beings are machines, along with all other living things, plants and animals alike.

There is, by this second definition, no shame at all in being compared to a machine. Indeed, for the Tralfamadorians, machine-hood is what connects people, plants, and animals - it is the glue that binds life together in the first place, both on earth and on other planets. Thus they insist that humans are machines even when humans insist they are organic matter "opposed" to machine-hood.

Chapter 10 Quotes

If what Billy Pilgrim learned from the Tralfamadorians is true, that we will all live forever, no matter how dead we may sometimes seem to be, I am not overjoyed. Still—if I am going to spend eternity visiting this moment and that, I’m grateful that so many of those moments are nice.

Related Characters: Kurt Vonnegut (speaker), Billy Pilgrim, Tralfamadorians
Page Number: 211
Explanation and Analysis:

Vonnegut returns to the narrative to begin the summary section of the novel, in which he describes his relationship to some of the characters whose lives he has depicted. Vonnegut argues that Tralfamadorian time implies that all human life extends infinitely in all directions, that it can be accessed at this or that point - that any human being, in other words, is capable of becoming unstuck in time, just like Pilgrim. 

Indeed, Vonnegut has offered a world in the novel in which any reader can become unstuck right along with Pilgrim. The novel is a technology for accessing different moments, different memories. These are moments from Vonnegut's life, but the things Vonnegut describes are relatable to the context in which any given reader might live. The novel is therefore a kind of time machine in the Tralfamadorian model, showing us how humans behave at different points, shuttling constantly between them. 

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Tralfamadorians Character Timeline in Slaughterhouse-Five

The timeline below shows where the character Tralfamadorians appears in Slaughterhouse-Five. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
War and Death Theme Icon
Time, Time-travel, and Free Will Theme Icon
Science Fiction and Aliens Theme Icon
Witness and Truth Theme Icon
...goes on the radio in New York City, claiming he was abducted by aliens, the Tralfamadorians, in 1967, and displayed on Tralfamadore in a zoo. His daughter hears the broadcast and... (full context)
Time, Time-travel, and Free Will Theme Icon
Science Fiction and Aliens Theme Icon
Witness and Truth Theme Icon
...information in a letter to the local newspaper. In a second letter, he details the Tralfamadorian concept of death: a Tralfamadorian looks at “different moments just the way we can look... (full context)
Chapter 3
War and Death Theme Icon
Time, Time-travel, and Free Will Theme Icon
Science Fiction and Aliens Theme Icon
...of the car and is transported to 1967, the time of his abduction by the Tralfamadorians. (full context)
Chapter 4
Time, Time-travel, and Free Will Theme Icon
Science Fiction and Aliens Theme Icon
Witness and Truth Theme Icon
The saucer is 100 feet in diameter. Pilgrim is sucked inside and greeted by a Tralfamadorian, who asks if he has any questions. Pilgrim asks why he was chosen and the... (full context)
Time, Time-travel, and Free Will Theme Icon
Science Fiction and Aliens Theme Icon
Witness and Truth Theme Icon
The Tralfamadorian present says humans are “the great explainers,” but Tralfamadorians see “all time as all time,”... (full context)
Chapter 5
Time, Time-travel, and Free Will Theme Icon
Science Fiction and Aliens Theme Icon
Witness and Truth Theme Icon
...reading material on the trip to Tralfamadore and is given Valley of the Dolls. The Tralfamadorians give him several of their own planet’s novels on his request, which Pilgrim cannot read.... (full context)
Time, Time-travel, and Free Will Theme Icon
Science Fiction and Aliens Theme Icon
Money and Success Theme Icon
...mental ward in 1948. She offers him a Three Musketeers bar. Rosewater is reading about Tralfamadorian-like aliens who study Christianity on earth. The alien says the problem with Christianity is Jesus’... (full context)
Time, Time-travel, and Free Will Theme Icon
Science Fiction and Aliens Theme Icon
Witness and Truth Theme Icon
...habitat has been set up with furniture taken from a Sears store in Iowa. The Tralfamadorians find Billy beautiful, as he exercises and eats, because they have seen no other humans.... (full context)
Time, Time-travel, and Free Will Theme Icon
Science Fiction and Aliens Theme Icon
Witness and Truth Theme Icon
While Billy is on display in the zoo, a Tralfamadorian guide uses metaphors to explain to fellow aliens how Billy understands time. In one, Billy... (full context)
Chapter 9
War and Death Theme Icon
Time, Time-travel, and Free Will Theme Icon
Science Fiction and Aliens Theme Icon
Witness and Truth Theme Icon
...looking for a news program on which he can speak about his experiences with the Tralfamadorians. Billy goes into an adult bookstore because he sees four Trout novels in the front... (full context)