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Slaughterhouse-Five | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


Why does the German surgeon in Dresden think Billy is mocking his people in Chapter 6 of Slaughterhouse-Five?

When Billy marches through Dresden with the rest of the American prisoners, he looks ridiculous. He is wearing silver boots stolen from the English officers' production of Cinderella in the prison camp and a blue toga fashioned from the theater's curtains. He carries the coat he was given in the camp, too small to fit him, as a muff. Despite his beard Billy's outfit has distinctly feminine characteristics, at odds with the manly soldiers the people of Dresden expect to see. If the German soldiers can conquer someone like Billy, it says little for their own power. The surgeon, who does not understand how poorly equipped Billy was from the moment he entered the war, thinks this display is intended to make the war look like a joke, to make the German soldiers look weak. Billy is unable to explain how his costume was born of necessity, and his decision to show the surgeon the diamond and the denture hidden in the lining of his coat does little to change that impression. In fact such a display may be read as further mockery.

Why does Chapter 6 of Slaughterhouse-Five contain a description of Dresden's beauty as a city?

Dresden is described as "the loveliest city that most of the Americans had ever seen. The skyline was intricate and voluptuous and enchanted and absurd." When the prisoners arrive in the city, the narrator makes an appearance, comparing Dresden with the magical city of Oz. Billy thinks Dresden looks like a picture of heaven he saw in Sunday School. Dresden is not just beautiful, it is beautiful on an otherworldly level. It also seems to be an idyll untouched by war; the city is completely undamaged when the prisoners arrive. The electricity works, the streetcars run on time, and restaurants and theaters remain open for business. The description that introduces Dresden emphasizes how much is there to be destroyed. The city manufactures medicine, food, and cigarettes, not munitions. The city is called an "open city," which means it is running freely and is sparsely defended. All of this serves to show the extent of the damage the bombing causes and how the attack, particularly the intensity of the bombing, was unnecessary.

Why does Billy Pilgrim give his wartime address in Dresden to his rescuers on Sugarbush Mountain in Chapter 7 of Slaughterhouse-Five?

After his plane crashes on Sugarbush Mountain, Billy has a severe head injury and is delirious, hovering near unconsciousness. The first people to find him are a group of Austrian ski instructors whose faces are covered by ski masks. They don't look human to Billy. To him the black ski masks with red topknots make them look like performers in blackface, but the Austrian skiers speak to Billy in German, which triggers a memory. His address in Dresden, Schlachthof-fünf, is so deeply ingrained in Billy's memory that it comes forth naturally and he whispers it to one of the ski instructors. Billy is so accustomed to moving back and forth through time he easily mistakes his rescuers for his former captors. The incident serves as a further reminder that Billy never really left Dresden or the slaughterhouse and is prepared to enact that scene from his life again and again.

What is significant about Billy's family relationship to his guard in Dresden in Chapter 7 of Slaughterhouse-Five?

Neither Billy nor the guard, Werner Gluck, knows it, but they are distant cousins. The two of them share a close physical resemblance and are only a few years apart in age. On the title page of the novel Vonnegut mentions his own German heritage, and in Chapter 1 the narrator and the cab driver strike up a chance friendship. Billy's relationship to Gluck is a similar relationship of chance. In slightly different circumstances the two men who are prisoner and guard could have been guards together or close friends. Even though Americans and Germans are enemies in this war, the mention of this common ancestry emphasizes that an accident might have placed many Americans on a different side in this war. The connection also emphasizes a common humanity being undermined by the war.

In what way does Howard W. Campbell's outfit create situational irony when he meets the prisoners in Chapter 8 of Slaughterhouse-Five?

In situational irony the opposite of what readers expected to happen occurs. For a Nazi propagandist Campbell's outfit is aggressively American. Under different circumstances and without the swastika armband, it might even look comically patriotic. He wears the stereotypically American 10-gallon hat and cowboy boots with a blue bodysuit that has yellow stripes down the sides. He wears a shoulder patch bearing a silhouette of Abraham Lincoln's profile, a pointed juxtaposition given Campbell's Nazism and Lincoln's commitment to equality. The swastika armband is red, white, and blue, which creates another twist in Campbell's presentation, since the Nazi logo is rendered in American colors that historically signify freedom. Campbell assigns different meanings to the American colors, though, associating the blue with the American sky, the white field with the white race, and the red with the blood of past patriots, even as his presence is an insult to the patriotism of the soldiers he addresses in the slaughterhouse.

What makes Edgar Derby a "character" in Chapter 8 of Slaughterhouse-Five?

