The Slaughter House Five

Billy Pilgrim, like Kurt Vonnegut, was an American soldier in Europe
in the last year of World War II. If you come to know a combat veteran
well- a veteran of that war, of the Korean War, or of the war in
Vietnam- you will almost always find that his war experience was the
single most important event in his life. The sights and scars of war
remain with the soldier for the rest of his days, and his memories
of death and killing help to shape whatever future career he may make.
The same is true for Billy Pilgrim. What he saw and did during his
six months on the battlefield and as a prisoner of war have
dominated his life. Slaughterhouse-Five shows how Billy comes to terms
with the feelings of horror, guilt, and despair that are the result of
his war experiences.
Billy does this by putting the events of his life in perspective. He
reorganizes his life so that all of it occurs within the context of
his days in Europe during the war. Thus the novel relates Billy's
prewar and postwar history (including his death in 1976, which was
many years in the future when Vonnegut was writing this book), but the
real story of the novel is the story of Billy's wartime days. All
the other events in Billy's life are merely incidental to his time
as a soldier and a prisoner of war. You see them as events that come
to his mind as he lives, or relives, the last months of the war in
Billy reorganizes his life by using the device of time-travel.
Unlike everyone else, Billy Pilgrim doesn't live his life one day
after another. He has become unstuck in time, and he jumps around
among the periods of his life like a flea from dog to dog.
When you meet him in Chapter 2, it is December 1944 and Billy and
three other American soldiers are lost in a forest far behind enemy
lines. Billy closes his eyes for a moment, drifts back to a day in his
past with his father at the YMCA, then suddenly opens his eyes in
the future: it's 1965 and he is visiting his mother in a nursing home.
He blinks, the time changes to 1958, then 1961, and then he finds
himself back in the forest in December 1944.
Billy doesn't have much time to wonder about what has just happened.
He's captured almost immediately by German soldiers and put onto a
train bound for eastern Germany. Aboard the train Billy has a great
adventure in the future: on his daughter's wedding night in 1967, he
is kidnapped by a flying saucer from the imaginary planet
Tralfamadore. The aliens take Billy to their home planet and put him
in a zoo.
Then, as always seems to happen, Billy wakes up back in the war. The
train arrives at a prison camp, and there a group of British
officers throw a banquet for the American POWs.
Before long he is traveling in time again, to a mental hospital in
1948, where he's visited by his fiance, Valencia Merble. As soon as he
recovers from his nervous breakdown, Billy will be set up in
business as an optometrist by Valencia's father. Billy is introduced
to science fiction by his hospital roommate, Eliot Rosewater, whose
favorite author is Kilgore Trout. Trout's writing is terrible, but
Billy comes to admire his ideas.
Billy travels in time again to Tralfamadore, where he is the most
popular exhibit in the zoo. His keepers love talking to Billy
because his ideas are so strange to them. He thinks, for example, that
wars could be prevented if people could see into the future as he can.
Next Billy wakes up on the first night of his honeymoon. After
making love, Valencia wants to talk about the war. Before Billy can
say much about it, he's back there himself.
The American POWs are being moved to Dresden, which as an open
city (of no military value) has come through the war unscathed, while
almost every other German city has been heavily bombed. Billy knows
that Dresden will soon be totally destroyed, even though there's
nothing worth bombing there- no troops, no weapons factories,
nothing but people and beautiful buildings. The Americans are housed
in building number five of the Dresden slaughterhouse.
Billy continues his time-travels. He survives a plane crash in 1968.
A few years before that, he meets Kilgore Trout. And on Tralfamadore
he tells his zoo-mate, Montana Wildhack, about the