American Literature books summary
their shine you could see Adam and Eve. Though Billy has never heard the
corporal's claim, looking into the boots now he sees Adam and Eve and loves
them for their innocence, vulnerability, and beauty. A blond fifteen-year-
old boy helps Billy to his feet; he looks as beautiful and innocent as Eve.
In the distance, shots sound out as the two scouts are killed. Waiting in
ambush, they were found and shot in the backs of their heads.
The Germans take Weary's things, including the pornographic picture, which
the two old men grin about, and Weary's boots. The fifteen-year old gets
Weary's boots, and Weary gets the boy's clogs. Weary and Billy are made to
march a long distance to a cottage where American POWs are being detained.
The soldiers there say nothing. Billy falls asleep, his head on the
shoulder of a Jewish chaplain.
Billy leaps in time to 1967, although it takes him a while to figure out
the date. He is giving an eye exam in his office in Ilium. His car, visible
outside his window, has conservative stickers on the bumper; the stickers
were gifts from his father-in-law.
He leaps back to the war. A German is kicking his feet, telling him to wake
up. The Americans are assembled outside for photographs. The photographer
takes pictures of Billy's and Weary's feet as evidence of how poorly
equipped the American troops are. They stage photos of Billy being
captured. Billy then returns to 1967, driving to the Lion's club. He drives
through a black ghetto, an area recovering from recent riots and fires. He
largely ignores what he sees there. At the Lion's club, a marine major
talks about the need to continue the fight in Vietnam. He advocates bombing
North Vietnam into the Stone Age, if necessary, and Billy does not think of
the horror of bombing, which he has witnessed himself. He is simply having
lunch. The narrator mentions that he has a prayer on the wall of his
office: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can, and wisdom always to tell the
The narrator tells us that Billy cannot change past, present, or future.
After lunch, Billy goes home. He is a wealthy man now, with a son in the
Green Berets and a daughter about to get married; he also is seized
occasionally by sudden and inexplicable bouts of weeping. During one of
these spells, he closes his eyes and finds himself back in World War II. He
is marching with an ever-growing line of Americans making their way through
Luxembourg. They cross into Germany, being filmed by the Germans who want a
record of their great victory. Weary's feet are sore and bloody from
marching on the German boy's clogs. The Americans are sorted by rank, and a
colonel tries to talk with Billy. The colonel is dying; he tries to be
chummy with Billy. He has always wanted to be called "Wild Bob" by his men.
He dreams of having a reunion of his men in his hometown of Cody, Wyoming.
He invites Billy and the other men to come. Vonnegut mentions that he and
Bernard O'Hare were there when the colonel gave his invitation. All of the
POWs are put into train cars. The train does not leave for two days; during
that time Wild Bob dies. The boxcars are so crowded that to sleep the men
have to take turns lying down. When the train finally begins its trek
deeper into Germany, Billy jumps through time again. It is 1967, and he is
about to be kidnapped for the first time by the Trafalmadorians.
Chapter Four. Summary:
In 1967, on his daughter's wedding night, Billy cannot sleep. Because he is
unstuck in time, he knows that he will soon be kidnapped by a
Trafalmadorian flying saucer. He kills time unproductively in the meantime.
He watches a war movie, and because he is unstuck in time the movie goes
forward and then backward. He goes out to meet the ship, and he is taken as
planned. As the ship shoots out into space, Billy is jarred back to 1944.
In the boxcar, none of the men want Billy to sleep next to them because he
yells and thrashes in his sleep. He is forced to sleep while standing. In
another car, Weary dies of gangrene in his feet. As he slowly dies over the
course of days, he tells people again and again about the Three Musketeers.
He also asks that someone get revenge for him on the man who caused his
death. He blames Billy Pilgrim, of course.
The train finally arrives at a camp, and Billy and the other men are pushed
and prodded along. The camp is full of dying Russian POWs. At points,
Vonnegut likens the Russians' faces to radium dials. The Americans are all
given coats; Billy's is too small. They go into a delousing station, where
all of the men strip naked. Billy has one of the worst bodies there; he is
skinny and weak, and a German soldier comments on that fact. We are
introduced briefly to Edgar Derby and Paul Lazarro. Derby is the oldest POW
there, a man who pulled strings to get into the army. He is a high school
teacher from Indianapolis, and he is physically sturdy despite his forty-
four years of age. He will be shot after the Dresden bombing for trying to
steal a teapot.