The narrator explains "there are almost no characters in this story," meaning almost no one in the story takes decisive, memorable action. Billy Pilgrim, for example, is too passive to be a character in the narrator's sense; he creates no drama or tension and is moved and affected only by forces outside himself. In this one moment, when the noble patriotism that led him to volunteer for a war he was too old to fight in is threatened by Campbell's propaganda, Edgar Derby becomes a character, so to speak, by taking decisive, dramatic action. While the other soldiers sit quietly, not responding to Campbell's offer to join the German side, Derby stands and delivers a speech refuting all Campbell stands for. This moment is significant because the reader, knowing Edgar Derby is doomed, is convinced all the more that his death is unjust.

How is Kilgore Trout characterized in Chapter 8 of Slaughterhouse-Five?

Kilgore Trout is presented in Chapter 8 as a stark contrast to the mental image Billy has formed for him, and nowhere deserving of Billy's hero worship. Trout makes his first appearance as a bitter, cranky old man yelling at children in an alleyway. In fact Trout is offering the incentive of a free trip to Martha's Vineyard to the delivery kid who sells the most Sunday subscriptions in the next two months, which seems an unlikely offer. Trout is a prolific fiction writer who makes up stories on the fly, as seen in his conversation with the dimwitted but beautiful dental-assistant-turned-homemaker Maggie White at Billy's anniversary party. As cranky and bullying as Trout seems to be with his delivery staff, he also harbors insecurities. He has been writing and publishing books for years, but he does not think of himself as a writer. He is shocked when Billy Pilgrim greets him and recognizes his work. When he attends Billy and Valencia's anniversary celebration, he wallows in the attention he gets for being an author and becomes the life of the party. He still makes fun of the people he meets, telling outrageous lies to an oblivious Maggie. The friendship with Billy also seems to soften his demeanor a bit, as Trout expresses genuine concern for Billy's well-being when Billy has an anxiety attack.

What is the message and significance of Kilgore Trout's The Gutless Wonder as described in Chapter 8 of Slaughterhouse-Five?

The Gutless Wonder is a novel about a robot whose job is to drop burning jellied gasoline from airplanes as bombs, which reveals Kilgore Trout's powers of prediction. He writes the novel in 1932, decades before jellied gasoline, or Napalm, came into common use as a weapon during the Vietnam War. The robot character in Trout's novel is wildly unpopular with humans because it has terrible breath, not because it is an unthinking killing machine. Once the robot gets its halitosis fixed, it is welcomed into the human race. The message of this story is that humans care more about trivialities than they do about genocide. While Slaughterhouse-Five is not about the Vietnam War, it was published during the Vietnam War era, and Vietnam looms large in the novel as the current target of the book's antiwar message. This Kilgore Trout novel is one example of how Slaughterhouse-Five takes on the Vietnam War in an indirect way, by criticizing both the use of the weapon that eventually became synonymous with Vietnam and society's general indifference to that weapon's use.

Based on the party in Chapter 8 of Slaughterhouse-Five, what kind of relationship does Billy Pilgrim have with his wife?

Previous chapters have established that Billy's marriage to Valencia is based largely on convenience and Billy's tendency to take the path of least resistance. Valencia's devotion to her husband is on full display at the anniversary party as she fusses and worries over him when he has an anxiety attack in the middle of the celebration. For his part Billy's expressions of affection for Valencia seem to be largely jewelry based. She proudly shows off the large diamond engagement ring Billy gave her, made from the diamond hidden in the lining of his wartime coat. One of the party guests says it is the largest diamond she has seen outside of a museum. At the anniversary party Billy gives Valencia a blue star sapphire ring, and he is disappointed that his anxiety attack has prevented him from giving it to her when people can see it. Although Billy's wealth has not cured his anxiety or his time-traveling tendencies, he still feels a desire to make public demonstrations from time to time.

Based on the anniversary party in Chapter 8 of Slaughterhouse-Five, what kind of relationship does Billy Pilgrim have with his son?

When Billy Pilgrim leaves his anniversary party after having an anxiety attack, he meets his son Robert in the upstairs bathroom. He leaves the lights off and discovers his son is in the room with him. When Billy turns on the light, Robert is sitting on the toilet with an electric guitar he will never learn how to play. Robert is still in his troubled teenage years, some time away from joining the Green Berets. Billy likes Robert but does not feel he knows Robert very well. They greet each other as "Dad" and "Son" in this scene, but this is Billy's only direct interaction with Robert in the novel, which creates the impression that the two have little connection. Billy only expresses liking for his child, not love, and he expresses no motivation to know Robert better because he believes there is little to know about Robert. It is an amiable relationship but, like all of Billy's relationships, it is superficial.

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