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Slaughterhouse-Five | Discussion Questions 41 - 50

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Why does Barbara Pilgrim disapprove of her father's friendship with Kilgore Trout in Chapter 8 of Slaughterhouse-Five?

Barbara Pilgrim sees a growing resemblance between her father's increasingly irrational statements and actions and the novels of Kilgore Trout: he runs away to New York City and sneaks onto a radio talk show to tell the world about Tralfamadore, he writes letters about Tralfamadore to the local newspaper, and he upsets one of his child patients by telling him about Tralfamadore. These events embarrass Barbara, but they also make her question her father's sanity and his ability to care for himself. She believes Tralfamadore is a fantasy her father has constructed as a result of his brain injury, and she believes the influence of Kilgore Trout's novels and Billy's friendship with Trout are responsible.

How does Valencia Pilgrim's death in Chapter 9 of Slaughterhouse-Five create situational irony?

Valencia Pilgrim is distraught when she learns Billy has been involved in a plane crash, and she rushes from her home in Ilium to be with him in the hospital in Vermont. On the way there she is in a car accident. The situational irony begins with the narrator saying "thank God" three times when explaining no one was hurt in the accident because the accident will kill Valencia within hours. While the other car sustains little damage, the rear end of Valencia's Cadillac is destroyed, and even though her exhaust system falls out of the car, she drives on. Valencia makes it to the hospital but loses consciousness immediately upon arrival, having spent hours breathing exhaust from her car. Her panicked concern that Billy might die causes her to so neglect her own safety that she dies before she gets to him.

Why does Bertram Copeland Rumfoord feel contempt for Billy Pilgrim in Chapter 9 of Slaughterhouse-Five?

Bertram Copeland Rumfoord, Billy Pilgrim's roommate in Vermont after the plane crash, believes himself to be superhuman. In some ways he is. At age 70 he is active and athletic; he is in the hospital after breaking his leg in a skiing accident. Rumfoord's physical prowess has also gotten him a 23-year-old wife named Lily. She is a former go-go dancer whom Rumfoord has married to show the world he is able to marry a 23-year-old former go-go dancer. This retired brigadier general is hard at work on a history of the Army Air Corps and has authored 26 other books, including one about sex and athletics for men over 65. He looks at the 45-year-old Billy and sees a delusional weakling mumbling in his bed. Billy neither has nor has ever had Rumfoord's money or physical stamina, and Roomford can't muster any respect or compassion for Billy in spite of his condition. Even when Billy convinces Rumfoord he was in Dresden at the time of the bombing, Rumfoord refuses to take Billy seriously.

Why does the condition of the horses in Chapter 9 of Slaughterhouse-Five make Billy Pilgrim cry?

After the war is over the American prisoners find a wagon with two horses, which they use to carry the things they take from suburban houses back into Dresden. At no point do they think to water these animals or consider their physical condition. The Americans treat the horses as tools to be used, and as a result the horses have broken hooves and bleeding mouths when two German survivors of the bombing discover them. Billy is waiting in the wagon with the horses outside the slaughterhouse while the others are inside. When the German couple sees the horses, they summon Billy from the wagon to see the animals' condition. Up to this point Billy has enjoyed riding in the wagon and soaking in the sun, but when he sees what he and his fellow soldiers have done to the horses he is overcome with guilt and weeps for the first time during the war. Billy's tears seem out of place given all he has been through, but he has been part of the brutal treatment of these horses. The horses have had no control over what has happened to them or the suffering they have endured, and this also means Billy must see something of his own experience in theirs.

Why do the owners of the bookshop in Times Square in Chapter 9 of Slaughterhouse-Five think Billy Pilgrim is a pervert?

During his escape to New York City to spread the word about Tralfamadore, Billy visits an adult book shop in Times Square. He is not drawn there by the peep shows or girlie magazines but by the display of Kilgore Trout's novels in the window. The shop's owners are puzzled by this because the novels are only window dressing. They are used to customers who want to buy pornography; this is what is normal to them. What is not normal for them is an adult man in their shop who shows no interest in the nudity they have in stock and insists on reading the (sort of) mainstream novels they have on display as props, so they decide he must be really sick. Even in a place where all kinds of weirdness are acceptable and encouraged—one of the clerks has a copy of the photo Roland Weary carried during the war—Billy Pilgrim is unable to fit in.

What is the significance of Montana Wildhack's locket and the cartoon depicting it in Chapter 9 of Slaughterhouse-Five?

