Support the Monkey! Tell All your Friends and Teachers

Help / FAQ

printable study guide online download notes summary

Kurt Vonnegut




_____ 1. Vonnegut had trouble writing Slaughterhouse-Five because he

    A. couldn't remember any good stories about the war
    B. was distracted by other projects
    C. couldn't make sense of his Dresden experience
_____ 2. Billy's daughter Barbara is upset with him because
    A. she thinks he's crazy
    B. she doesn't want to take care of him
    C. his stories about aliens and time-travel embarrass her
_____ 3. The "river of humiliation" refers to
    A. the place where American planes machine-gunned survivors of the Dresden bombing
    B. the movement of the POWs
    C. the passage of time
_____ 4. Roland Weary dies from
    A. gangrene in his feet
    B. starvation
    C. exposure
_____ 5. Edgar Derby is much older than his fellow soldiers because he
    A. used to be an officer
    B. was drafted by mistake
    C. pulled strings to get into the fighting
_____ 6. Eliot Rosewater is in the mental hospital because
    A. he's an alcoholic
    B. he is alarmed by life
    C. he has no place else to go
_____ 7. Billy can't talk to his wife about the war because
    A. he hates her
    B. he is embarrassed
    C. she thinks he was a hero
_____ 8. Paul Lazzaro is going to have Billy killed after the war because
    A. it was Billy's fault that Lazzaro was captured
    B. Billy broke Lazzaro's arm
    C. Roland Weary made Lazzaro promise it
_____ 9. The Dresden surgeon who scolds Billy is angry because
    A. the Americans laugh at him
    B. he thinks Billy is treating the war as a joke
    C. he is exhausted
_____ 10. Valencia kills herself
    A. by accident
    B. because Billy doesn't love her
    C. because her life is meaningless

11. What is the significance of Tralfamadore in Slaughterhouse-Five?

12. Why is Kilgore Trout important?

13. How does Vonnegut portray the "military manner" of thinking?

14. Is Billy Pilgrim a Christ figure? Explain.


_____ 1. Bernard V. O'Hare is embarrassed when Vonnegut tries to talk to him about the war because

    I. he wants to forget about the war
    II. his wife will be mad if he talks to Vonnegut
    III. he doesn't think the war should be exploited for money
    A. I and II only
    B. I and III only
    C. I, II, and III
_____ 2. Roland Weary keeps Billy with him because he
    A. likes tormenting Billy
    B. will look like a hero for saving Billy's life
    C. likes Billy
_____ 3. When Billy sees the crippled men selling phony magazine subscriptions, he
    A. calls the Better Business Bureau
    B. buys a subscription out of pity
    C. weeps for them and their boss
_____ 4. The Tralfamadorians take no notice of free will because they
    A. see all time all at once
    B. are determinists
    C. think Earthlings are stupid
_____ 5. The English POWs have an easy time of it because
    I. the Germans adore them
    II. they are all officers
    III. there has been a clerical error
    A. I, II, and III
    B. II and III only
    C. I and III only
_____ 6. Billy's "vision of hell" refers to
    A. Dresden after the bombing
    B. the latrine at the prison camp
    C. the zoo on Tralfamadore
_____ 7. Howard W. Campbell, Jr., describes American POWs as being
    A. "clever, graceful, quiet"
    B. "the most self-pitying, least fraternal, and dirtiest of all"
    C. "the great explainers"
_____ 8. Dresden was an "open city" because
    A. it was so beautiful
    B. there were hospitals there
    C. it had no military value
_____ 9. The barbershop quartet upsets Billy because
    A. they remind him of the guards in Dresden
    B. their songs are tasteless
    C. they are terrible singers
_____ 10. Billy goes to New York to
    A. visit an old war buddy
    B. go to a pornography store
    C. get on a TV or radio show

11. What are the problems Vonnegut had in writing his book about Dresden?

12. What effect does the war have on Billy Pilgrim?

13. How is time presented in Slaughterhouse-Five

14. Discuss Vonnegut's attitude towards machines, giving examples.


  1. C
  2. C
  3. B
  4. A
  5. C
  6. B
  7. B
  8. C
  9. B
  10. A

11. For Billy the Tralfamadorians function as superior beings whose philosophy enables him to come to terms with his life. They give him Montana to enable him to "start the world over again" as a new Adam with his Eve. For Vonnegut the Tralfamadorians provide an opportunity to comment from an "alien" perspective, on the absurdity of modern life and the illusions that human beings hold dear. The Tralfamadorians see all time all at once, and so to them free will-the idea that we make our own choices in life-does not exist. To them we are like bugs trapped in amber because past, present, and future are all fixed.

