Slaughterhouse-Five | Study Guide

Kurt Vonnegut

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Slaughterhouse-Five | Chapter 6 | Summary



When Billy Pilgrim awakens in the camp hospital, he senses magnetism coming from his coat hanging on the wall above him. He feels two small objects in the coat's lining, but the radiations coming from the coat tell him not to discover what they are yet. He dozes off and wakes to the sound of Englishmen digging a new latrine outside and the sight of Englishmen moving a pool table and mattresses through the hospital. The one who broke Paul Lazzaro's arm in a fight stops to talk to Lazzaro, who tells the Englishman he's going to have him killed after the war. After the Englishman leaves Lazzaro tells Billy and Edgar Derby about the sweetness of revenge, describing how he killed a dog who bit him by feeding it a steak loaded with tiny blades. He tells Derby how he will have the Englishman shot and how he also plans to have Billy shot as revenge for Roland Weary.

Billy describes his death at Lazzaro's hands on a tape he has locked in his safe-deposit box. He will die on February 13, 1976, after a speech in Chicago, sharing the news of Tralfamadore and the true nature of time with an adoring crowd in a baseball park. He tells them he is about to be killed but refuses protection because it is his time to die, and then a sniper shoots him. For Billy death is a violet light and a hum.

Billy returns to 1945 and the prison camp. He, Lazzaro, and Derby leave the hospital and join the other Americans in the theater, where the Englishmen have given them quarters. The other men have mattresses, but Billy, Lazzaro, and Derby must make nests for themselves on the stage, using the blue curtains as blankets. Billy takes a pair of silver-painted boots because his shoes are ruined. One of the Englishmen comes in and warns the men to take pride in their appearance so they don't give up on living. Later in the day the prisoners are marched out of the camp; Billy leads the procession, wearing his silver boots and the blue curtain wrapped around him for warmth. The men are herded into train cars and sent to Dresden.

This journey lasts about two hours, and the prisoners are amazed by Dresden's beauty when they arrive. Eight German guards march the Americans through the streets of Dresden, and a surgeon stops Billy to tell him his outfit is a mockery. Billy is unable to explain himself and shows the surgeon the two objects from inside his coat, a diamond and a partial denture. The prisoners keep marching and reach their destination, the Dresden slaughterhouses. Billy's group is housed in the fifth building, and they memorize their new address in case they get lost: Schlachthof-fünf, which translates to Slaughterhouse-Five.


Paul Lazzaro and Roland Weary became friends in the cattle car because they are cut from the same cloth of sadism and cruelty, as seen in Lazzaro's story about revenge on the dog who bit him. If anything Lazzaro is even crueler than Weary, carrying through with his plans in a timely and methodical fashion, taking great glee in the prolonged suffering of others. He enjoys watching the dog's agonizing death, and he hangs over Billy Pilgrim's head for years to come the threat of being shot. In this way he exploits time as part of his revenge. In contrast Roland Weary would deliver a beating in the moment and then it would be over.

Whether Billy's death at Paul Lazzaro's bidding is real or something Billy imagines, the threat of it clearly stays with him over the years. The date of his death is February 13, the same month and day as the Dresden bombing; such a coincidence certainly signifies a connection with the city's destruction: either a certain parity between the death of one and the death of thousands, or maybe Billy really believes he died in Dresden. In either case he claims he does not fear his end, having absorbed the Tralfamadorian view of time and death. Death is a peaceful absence of existence, not the version of an afterlife one might expect from a former chaplain's assistant. Billy's religion offered him no solace or protection from his trauma, but the Tralfamadorians do.

Coming on the heels of the Englishman's speech, Billy's new wardrobe choices add a little situational irony. The English officer means well when he admonishes the soldiers to take care of their appearance, and to some degree his advice makes sense. He has seen soldiers die because they gave up, but the cause-and-effect relationship is not entirely accurate: these soldiers more likely stopped caring about their appearance because they had given up on living instead of giving up on living because they had given up on their appearance. Billy's absurd appearance in silver boots and the blue curtain-toga does not by any measurable standard reflect pride—or have any meaning to Billy at all, and Billy is taken to task for his appearance once he reaches Dresden. However, his choice to outfit himself in whatever warm materials are available, however ridiculous they look, is his first active attempt to keep himself alive in the war.

In another incident that highlights how physically inadequate the troops are on both sides of the war at this point, the eight German soldiers who greet the prisoners when they arrive in Dresden are another assortment of young boys and old men. These Germans are worried about the arrival of the Americans, envisioning mighty soldiers. Their worries fade when they see rabid Paul Lazzaro, middle-aged Edgar Derby, and Billy Pilgrim in his toga and silver boots, using his tiny coat as a muff.

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