Slaughterhouse Five Study Guide

Slaughterhouse Five By Kurt Vonnegut

Billy Pilgrim, a World-War II Prisoner of War trapped deep underground in a place only called "Slaughterhouse number Five", is one of the few survivors of the firebombing of Dresden. Just before his capture, he experienced a temporal anomaly in which he saw his entire life, from birth to his own future murder, in a single sweeping vision.

The survivors emerge to a completely vaporized city, and they work to find survivors until the Russians arrive and Billy's involvement in the war comes to a close. He has a nervous breakdown upon returning to normal life, and receives shock treatments in the institution he turns himself into. Upon checking himself out, he gets married, lives a normal life, and has a daughter - but the events of war appear to have "unstuck" Billy in time; he continuously seems to relive the same events, and relives many events out of sequence.

The night after his daughter's wedding (years later, obviously), Billy is kidnapped by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore, who take him and B-movie starlet Montana Wildhack to a zoo. The Tralfamadorans explain to Billy that they live in four dimensions rather than three, and they see life in its entirety (as he once did). They explain that death is merely a temporal event, and that someone who is dead in one moment is still alive and healthy in another. They prefer to focus their attention on the positive parts of their timestreams.

Billy finally returns to Earth, and survives a plane crash (he knew he would) and the death of his wife (which he also foresaw), and he knows that it's time to tell the world of his insights into the nature of time. He sneaks to New York and gets himself onto a talk show, where he shares his understanding. He also writes a letter to a local paper. His daughter practically disowns him for his oddity, but he knows and accepts the inevitability of this as well.

Finally, Billy approaches the moment of his death, which he describes in detail, having lived the moment many times before: he will be standing on a flying saucer above the ruins of Chicago (recently hydrogen-bombed by the Chinese) when an assassin hired by someone he knew from his World War Two days will shoot him with a laser beam. He will experience the 'violent hum of death', and then simply choose another more pleasant point of his timestream to being perceiving his life from.

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