12. Vonnegut himself wrote science fiction stories for magazines, and for many years he failed to win much of an audience for his writings. Perhaps Kilgore Trout is Vonnegut's caricature of himself. Or perhaps Vonnegut feared that he would turn into a bitter and crazed man like Kilgore Trout if he didn't get some recognition as a writer.

Vonnegut uses paraphrases of Trout's novels to satirize American values. The Gutless Wonder, which is about a robot who becomes popular when his bad breath is cleared up, parodies the inane mentality of advertising. In The Big Board an Earthling couple's greed provides entertainment in an alien zoo.

Finally, Trout's novels furnish Billy Pilgrim with the material and the inspiration for his therapeutic fantasies, and they help him to remember consciously his Dresden experience.

13. The most primitive example of this is Roland Weary with his pathetic fantasies of heroism and deep friendships forged in battle. More sophisticated are the English officers in the German prison camp, who make war look "stylish and fun." But Vonnegut's exemplar of the "military manner" of thinking is Professor Rumfoord. Rumfoord's wives are mere trophies of his virility, he is a staunch social Darwinist who believes that only the strong should survive, and he thinks that the men who bombed Dresden, not the victims, are the ones who should be pitied.

Vonnegut also quotes extensively from military writings and speeches, usually selecting passages that seem to him to be the most absurd.

14. There are numerous references to Jesus in Slaughterhouse-Five. Two novels by Kilgore Trout reexamine the New Testament story, and the horse pitiers croon like Jesus's friends taking his body down from the cross. Billy is twice directly associated with Jesus: he is "crucified" on a cross-brace in the boxcar, and the Christmas carol "Away in the Manger" is said to describe Billy's inability to weep.

In some ways Billy's story parallels the life of Jesus. He tries to preach a message of hope and peace, but few people are ready for it. And in a vision he sees himself being assassinated for trying to change the world.


  1. C
  2. B
  3. C
  4. A
  5. A
  6. B
  7. B
  8. C
  9. A
  10. C

11. Some of Vonnegut's problems had to do with the nature of writing itself. Writing distorts events by making them plot elements in a story, and it turns actual people into characters. This process in turn dehumanizes the writer himself. Beyond this, writing cannot make sense of an atrocity.

Vonnegut saw ethical problems too. Another antiwar book would be worse than pointless because all war stories encourage war. Vonnegut's Dresden experience was absurd, so to make sense of it by writing a "good story" would be a lie.

Vonnegut found that he could most truthfully present his story if he adopted a point of view that combined the innocent perspective of the "baby" he was during the war with the embarrassed hindsight of the adult writing the story years later.

12. All of Billy Pilgrim's problems with life stem from his experiences in World War II. Exhaustion, exposure and hunger take their toll on his body, but far worse is the psychological damage he suffers as a result of witnessing the destruction of Dresden. Three years after coming home from the war he has a nervous breakdown, and commits himself to a mental hospital, where he meets others like himself who have "found life meaningless, partly because of what they had seen in the war," and who are "alarmed by the outside world."

He seems to recover, and goes on to marry and raise a family, as well as becoming a prosperous optometrist and prominent citizen in his hometown of Ilium, New York. But every once in a while he falls asleep on the job, and has fits of weeping that he cannot explain. These symptoms indicate that something is still bothering him, no matter how normal he appears to everyone else.

Finally, while in the hospital recuperating from a near-fatal plane crash, Billy starts putting together a complicated fantasy to help him cope with the horror of his war experience. This fantasy- which involves reorganizing his life through time-travel and imagining wise and kindly aliens who set him up in a new Garden of Eden with his dream-lover Montana Wildhack- lets Billy escape the meaninglessness of modern existence into a re-invented life that makes sense.

