Slaughterhouse-Five | Study Guide

Kurt Vonnegut

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Slaughterhouse-Five | Chapter 8 | Summary



Howard W. Campbell, the American Nazi, visits the prisoners a few days before the bombing. He attempts to convince the prisoners to join the German army in fighting the Russians, luring them with promises of food and telling them they're going to have to fight the Russians eventually anyway. Edgar Derby stands up, calling Campbell worse than a snake because snakes can't help what they are but Campbell can. He speaks of the virtues of the American government and way of life and the evils of Nazism. Then the air raid sirens sound and Campbell and the Americans hide in a meat locker under the slaughterhouse; the bombs come the following night.

Billy Pilgrim dozes off in the meat locker and wakes to find his daughter worrying over him and criticizing Kilgore Trout for influencing Billy's ideas. Trout lives in Ilium and directs circulation for the local newspaper. Billy meets him when he mistakenly drives down an alley and finds Trout meeting with the delivery boys and girls. At the meeting one paper boy quits the job, so Billy helps Trout deliver the boy's route. Trout is surprised Billy knows his work and tells Billy about the only fan letter he ever received. He is shocked to learn the author of the letter, Eliot Rosewater, is an adult army captain and not a 14-year-old boy.

Billy invites Trout to his wedding anniversary party. Trout engages in conversation with a dumb but beautiful woman, enjoying getting some adulation for being a writer. Billy has an anxiety attack while a barbershop quartet sings a song and retires upstairs while Trout and Valencia worry about him. He meets his 17-year-old son in the bathroom, and the two exchange greetings before Billy goes to lie down.

Billy realizes the quartet reminds him of the guards standing together, open mouthed, in the meat locker in Dresden during the bombing. The prisoners remain in their shelter through the night and much of the next day while the city burns. Billy flashes to the zoo on Tralfamadore where a pregnant Montana Wildhack asks Billy to tell her a story, so he tells her about how Dresden looked like the surface of the moon after the bombing. When the men finally leave the slaughterhouse, they climb over rubble and leave the city. They reach a suburban inn where the innkeeper welcomes them, feeds them, and houses them in his stable for the night.


Howard W. Campbell is the oddest of figures. He is an American, dressed head to toe in red, white, and blue, yet he is a propagandist for the Nazis. The dramatic irony is clear: the author and the reader know Campbell's predictions about the Americans sooner or later having to fight the Russians come true. His offers of steaks, potatoes, and mince pies must have strong appeal to the starving soldiers, yet they do not respond to his offer: even starvation can't seem to motivate them to reenter the fighting. These troops are no longer motivated to do much at all, which is why Edgar Derby's passionate refusal of Campbell's proposal is noteworthy.

In his postwar life Billy Pilgrim gets to meet his idol, Kilgore Trout. For someone Billy admires so completely, Trout is decidedly ordinary. His books don't sell, so he runs circulation for the Ilium Gazette. Trout has published 75 books, so he is clearly committed to writing and to his ideas, but meeting Billy is the first time he feels as if his work is appreciated by someone who matters. His conversation with the vapid woman at Billy's anniversary party shows Trout likes getting attention as a writer, but he also has contempt for people who are not as smart as he; this contempt is also visible when he says Eliot Rosewater writes like a 14-year-old and when he berates his newspaper delivery boys and girls.

Billy's anxiety attack at the party provides another indication his time travel may actually be a manifestation of mental illness. He can't explain what has happened to him right away, but the barbershop quartet has triggered something in him that upsets him enough to make him leave the party. When he realizes the singers remind him of the guards on the night Dresden was bombed, he immediately slips into his zoo enclosure with Montana. Tralfamadore is a comforting place for him, made more comforting by his intimacy with Montana and the home and family they are creating there. The immediate aftermath of the Dresden bombing is not presented as another of Billy's time travel episodes but as his story to Montana: she acts as a kind of buffer between him and the experience. His retelling of the story in bed with Montana also mirrors his telling of Edgar Derby's execution during his wedding night with Valencia in Chapter 5, perhaps signifying the wedding as a personal cataclysm.

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