Free Study Guide Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.|
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SLAUGHTERHOUSE - FIVE BY KURT VONNEGUT JR.: STUDY GUIDE
KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS
A large portion of the action of the story occurs in the small town of Ilium, New York, where Billy Pilgrim, the
protagonist of the novel, was born. Having grown up in Ilium, he settles there after fighting in World War II. He also
becomes an optometrist, marries, and raises two children in Ilium.
Germany is another important setting in the book, particularly the city of Dresden, which is located in the southeastern
portion of the country. During the war, Billy is sent to Dresden, a civilian city of about thirty-five thousand, to do hard
labor. During his stay, the city is bombed and totally destroyed. Billy, some other Americans, and a few German guards
hide in the basement of Slaughterhouse Five during the bombing and manage to escape unharmed.
Another important setting in the book is the planet of Tralfamadore, where
Billy is taken by aliens. There he is held captive and displayed in a
zoo, along with his earthling mate, Montana Wildhack. Their room in the
zoo is furnished with items from earth and has a dome for a roof so that
the Trafalmadorians can spy upon the earthlings.
An unassuming man from Ilium, New York, who allows fate to control
him. He serves in World War II, where he lives through the bombing of
Dresden, which greatly affects him. After the war, he returns to Ilium,
where he settles down, becomes an optometrist, marries, and has two children.
He should have led a quiet, ordinary existence in Ilium, but his life
becomes extraordinary. He is kidnapped by Trafalmadorians and taken by
space ship to their planet, where he is displayed in a zoo. He also has
the ability to travel through time - to the past and to the future--but
he has no control over the travels.
The author himself appears as a character in the novel. In the
first and last chapters, Vonnegut tells about himself, the story he is
writing, and what led him to write it. It becomes obvious that many of
the war experiences of Billy Pilgrim are autobiographical in nature. Additionally,
Vonnegut actually appears as a character in some of the war scenes. His
appearance in the book complicates the plot and the point of view.
Bernard V. O’Hare
An old war buddy of Vonnegut. They were both privates and infantry
scouts during World War II. They visit Dresden again together after the
The wife of Bernard. She is totally against war and its glorification
through books and movies. She wants Billy to name his book about the war,
The Children’s Crusade.
A friendly cab driver in East Germany. He takes Billy and O’Hare
around Dresden on their return trip and shows them the slaughterhouse
where they had been locked up as prisoners of war.
An American soldier who promises Roland Weary that he would make
Billy pay for Roland’s death. He eventually keeps his promise and hires
a man to kill Billy.
A forty-four year old American soldier. He is executed by a firing
squad for stealing a teacup from the Dresden ruins.
An American colonel who dies of double pneumonia in a German railroad
The wife of Billy Pilgrim. She is the daughter of the founder
and owner of the Ilium School of Optometry, where Billy studies to become
an optometrist. She is a very fat and unattractive woman. She dies of
carbon monoxide poisoning while Billy is in the hospital after the plane
Billy’s father-in-law. He is a very rich man.
The daughter of Billy and Valencia, who marries an optometrist.
She is convinced that her father has gone crazy after the plane crash,
head injury, and brain surgery.
The son of Billy and Valencia. He joins the Green Berets and
fights in Vietnam.
An American star of pornographic movies. She is captured by aliens
and brought to Tralfamadore to be Billy’s mate in the zoo.
Aliens from the planet Tralfamadore, which is located 446,120,000,000,000,000
miles away from Earth. They come to earth in a flying saucer and kidnap
Billy Pilgrim. They have the ability to perceive the past, present, and
future simultaneously, which Billy finds fascinating.
An eighteen-year old anti-tank gunner. He saves Billy’s life
many times behind the enemy lines and then dies on the train trip to the
interior of Germany. Paul Lazzaro is convinced that Billy is responsible
for his death and wants revenge.
Blue Fairy Godmother
An English military officer who takes part in the play, Cinderella,
which was performed to entertain the Americans. He breaks Lazzaro’s
arm when he catches the latter stealing cigarettes from beneath his pillow.
An alcoholic, assigned to the bed next to Billy’s in the mental
ward of the veterans’ hospital. He introduces Billy to the works of Kilgore
An unsuccessful science-fiction writer who lives in Ilium and
makes his living as a circulation man for the Ilium Gazette. He and Billy
become good friends. Barbara, Billy’s daughter, holds him responsible
for giving her father strange ideas.
A history professor at Harvard and the official Historian of
United States Air Force. He shares a hospital room with Billy after the
Rumfoord’s wife and an ex go-go girl.
Howard W. Campbell Jr.
A former American who turns Nazi and rises high in the German
Ministry of Propaganda. He tries to get the Americans to go and fight
with him on the Russian front.
A young German guard who watches Billy and the other Americans
held in Dresden. He is a native of the city.
A guest at the celebration of Billy’s eighteenth wedding anniversary.
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A quartet of optometrists who sing at Billy’s eighteenth anniversary
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