13. Billy Pilgrim believes that he is "unstuck in time," living his life out of sequence, jumping around from one period of his life to another in no apparent order. Actually there is one period- the six months from December 1944 to May 1945, when he was a soldier and then a POW in Europe during World War II- which he does experience more or less from beginning to end. Although there are frequent interruptions for visits to the past, the future, and his fantasy about the Tralfamadorians and Montana Wildhack, Billy always returns to the war pretty much where he left off.

Billy is trying to reinvent his life by reorganizing his memories and adding fantasy. He does this by fitting all the other events in his life into the sequence of his war experiences, and thus is finally able to come to terms with what he saw and heard and did in those six months.

Vonnegut suggests that Billy's time-travel is analogous to the way memory and fantasy work in our lives. Memory is a kind of time-travel into the past; fantasy takes us into the future. By structuring the novel the way he does, he is thus able to describe directly our subjective (internal) experience of the passage of time, which is so different from the objective (external) time of clocks and calendars.

14. There are few machines in Slaughterhouse-Five that aren't harmful to people. The most obvious examples are weapons: the bombers that devastate Dresden and Roland Weary's antitank gun, which ironically murders its operators by drawing enemy fire. Other machines destroy people accidentally. An elevator squashes a man who gets his ring caught in the door, and Valencia dies when her Cadillac poisons her with carbon monoxide fumes.

To make a point Vonnegut often describes living things mechanistically, as when the group of POWs is said to be "essentially a liquid which could be induced to flow slowly toward cooing and light," or when Billy's spine is called a "tube" with all of his important "wires" in it. In reverse, machines are often given human attributes: trains full of POWs say hello to each other across the rail yard, and the boxcar becomes "a single organism which ate and drank and excreted through its ventilators."

[Slaughterhouse-Five Contents]


    1. Show how Slaughterhouse-Five functions as an antiwar book. Is the argument effective?
    2. Compare Slaughterhouse-Five with Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage and/or Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms. How is Vonnegut's message different from or similar to these works?
    3. Most people agree that Nazism was truly evil. Was the bombing of Dresden therefore justified?
    4. How is authority presented in Slaughterhouse-Five?
    5. As expressed in Slaughterhouse-Five, what does Vonnegut see as the possibility for a meaningful life in the modern world?
    6. Does Slaughterhouse-Five state that art is necessary to make sense of life? How?
    7. In Slaughterhouse-Five, how and why do the demands of storytelling distort real events?
    8. From Slaughterhouse-Five would you conclude that Vonnegut is a feminist, or is his admiration for women a form of "male chauvinism"?
    9. It has been said that machines make great servants but terrible masters. How is this idea expressed in Slaughterhouse-Five?
    10. How does Vonnegut present the contrast between the "realism" of social Darwinism and the "idealism" of Jesus's Sermon on the Mount in Slaughterhouse-Five?
    1. Compare Billy's wife Valencia, Montana Wildhack, and Mary O'Hare as representative females.
    2. In what sense is Slaughterhouse-Five an autobiographical novel?
    1. Discuss Vonnegut's use imagery in Slaughterhouse-Five.
    2. Does Vonnegut's slangy, conversational tone trivialize or strengthen the book's serious points?
    3. Is the "telegraphic schizophrenic" style of Slaughterhouse-Five essential to the book's message, or is it merely a clever device?
    1. Vonnegut says that Slaughterhouse-Five and Breakfast of Champions were originally one book. Why might he have separated them?
    2. Discuss Vonnegut's treatment of the free will vs. determinism theme in Slaughterhouse-Five and at least two of his other novels. Is he consistent in his view or does he change his mind on the subject?

[Slaughterhouse-Five Contents]


The number in parentheses that follows each entry is the number of the chapter in which the term first occurs in the novel.