Paul Lazarro is a car thief from Illinois. His body is even weaker and
less healthy than Billy's. He was in Roland Weary's boxcar, and he vowed
solemnly to Weary that he would find and kill Billy Pilgrim. When the
scalding water turns on, Billy leaps back to his infancy. His mother has
just finished giving him a bath. He then leaps forward to a Sunday game of
golf, played with three other optometrists. Then, he leaps in time to the
space ship, on his first trip to Trafalmadore. He talks with one of his
captors about time, and he says that the Trafalmadorians sound like they do
not believe in free will. The alien replies that in all of the inhabited
planets of the galaxy, Earth is the only one whose people believe in the
concept of free will.
Chapter Five. Summary:
En route to Trafalmadore, Billy asks for something to read. The only human
novel is Valley of the Dolls, and when Billy asks for a Trafalmadorian
novel, he learns that the aliens' novels are slim, sleek volumes. Because
they have a different concept of time, Trafalmadorians have novels arranged
by juxtaposition of marvelous moments. The books have no cause or effect or
chronology; their beauty is in the arrangement of events meant to be read
simultaneously. Billy jumps in time to a visit to the Grand Canyon taken
when he was twelve years old. He is terrified of the canyon. His mother
touches him and he wets his pants. He jumps forward in time just ten days,
to later in the same vacation. He is visiting Carlsbad Caverns. The ranger
turns the lights off, so that the tourists can experience total darkness.
But Billy sees a light nearby: the radium dial of his father's watch.
Billy jumps back to the war. The Germans think Billy is one of the funniest
creatures they've seen in all of the war. His coat is preposterously small,
and on his already awkward body it looks ridiculous. The Americans give
their names and serial numbers so that they can be reported to the Red
Cross, and then they are marched to sheds occupied by middle-aged British
POWs. The British welcome them with singing. These British POWs are
officers, some of the first Brits taken prisoner in the war. They have been
prisoners for four years. Due to a clerical error early in the war, the Red
Cross shipped them an incredible surplus of food, which they have hoarded
cleverly. Consequently, they are some of the best-fed people in Europe.
Their German captors adore them.
To prepare for their American guests, the Brits have cleaned and set out
party favors. Candles and soap, supplied by the Germans, are plentiful: the
British do not know that these items are made from the bodies of Holocaust
victims. They have prepared a huge dinner and a dramatic adaptation of
Cinderella. Billy is so unhinged that his laughter at the performance
becomes hysterical shrieking, and he is taken to the hospital and doped up
on morphine. Edgar Derby watches over him, reading The Red Badge of
Courage. He leaps in time to the mental ward where he recovered in 1948.
In the mental ward, Billy's bed is next to the bed of Elliot Rosewater.
Like Billy, he has little love for life, in part because of things he saw
and did in the war. He is the man who introduces Billy to the science
fiction of Kilgore Trout. Billy is enduring one of his mother's dreaded
visits. She is a simple, religious woman. She makes Billy feel worse just
by being there. Billy leaps back in time to the POW camp. A British colonel
talks to Derby; after the newly arrived Americans shaved, the British were
shocked by how young they all were. Derby tells of how he was captured: the
Americans were pushed back into a forest, and the Germans rained shells on
them until they surrendered.
Billy leaps back to the hospital. He is being visited by his ugly,
overweight fiancйe Valencia. He knew he was going crazy when he proposed to
her. He does not want to marry her. She is visiting now, eating a Three
Musketeers bar and wearing a diamond engagement ring that Billy found while
in Germany. Elliot tells her about The Gospel from Outer Space, a Kilgore
Valencia tries to talk to Billy about plans for their wedding and
marriage, but he is not too involved. He leaps forward in time to the zoo
on Trafalmadore, where he was on display when he was forty-four years old.
The habitat is furnished with Sears and Roebuck furniture. He is naked. He
answers questions posed by the Trafalmadorian tourists. He learns that
there are five sexes among the Trafalmadorians, but the sex difference is
only visible in the fourth dimension. On earth there are actually seven
sexes, all necessary to the production of children; earthlings just do not
notice the sex difference between themselves because many of the sex acts
occur in the fourth dimension. These ideas baffle Billy, and they in turn
are baffled by his linear concept of time. Billy expects the
Trafalmadorians to be concerned about or horrified by the wars on earth. He
worries that earthlings will eventually threaten all the other races in the
galaxy, causing the eventual destruction of the universe. The
Trafalmadorians put their hands over their eyes, which lets Billy know that
he is being stupid.
