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Slaughterhouse-Five | Quotes

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1.

You'll pretend you were men instead of babies ... And war will look just wonderful.


Mary O'Hare, Chapter 1

Because she thinks it will glorify war, Mary O'Hare is angry at the narrator for writing a book about his life in the war. Only after the narrator assures her his book won't glorify war does she become friendly with him because the influence of an antiwar book might help prevent wars.

2.

It is so short and jumbled and jangled, Sam, because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre.


Narrator, Chapter 1

The narrator apologizes to his publisher for the novel's structure and for his own difficulties in writing this long-anticipated novel about Dresden. Massacres are so final and destructive that they defy description or commentary even from those lucky enough to survive them.

3.

Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.


Narrator, Chapter 2

The use of the word listen as the first line of the novel emphasizes the importance of what the narrator is about to say, and it also creates a sense of intimacy between the reader and the narrator. The word emphasizes the shift from the narrator's story to Billy's story.

4.

He says.


Narrator, Chapter 2

The repeated use of the phrase he says indicates how Billy may not literally be a time traveler but an unreliable man whose thoughts and memories overpower his reality in ways he cannot control.

5.

Now ... I ... say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is "So it goes."


Billy Pilgrim, Chapter 2

The Tralfamadorians experience time and death not as a chronological sequence but as a complete whole. Here Billy reveals the source of the phrase So it goes, which is a refrain throughout the novel when anyone or anything dies, from a soldier on the battlefield to a bottle of champagne. The phrase acknowledges the inevitability of death, yet the repetition also calls attention to deaths in the narrative and to our own dismissive attitudes about the many deaths that happen every day.

6.

Among the things Billy Pilgrim could not change were the past, the present, and the future.


Narrator, Chapter 3

Events happen to Billy and he submits to them, remaining passive even when his own life is at stake. Billy's belief that he has no control over any part of his existence is deeply ingrained for him, brought about by traumatic events he could not control. If he ever believed he had free will, he has given up that notion.

7.

That's one thing Earthlings might learn to do ... : Ignore the awful times, and concentrate on the good ones.


Tralfamadorian guide, Chapter 5

The Tralfamadorian guide's advice speaks to humans' inherent pessimism and a tendency to look back and focus on bad memories. This tendency is referenced briefly in Chapter 1 when the narrator says he is always looking at his memories of destruction, to the point that these memories have rendered him immobile. Billy's memories have done the same to him.

8.

Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.


Billy Pilgrim, Chapter 5

While talking to Valencia on their wedding night, Billy imagines this phrase on his tombstone. It is a bit of verbal irony, implying a meaning different from what is said, because much of Billy's experience has been ugly and hurtful. This imagined epitaph reflects a moment of optimism or wishful thinking on Billy's part, as he attempts to focus on the beautiful moments from his life.

9.

You needn't worry about bombs, by the way. Dresden is an open city. It is undefended.


Head Englishman, Chapter 6

The statement employs some situational irony because Billy does in fact need to worry about bombs: the city will be destroyed within a few weeks. The soldier's assessment also highlights how Dresden was not an important strategic target and makes the massacre that follows seem even more inhumane.

10.

One bird said to Billy Pilgrim, 'Poo-tee-weet?'


Narrator, Chapter 10

The novel ends with a bird chirping at Billy Pilgrim as he wanders into a street after being released at the end of the war. Even though the trees are coming into leaf and the birds are chirping, there is very little hope and renewal here: the line emphasizes the narrator's statement in Chapter 1 that there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre, which leaves behind only the silence of the dead and the chirping of birds.

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