Billy Pilgrim is born in 1922 and grows up in Ilium, New York. A funny-looking, weak youth, he does well in high school, then he enrolls in night classes at the Ilium School of Optometry, and is soon drafted into the army. He serves as a chaplain’s assistant, is sent into the Battle of the Bulge, and almost gets taken prisoner by the Germans. Just before being captured he first becomes unstuck in time. He sees the entirety of his life in one sweep. Billy is transported with other privates to the beautiful city of Dresden. There the prisoners are made to work for their keep. They are kept in a former slaughterhouse. Billy and his fellow POWs survive in an airtight meat locker. They emerge to find a moonscape of destruction. Several days’ later Russian forces capture the city and the war is over. Billy returns to Ilium and finishes optometry school. He gets engaged to the daughter of the founder of the school. His wealthy father-in-law sets him up in the optometry business. Billy and his wife raise two children and become wealthy.
One day in 1967, as he claims on a radio talk show and in a letter to the editor, Billy is kidnapped by two-foot high aliens whose body shape is reminiscent of an upside down toilet plunger. These are the Tralfamadorians. They take him to Tralfamadore where they mate him with the actress Montana Wildhack and keep both earthlings in a zoo. They also explain to him their perception of time, how all of it exists for them simultaneously in the fourth dimension. When someone dies he is simply dead at a particular time. Somewhere else and at a different time he is alive and well. Tralfamadorians prefer to look at the nice moments.
When he is returned to earth, Billy initially says nothing. However, after he suffers a head injury in a plane crash and after his wife dies on her way to see him in the hospital, Billy tells the world what he has learned. He goes on a radio talk show and writes a letter to the newspaper. His daughter is at her wit’s end and doesn’t know what to do with him. Billy makes a tape recording of his account of his death, which will occur in 1976 after Chicago has been hydrogen bombed by the Chinese. He knows exactly how it will happen: a man he knew in the war will hire someone to shoot him. Billy will experience the violet hum of death, then will skip back to some other point in his life. He’s seen it all many times.
There are three main settings in Slaughterhouse-Five. One is War-ravaged Europe, through which Billy travels as a POW and ends up in Dresden. Another is peacetime America, where Billy prospers as an optometrist and pillar of society in Ilium, New York. The last is the planet Tralfamadore, where Billy and his fantasy lover Montana Wildhack are exhibited in a zoo. Each setting corresponds to a different period in Billy Pilgrim’s life, and the story jumps from one setting to another as Billy travels back and forth in time.
The main characters are: Billy Pilgrim is a World War II veteran, a POW survivor of the firebombing of Dresden, a prospering optometrist, a husband, and a father, Billy Pilgrim believes he has “come unstuck in time.” Kurt Vonnegut is the author and narrator of the book and in the first chapter reveals that he himself was on the ground as a prisoner of war during the firebombing of Dresden. Roland Weary is a stupid, cruel soldier taken prisoner by the Germans along with Billy. Weary dies of gangrene in a cattle car as the prisoners are being transported from the lines to prison camps. Paul Lazzaro is a soldier in the war and the man responsible for Billy’s death. Edgar Derby is a former schoolteacher who is also taken prisoner and sent to Dresden. Derby is sentenced to die by a firing squad for taking a teapot.
Eliot Rosewater occupies the bed near Billy in the nonviolent ward of an asylum after Billy has a post-war breakdown. Kilgore Trout is the bitter, unappreciated author of clever science fiction novels, which never sell but have great influence on Billy. Billy befriends the author and invites him to his eighteenth wedding anniversary. Howard W. Campbell, Jr. is an American who has become a Nazi. Valencia Merble is Billy’s pleasant, fat wife who loves him dearly. Her father, a wealthy optometrist, sets Billy up in the business.
Montana Wildhack is a young actress, kidnapped by the Tralfamadorians to be Billy’s mate inside the zoo.
The main theme in this book is war is absurd. The author attacks the reasoning that leads people to commit inhumanity by drawing character portraits and by quoting from official documents (President Truman’s explanation of the reasons for dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima). He also gives a look at the ruins of Dresden so we can see the consequences of what he calls the “military manner” of thinking- which rationalizes a massacre by saying it will hasten the end of the war.
The author focuses on the brutality of war and its disastrous effect on human lives, even long after it is over. Billy Pilgrim’s problems all come from what he experienced in the war. The homeless man freezes to death in the boxcar; Roland Weary dies from gangrene in his feet; Edgar Derby is shot for stealing a teapot; the harmless city of Dresden is bombed into the ground: it shouldn’t be possible for such things to happen, as Billy feels. And yet he was there and saw them happen with his own eyes
In Chapter 1, and part of 10, the author speaks directly in the first person about the difficult time he had writing this book. The rest of the book is Billy Pilgrim’s story told by a third-person narrator. Since an outside narrator is telling Billy’s story, the reader learns not only what Billy is doing and thinking but also what the other characters are up to and what’s on their minds. Because the author explains that his own experiences in Dresden were the inspiration for Slaughterhouse-Five, it seems that both the narrator and Billy Pilgrim are represented as author. The point of view in this book is the author is looking at the events of his own life; past, present, and future and trying to make some sense out of them the same way that Billy is trying to order the events of his own life.
The author uses short, simple sentences that manage to say a lot in a few words. The author also uses imagery. He also puts in his book references to historical events. These references increase the understanding and appreciation of Billy’s story by suggesting historical and literary parallels to the personal events in his life. The novel does not have smooth transitions from one event to the next.
A normal novel has smooth transition. Vonnegut wrote this book without any smooth transition. This novel is very complicated. The topics that are mention are hard to understand. The book was a bit difficult to follow. Slaughter House-Five’s character’s needs more depth. More description is necessary. There was too much jumping around in time in Billy’s life. I thought that this book was going to be better than it actually was.
I wouldn’t recommend this book to a person wh