The Trafalmadorians already know how the universe will end: during
experiments with a new fuel, one of their test pilots pushes a button and
the entire universe will disappear. They cannot prevent it. It has always
happened that way. Billy correctly concludes that trying to prevent wars on
Earth is futile. The Trafalmadorians also have wars, but they choose to
ignore them. They spend their time looking at the pleasant moments rather
than the unpleasant ones; they suggest that humans learn to do the same.
Billy leaps back in time to his wedding night. It is six months after his
release from the mental ward. The narrator reminds us that Valencia and her
father are very rich, and Billy will benefit greatly from his marriage to
her. After they have sex, Valencia tries to ask Billy questions about the
war. She wants a heroic war story, but Billy does not really respond to
her. He has a crazy thought about the war, which Vonnegut says would make a
good epitaph for Billy, and for the author, too: "Everything was beautiful,
and nothing hurt." He jumps in time to that night in the prison camp. Edgar
Derby has fallen asleep. Billy, doped up still from the morphine, wanders
out of the hospital shed. He snags himself on a barbed wire fence, and
cannot extract himself until a Russian helps him.
Billy never really says a word to the Russian. He wanders to the latrine,
where the Americans are sick from the feasting. A long period without food
followed by a feast almost always results in violent sickness. Among the
sick Americans is a soldier complaining that he has shit his brains out. It
is Vonnegut. Billy leaves, passing by three Englishmen who watch the
Americans' sickness with disgust. Billy jumps in time again, back to his
wedding night. He and his wife are cozy in bed. He jumps in time again, to
1944. It is before he left for Europe; he is riding the train from South
Carolina, where he was receiving his training, all the way back to Ilium
for his father's funeral.
We return to Billy's morphine night in the POW camp. Paul Lazarro is
carried into the hospital; while attempting to steal cigarettes from a
sleeping British officer, he was beaten up. The officer is the one carrying
him. Seeing now how puny Lazarro is, the officer feels guilty for hitting
him so hard. But he is disgusted by the American POWs. A German soldier who
adores the British officers comes in and apologizes for the inconvenience
of hosting the Americans. He assures the Brits in the room that the
Americans will soon be shipped off for forced labor in Dresden. The German
officer reads propaganda materials written by Howard Campbell, Jr., a
captured American who is now a Nazi. Campbell condemns the self-loathing of
the American poor, the inequalities of America's economic system, and the
miserable behavior of American POWs. Billy falls asleep and wakes up in
1968, where his daughter Barbara is scolding him. Barbara notices the house
is icy cold and goes to call the oil-burner man.
Billy leaps in time to the Trafalmadorian zoo, where Montana Wildhack, a
motion picture star, has been brought in to mate with him. Initially
unconscious, she wakes to find naked Billy and thousands of Trafalmadorians
outside their habitat. They're clapping. She screams. Eventually, though,
she comes to love and trust Billy. After a week they're sleeping together.
He travels in time back to his bed in 1968. The oil-burner man has fixed
the problem with the heater. Billy has just had a wet dream about Montana
Wildhack. The next day, he returns to work. His assistants are surprised to
see him, because they thought that he would never practice again. He has
the first patient sent in, a boy whose father died in Vietnam. Billy tries
to comfort the boy by telling him about the Trafalmadorian concept of time.
The boy's mother informs the receptionist that Billy is going crazy.
Barbara comes to take him home, sick with worry about what how to deal with
Chapter Six. Summary:
Billy wakes after his morphine night in POW camp irresistibly drawn to two
tiny treasures. They draw him like magnets; they are hidden in the lining
of his coat. It will be revealed later on exactly what they are. He goes
back to sleep, and wakes up to the sounds of the British building a new
latrine. They have abandoned their old latrine and their meeting hall to
the Americans. The man who beat up Lazarro stops by to make sure he is all
right, and Lazarro promises that he is going to have the man killed after
the war. After the amused Brit leaves, Lazarro tells Derby and Billy that
revenge is life's sweetest pleasure. He once brutally tortured a dog that
bit him. He is going to have all of his enemies killed after the war. He
tells Billy that Weary was his buddy, and he is going to avenge him by
having Billy shot after the war. Because of his time hopping, Billy knows
that this is true. He will be shot in 1976. At that time, the United States
has split into twenty tiny nations. Billy will be lecturing in Chicago on
the Trafalmadorian concept of time and the fourth dimension. He tells the
spectators that he is about to die, and urges them to accept it. After the
lecture, he is shot in the head by a high-powered laser gun.