A clear resin, yellowish brown in color, in which accidentally trapped insects are sometimes found. (4)

Cherubs or cupids; symbols of love. (6)

An ensemble of four male voices, singing popular songs in close harmony. Apparently an American invention of the 1890s. (7)

Following the Allied invasion of Europe in June of 1944, the Germans launched a huge counteroffensive in December, inflicting many casualties. (2)

Pen name of Louis-Ferdinand Auguste Destouches (1894-1961), a French novelist who became a Nazi sympathizer and was later tried as a war criminal. (1)

Where parasites such as fleas, lice, and ticks were removed from POWs and their clothing. (4)

A metal chip imprinted with a soldier's name, rank, and serial number and worn around his neck for identification. (5)

Bullets that explode on impact, causing much greater damage than ordinary bullets (2)

Latin for "Alas, the fleeing years slip away," from an ode by the Roman poet Ovid. (1)

In Dresden, when the fires started by incendiary bombs joined together, they created "one big flame" that quickly exhausted the air immediately surrounding the city, creating a huge vacuum. Air from outside the bombing area was then sucked into the vacuum, causing gale-force winds and fanning the flames still further. (1)

A fourragere is a French military decoration, a braid worn at the left shoulder. Blutwurst is the German word for blood sausage. Schnapps is strong liquor. (3)

An American "missionary" group called the Gideons place Bibles in hotel and motel rooms throughout the United States. (1)

German poet and dramatist (1749-1832). He is to the Germans what Shakespeare is to the English. (1)

The special forces division of the American army during the war in Vietnam. The Green Berets took on the most difficult and dangerous assignments. John Wayne produced and starred in a movie glorifying their exploits. (2)

The Japanese city on which the first atomic bomb was dropped on August 6, 1945. (1)

Born Adolf Schicklgruber (1889-1945), he helped form the National Socialist (Nazi) party in Germany and became head of government in 1933. Started World War II by invading Poland in September 1939. (4)

In French, out of the combat or disabled. (title page)

A short, light cannon. (2)

An imaginary city in upstate New York, also the setting of Vonnegut's novel Player Piano. Also, the Greek name for the ancient city of Troy, site of the Trojan War. (There is a city named Troy in upstate New York, but most readers think Ilium is more like the city of Schenectady (near Troy), where Vonnegut once worked.) (2)

The English nickname for German soldiers. Americans tended to call Germans "krauts." (5)

An extreme right-wing (conservative) political group, strongly anti- Communist and racist in its ideology. (3)

A men's civic organization, similar to the Jaycees, Kiwanis, and Rotary. (3)

The German air force in World War II. (1)

Polynesian people who inhabited New Zealand when Europeans arrived; New Zealand had close ties to Great Britain at the time of World War II. (10)

A suave character actor in American movies during the thirties and forties, who always sported a well-groomed moustache. (10)

A person with Downs' syndrome, a congenital defect characterized by mental retardation. The name "Mongoloid" comes from the almond-shaped eyes characteristic of the syndrome. (9)

A poison gas (CICH[2]CH[2])[2]S, used in World War I. (1)

Popular comic strip characters; Jeff is tall and skinny, Mutt is short and squat. (1)

A member of Hitler's political party, the National Socialists. The name comes from the German sound of the first two syllables of the party's German name, Nationalsocialistische Partei. (1)

A comic opera by the famous English team of lyricist W. S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan. (5)

An American poet (1908-1963). (1)

The flamelike radiance that sometimes can be seen surrounding the prominent parts of a ship in stormy weather. (3)

Salmon eggs, better known as red caviar. (8)

The appearance of prolonged and uncontrollable muscle spasms, usually the result of brain damage. (2)

A famous patriotic painting of the American Revolutionary War, depicting two grown men and a boy, wounded and ragged, marching heroically. (2)

Principal characters in the novel The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas pere; their motto was "All for one, and one for all." (2)

An instrument of torture consisting of a ring into which the thumb is inserted and a screw that is then tightened gradually, until the bones are shattered. (2)

Eyeglasses containing three separate lenses for each eye, one for far distance, one for middle distance, and one for close work. (3)

V-1'S AND V-2'S
Rockets designed by German scientists for bombing Britain without risking airplanes. (9)

Southeast Asian country where America fought an undeclared war for some ten years in the 1960s and 1970s. (3)

Women's divisions of the armed services during World War II. (5)

THE STORY, continued

ECC [Slaughterhouse-Five Contents] []

© Copyright 1985 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
Electronically Enhanced Text © Copyright 1993, World Library, Inc.
Further distribution without the written consent of, Inc. is prohibited.

  Web Search Our Message Boards   

All Contents Copyright © 1997-2004
All rights reserved. Further Distribution Is Strictly Prohibited.

About Us
 | Advertising | Contact Us | Privacy Policy | Home Page
This page was last updated: 5/9/2017 9:52:03 AM