Slaughterhouse-Five | Study Guide

Kurt Vonnegut

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Course Hero. "Slaughterhouse-Five Study Guide." Course Hero. 28 Nov. 2016. Web. 18 July 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Slaughterhouse-Five/>.

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Course Hero. (2016, November 28). Slaughterhouse-Five Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved July 18, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Slaughterhouse-Five/

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Course Hero. "Slaughterhouse-Five Study Guide." November 28, 2016. Accessed July 18, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Slaughterhouse-Five/.

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Course Hero, "Slaughterhouse-Five Study Guide," November 28, 2016, accessed July 18, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Slaughterhouse-Five/.

Slaughterhouse-Five | Chapter 4 | Summary

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Summary

On the night of his daughter's wedding Billy Pilgrim is unable to sleep. He knows the spaceship from Tralfamadore is coming, and while he waits he looks into the room his daughter has moved out of. While he is in there the phone rings, and the drunken caller on the other end has breath like "mustard gas and roses." Billy moves into the den and watches a war movie. Unstuck in time he sees the film backward, then forward.

Billy goes into the backyard to meet the flying saucer. He is taken on board and strapped into a Barca-Lounger stolen from a Sears Roebuck warehouse. He loses consciousness and wakes in the cattle car in the war. He wants to lie down, but the other men don't want him near them because he kicks and screams in his sleep. Billy is forced to sleep on a beam by the vent above.

On the train's ninth day in transport, Roland Weary dies in a nearby car from gangrene in his feet. He has told the other men in this car about the Three Musketeers and that Billy Pilgrim is to blame for his death. The hobo in Billy's car also dies, saying "You think this is bad? This ain't bad."

On the 10th day the train arrives at a prison camp. Billy emerges last. The soldiers take overcoats from a large frozen pile. Billy's coat is the only one that belonged to a civilian, and it is too small for him. The prisoners are showered and deloused, and the guards mock Billy's skinny physique. Edgar Derby, an older soldier and history teacher who volunteered for service, has the best body in the group. The worst body belongs to a small, pockmarked car thief named Paul Lazzaro who promises to avenge Roland Weary's death.

While in the showers Billy falls back in time to his bath time as an infant then forward to a Sunday morning golf game with three other optometrists. Then he lands in the Barca-Lounger on the spaceship. The Tralfamadorians tell him there is no real explanation for events; moments are structured to be as they are, just as bugs are trapped in amber. They tell him free will is a distinctly Earthling concept.

Analysis

Billy Pilgrim knows the Tralfamadorians are coming for him, which provides a powerful piece of evidence indicating they exist only in his mind. He sees these aliens for the first time on the night of his daughter's wedding. While there is little indication Billy and his daughter are especially close, her leaving the family home is a profound change for Billy, especially since her older brother Robert has, by this time, joined the army. The telephone call from the anonymous caller whose voice reeks of "mustard gas and roses" provides another indication Billy is unsettled on this night. In Chapter 1 the narrator speaks of getting drunk and making calls to his old army buddies when his breath smells of "mustard gas and roses," so this phone call is almost certainly from the narrator, trying to talk to Billy about the war. The war movie Billy watches likely further unsettles him, even though the backward version provides a happier view of the world. Whether the Tralfamadorians are real or not, his anxiety level must be high when they arrive and strap him into the lounge chair.

Billy's journey to Tralfamadore is interrupted by time travel to the other occasion in his life when he was taken prisoner and transported, though in far less comfort than a Barca-Lounger from Sears. Billy seems unaware of his mental state on the train: he is surprised when the other soldiers complain of his thrashing and noise when he sleeps. Even after they tell him he does not fully understand the depths of his own trauma. In some ways the trip to Tralfamadore represents what Billy might have wished for in the cattle car: a comfortable space to call his own, unbothered by other prisoners.

The prisoners' arrival at the camp serves as a reminder of how many soldiers lack proper nutrition and equipment. The large stack of overcoats is depleted by the time Billy gets to them, indicating how many of the soldiers have lost this basic winter garment. The scrutinizing of bodies in the showers likewise shows both the dehumanizing results of war and also a certain level of desperation to get bodies onto the battlefield. Paul Lazzaro, for example, is physically damaged and has a criminal history, but he has been drafted just the same. Edgar Derby is physically fit but well past the age for war; his son is serving in the Pacific. Incidentally Derby is the same age in the shower, 44, that Billy is on the night he is taken to Tralfamadore. In the showers Billy travels to his much more pleasant bath time as an infant and to a happier moment shared with other men on the golf course.

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