Back in the POW camp, Billy, Derby, and Lazarro go the theater to elect a
leader. On the way over, they see a Brit drawing a line in the dirt to
separate the American and British sections of the compound. In the theater,
Americans are sleeping anywhere that they can. A Brit lectures them on
hygiene, and Edgar Derby is elected leader. Only two or three men actually
have the energy to vote. Billy dresses himself in a piece of azure curtain
and Cinderella's boots. The Americans ride the train to Dresden. Dresden is
a beautiful city, appearing on the horizon like something out of a fairy
tale. They are met by eight German irregulars, boys and old men who will be
in charge of them for the rest of the war. They march through town towards
their new home. The people of Dresden watch them, and most of them are
amused by Billy's outlandish costume. One surgeon is not. He scolds Billy
about dignity and representing his country and war not being a joke, but
Billy is honestly perplexed by the man's anger. He shows the man his two
treasures from the lining of his coat: a two-carat diamond and some false
teeth. The Americans are brought to their new home, a converted building
originally for the slaughter of pigs. The building has a large 5 on it. The
POWs are taught the German name for their new home, in case they get lost
in the city. In English, it is called Slaughterhouse Five.
Chapter Seven. Summary:
Billy is on a plane next to his father-in-law. Billy and a number of
optometrists have chartered a plane to go to a convention in Montreal.
There's a barbershop quartet on board. Billy's father-in-law loves it when
they sing songs mocking the Polish. Vonnegut mentions that in Germany Billy
saw a Pole getting executed for having sex with a German girl. Billy leaps
in time to his wandering behind the German lines with the two scouts and
Roland Weary. He leaps in time again to the plane crash. Everyone dies but
him. The plane has crashed in Vermont, and Billy is found by Austrian ski
instructors. When he hears them speaking German, he thinks he's back in the
war. He is unconscious for days, and during that time he dreams about the
days right before the bombing.
He remembers a boy named Werner Gluck, one of the guards. He was good-
natured, as awkward and puny as Billy. One day, Gluck and Billy and Derby
were looking for the kitchen. Derby and Billy were pulling a two-wheeled
cart; it was their duty to bring dinner back for the boys. Gluck pulled a
door open, thinking the kitchen might be there, and instead revealed naked
teenage girls showering, refugees from another city that was bombed. The
women scream and Gluck shuts the door. When they finally find the kitchen,
an old cook talks with the trio critically and proclaims that all the real
soldiers are dead. Billy also remembers working in the malt syrup factory
in Dresden. The syrup is for pregnant women, and it is fortified with
vitamins. The POWs do everything they can to sneak spoonfuls of it. Billy
sneaks a spoonful to Edgar Derby, who is outside. He bursts into tears
after he tastes it.
Chapter Eight. Summary:
Howard Campbell, Jr., the American-turned-Nazi propagandist, visits the
captives of Slaughterhouse Five. He wears an elaborate costume of his own
design, a cross between cowboy outfit and a Nazi uniform. The POWs are
tired and unhealthy, undernourished and overworked. Campbell offers them
good eating if they join his Free American Corps. The Corps is Campbell's
idea. Composed of Americans fighting for the Germans, they will be sent to
fight on the Russian front. After the war, they will be repatriated through
Switzerland. Campbell reasons that the Americans will have to fight the
Soviet Union sooner or later, and they might as well get it out of the way.
Edgar Derby rises for his finest moment. He denounces Campbell soundly,
praises American forms of government, and speaks of the brotherhood between
Russians and Americans. Air raid sirens sound, and everyone takes cover in
a meat locker. The firebombing will not occur until tomorrow night; these
sirens are only a false alarm. Billy dozes, and then leaps in time to an
argument with his daughter Barbara. She is worrying about what should be
done about Billy. She tells him that she feels like she could kill Kilgore
We move to Billy's first meeting with Trout, which happened in 1964. He is
out driving when he recognizes Trout from the jackets of his books. Trout's
books have never made money, so he works as a newspaper circulation man,
bullying and terrorizing newspaper delivery boys. One of Trout's boys
quits, and Billy offers to help Trout deliver the papers on the boy's
route. He gives Trout a ride. Trout is overwhelmed by meeting an avid fan.
He has only received one letter in the course of his career, and the letter
was crazed. It was written by none other than Billy's friend from the
mental ward, Elliot Rosewater. Billy invites Kilgore Trout to his
At the party, Trout is obnoxious, but the optometrists and their spouses
are still enchanted by having an actual writer among them. A barbershop
quartet sings "That Old Gang of Mine," and Billy is visibly disturbed.
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