Slaughterhouse Five

Book Report Summary

Title, Author and Publication

Slaughterhouse Five was written by Kurt Vonnegut was published in New York by Dell Publishers. It was first released in 1969.

Setting

The events of the novel occur in the past, present and future of the protagonist. The story moves between World War II era Germany, 1950s suburban America and the planet Trafalmadore.

Characters:

Billy Pilgrim: the protagonist of the novel, Billy Pilgrim is a WWII veteran who becomes a prisoner of war at the time of the fire bombing of Dresden.
The reader also sees Billy as an optometrist and a family man who has become "unstuck in time". This phenomenon causes him to travel back and forth in time experiencing and re-experiencing the events of his life.
Roland Weary: a fellow prisoner of war who incorrectly imagines himself as a glorious hero and who blames his death on Billy.
Paul Lazarro: also a prisoner of war and friend to Roland Weary. Lazzaro makes it his mission to see Weary avenged by killing Billy Pilgrim.
Narrator: the author himself plays a small role in the novel interjecting facts about the war and his own experiences in it. The narrator's role serves to frame the events of Billy Pilgrim's life, giving the novel a cohesive thread.
Trafalmadorians: the aliens who abduct Billy Pilgrim as a specimen for their zoo. The Trafalmadorians perceive life and time in four dimensions and so understand Billy's tendencies to jump from time period to time period.

Plot:

Slaughterhouse Five follows the story of Billy Pilgrim, optometrist and time traveler.

The novel jumps through time with Billy as he lives the events of his life over and over again. In this dynamic framework, the reader sees the terrors of war, the quiet desperation of suburban life and the breakdown of the psyche through Billy's time jumping eyes. Just before he is captured as a prisoner of war, Billy experiences his first time jump.

Here he sees his whole life, past, present and future, unfold. After the war, Billy returns from Europe to resume his civilian life, but does not cease moving randomly through time, witnessing his birth, his death and events in between. He is eventually abducted by aliens who experience time in much the same way as Billy except that they prefer to look only at life's more pleasant moments. Despite his family's objections, Billy tells the world of his time traveling and of his abduction, highlighting the story with a detailed account of his death.

Questions to Ponder

1. Consider the structure of the novel.

  • How does the novel's chronology or lack of it, reinforce the motif of time travel?
  • How does the author's role as narrator tie the story together?
  • How does Vonnegut use irony to further his ideas about the futility of war?

2. Consider the theme of war.

  • In what ways do the events of the novel highlight the atrocities of war?
  • How do some of the minor characters illustrate the devastation that results from war?
  • In what ways does Vonnegut demonstrate the futility and absurdity of war?

3. Examine the conflict between characters.

  • Is Billy Pilgrim really time traveling or is this phenomenon just an expression of how
  • damaged he has become?
  • Consider the roles of Edgar Derby and Roland Weary. How do they act as foils to Billy?
  • What is Vonnegut trying to say about the existence of free will?

Possible First Sentences

If you're struggling to begin your report, you might find these statements helpful:

  • "The first casualty of war is human dignity."
  • "Time is a concept that is relative to its context."
  • "Fatalism is the belief that all events are fated to happen in the way they do."
  • "The experience of great trauma affects the human psyche in many ways."