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Free Study Guide Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

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FREE ONLINE LITERATURE NOTES: SLAUGHTERHOUSE - FIVE

CHAPTER 5

Summary

After listening to the Trafalmadorians explain their perception of time, which is totally different from the way Earthlings perceive it, Billy again travels to the German delousing center, where the American prisoners are enrolled and tagged. They are then taken to a compound filled with British prisoners, who at first welcome them; soon, however, they resent the weak and bedraggled Americans. Billy becomes hysterical around the British and is taken to a hospital. Under the influence of morphine, he dreams that he is a giraffe.

Next Billy travels forward into the future and sees himself being voluntarily committed to a veteran’s hospital as a mental patient. In the hospital, a fellow patient introduces him to the literary works of Kilgore Trout, a science fiction writer, whom he enjoys reading. While still confined in the hospital, his mother comes to see him, but he is too embarrassed to face her. His fiancée, Valencia Merble, also comes to visit him; she is a rich, fat girl whom he finds very unattractive.


Billy continues his time travels in rapid succession. He finds himself in the future, living on the planet Trafalmadore, where he is displayed naked in a zoo. The Trafalmadorians try to teach him that nothing can be changed and advise him to concentrate on the pleasant moments of existence. He then travels back to his wedding night, when his son Robert is conceived. He also visits his father’s funeral. Next he is again in the German prison hospital, where he meets Vonnegut, a fellow soldier. He also encounters Paul Lazzaro again; he has been brought to the hospital with a broken arm. Billy learns that the American prisoners are soon going to be shipped to Dresden as contract labor.

Billy goes to sleep and when he awakes he finds himself in 1968, being reproached by his daughter for writing letters to the newspaper about aliens. Billy travels back in the past to his captivity in the Trafalmadore zoo. The aliens bring him a mate from Earth; she is a motion picture star, named Montana Wildhack. He travels again to 1968 and sees himself in his optometrist practice. When he tells one of his clients about his time travels, the client’s mother accuses him of being crazy. When he comes home and tells his daughter, she is completely exasperated with him.

Notes

In this chapter, Billy begins to lose more and more control. His time travels rush from the past, to the future, and back to the past again. He travels back to the German prison, and Vonnegut gives a comparison of the British and Americans who have been captured. The British officers, who have been German prisoners for almost the entire length of the war, have eaten well and are in top physical form. In sharp contrast, the newly arrived American prisoners appear more dead than alive. The British are at first horrified over their bedraggled condition; however, they soon become contemptuous of the weak-bodied, dirty-looking, shuffling American soldiers. Although the “prefect” British look down upon the Americans as inferior beings, the reader is made to sympathize with the poor Americans, who seem real because of their imperfections.

While in prison, Billy reads a monograph about Americans written by Howard W. Campbell Jr., a Nazi propagandist. The monograph is filled with criticism, especially of the poor Americans who foolishly glorify the rich. It is also critical of the American army, which has a scornful attitude towards its enlisted men.

Billy travels to the future to the time he has a nervous breakdown. Although he has become successful in his career, he cannot cope with life and commits himself as a mental patient to the veterans’ hospital, where he meets other ex-soldiers who, like him, also “found life meaningless, partly because of what they had seen in the war.” In the hospital, Billy begins to realize what is afflicting him. As a totally passive person, he never asks himself what he wants, nor does he make any attempt to make his life more pleasant. He sees his marriage proposal to “ugly Valencia” as concrete evidence that he is going crazy. After leaving the hospital, Valencia does become Billy’s wife, and through his time-travels, he learns that his marriage is “at least bearable all the way.”

Billy also travels to the planet Tralfamadore, where he again has no control over what happens to him, much like on Earth. He is placed naked in a cage and exhibited in a zoo; eventually he is given a mate from earth, an American movie star. When he is asked if he is happy on Tralfamadore, he answers, “About as happy as I was on Earth.”

The chapter also gives a foreshadowing of what will eventually happen to Billy. When he tries to tell others about his time travels and his imprisonment on Tralfamadore, he is accused of being crazy. Even his daughter becomes totally exasperated with him.


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