Montana Wildhack wears a locket containing a photo of her alcoholic mother; the locket is inscribed with what readers might recognize as the Serenity Prayer, a staple of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Billy notices the locket hanging between Montana's breasts while she nurses their baby in the zoo on Tralfamadore. This prayer, which readers encountered first in Chapter 3 on a poster, now appears as part of a cartoon of the locket and Montana's absurdly idealized figure. Whereas at first the cartoon may appear to be an attempt to make the portrayal more real by getting beyond the limitations of a novel, the clumsiness—even lewdness—of the drawing creates a good deal of situational irony: just like the prayer itself, which appears to contradict Billy's Tralfamadorian-based worldview, he believes he can change nothing, while this prayer implies some changes are possible. Billy does however accept the things he cannot change, which include everything, and as a result he is more than serene; he is totally passive and apathetic.

Why do Billy and the narrator make references to Wild Bob in Chapters 9 and 10 of Slaughterhouse-Five?

Wild Bob is a corporal who dies of pneumonia on the prisoner transport train in Germany before the prisoners reach the first POW camp. He raves about the heroism of his troops and has a delusional sense of his own popularity as their leader and as a local celebrity in his hometown of Cody, Wyoming. When Billy Pilgrim is nervous about going on the radio in New York City to talk about Tralfamadore, he repeats Wild Bob's last words to him: "If you're ever in Cody, Wyoming, just ask for Wild Bob." When Wild Bob said this in the train depot, he was showing courage; he must have known he was likely to die, yet he was so deluded and out of touch with reality that he kept up his optimism. Billy gathers courage from Wild Bob's example, willing himself to show no fear although he's nervous. For the narrator the phrase is a private reference he shares with his war buddy Bernard V. O'Hare. On a flight to Dresden the narrator so enjoys the food, wine, and O'Hare's company that he'd like to revisit that moment, if what the Tralfamadorians say about time is true. During the flight the narrator repeats the deluded man's words to O'Hare. Now the narrator and O'Hare enjoy postwar happiness and Wild Bob is dead. The narrator seems to feel tender toward Wild Bob, whose vision of happiness was so generous. Mentioning Wild Bob introduces a note of melancholy into his and O'Hare's happiness, a reminder of how fragile it is.

What is absurd about Edgar Derby's execution after the bombing, mentioned in Chapter 10 of Slaughterhouse-Five and at many other points throughout the novel?

Edgar Derby is easily the strongest, most prepared, most mentally stable soldier among the prisoners of war in Dresden. He is found holding a teapot in the rubble, put on trial for looting, found guilty, and executed. The circumstances in which he is found with the teapot do not make it clear he intended to steal it, but the trial found him guilty. The absurdity of this scenario lies in the environment where it happens: an entire city has been destroyed, and thousands of people—including the owners of the teapot—have been killed. This teapot from the rubble is judged more valuable than the life of a man who has been dedicated to public service, first as a teacher then as a soldier. Compounding this absurdity are the events that take place once the war is over: the surviving prisoners commandeer two horses and a wagon and travel the Dresden suburbs, helping themselves to whatever they find in the homes. These actions are much clearer examples of theft, but there are no longer any German guards around to stop them. Edgar Derby dies because he was caught with the teapot by chance, and chance later frees his fellow soldiers to loot whatever they want to take.

What is the significance of the "corpse mines" in Chapter 10 of Slaughterhouse-Five?

After Dresden is bombed many bodies are buried under the rubble. Thousands of bodies rest in underground chambers, bomb shelters that were not deep enough or reinforced well enough to protect their occupants from the firestorm. The prisoners of war brought to the city to clean up the rubble begin digging random holes without a clear idea what they are looking for. Billy's work group digs a hole that leads to an underground chamber where dozens of bodies sit on benches. This is the first corpse mine, a hole in the Dresden rubble where the workers remove bodies instead of minerals or jewels. Eventually there are hundreds of such holes, with workers pulling the bodies out. Once the smell of decomposition gets bad enough to become hazardous to the workers, the soldiers use flamethrowers to cremate the bodies where they are.

What is the meaning of "Poo-tee-weet?" in Chapter 10 of Slaughterhouse-Five?

"Poo-tee-weet?" is a string of nonsense syllables meant to represent the chirping of a bird. After the end of the war, after the massacre is over, the narrator opts for nonsense sounds and syllables in this context instead of saying something like "birds were chirping in the trees" or even using the more familiar expression of bird syllables tweet tweet. The sound of this bird at the end reflects the narrator's assertion that there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre, and the choice of the newly invented bird sound removes any meaning that might have lingered in the postmassacre environment had he used a more familiar version of a bird call. In addition the narrator represents the bird's call as a question addressed to Billy in particular. Given the context the bird's question might be perceived by Billy as a question about the bombing. Or it might be the bird's changeless call. If Billy has an answer the book doesn't tell us; it emphasizes human inability to comment on human violence. The distinct sound of this bird also illustrates how clearly it can be heard in extreme isolation. There are no people, machines, or industry to make noise that might drown out or distort the sound. Billy and the bird are alone on the street at the end of the war; they might as well be the last living creatures on Earth.

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