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Free Study Guide for Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut-BookNotes
Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes

KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS

SETTING

A large portion of the action of the story occurs in the small town of Ilium, New York, where Billy Pilgrim, the protagonist of the novel, was born. Having grown up in Ilium, he settles there after fighting in World War II. He also becomes an optometrist, marries, and raises two children in Ilium.

Germany is another important setting in the book, particularly the city of Dresden, which is located in the southeastern portion of the country. During the war, Billy is sent to Dresden, a civilian city of about thirty-five thousand, to do hard labor. During his stay, the city is bombed and totally destroyed. Billy, some other Americans, and a few German guards hide in the basement of Slaughterhouse-Five during the bombing and manage to escape unharmed.

Another important setting in the book is the planet of Tralfamadore, where Billy is taken by aliens. There he is held captive and displayed in a zoo, along with his earthling mate, Montana Wildhack. Their room in the zoo is furnished with items from earth and has a dome for a roof so that the Trafalmadorians can spy upon the earthlings.


LIST OF CHARACTERS

Major Characters

Billy Pilgrim

An unassuming man from Ilium, New York, who allows fate to control him. He serves in World War II, where he lives through the bombing of Dresden, which greatly affects him. After the war, he returns to Ilium, where he settles down, becomes an optometrist, marries, and has two children. He should have led a quiet, ordinary existence in Ilium, but his life becomes extraordinary. He is kidnapped by Trafalmadorians and taken by space ship to their planet, where he is displayed in a zoo. He also has the ability to travel through time - to the past and to the future--but he has no control over the travels.

Minor Characters

Vonnegut

The author himself appears as a character in the novel. In the first and last chapters, Vonnegut tells about himself, the story he is writing, and what led him to write it. It becomes obvious that many of the war experiences of Billy Pilgrim are autobiographical in nature. Additionally, Vonnegut actually appears as a character in some of the war scenes. His appearance in the book complicates the plot and the point of view.

Bernard V. O'Hare

An old war buddy of Vonnegut. They were both privates and infantry scouts during World War II. They visit Dresden again together after the war.

Mary O'Hare

The wife of Bernard. She is totally against war and its glorification through books and movies. She wants Billy to name his book about the war, The Children's Crusade.

Gernard Muller

A friendly cab driver in East Germany. He takes Billy and O'Hare around Dresden on their return trip and shows them the slaughterhouse where they had been locked up as prisoners of war.

Paul Lazzaro

An American soldier who promises Roland Weary that he would make Billy pay for Roland's death. He eventually keeps his promise and hires a man to kill Billy.

Edgar Derby

A forty-four year old American soldier. He is executed by a firing squad for stealing a teacup from the Dresden ruins.

Wild Bob

An American colonel who dies of double pneumonia in a German railroad yard.

Valencia Merble

The wife of Billy Pilgrim. She is the daughter of the founder and owner of the Ilium School of Optometry, where Billy studies to become an optometrist. She is a very fat and unattractive woman. She dies of carbon monoxide poisoning while Billy is in the hospital after the plane crash.

Lionel Merble

Billy's father-in-law. He is a very rich man.

Barbara

The daughter of Billy and Valencia, who marries an optometrist. She is convinced that her father has gone crazy after the plane crash, head injury, and brain surgery.

Robert

The son of Billy and Valencia. He joins the Green Berets and fights in Vietnam.

Montana Wildhack

An American star of pornographic movies. She is captured by aliens and brought to Tralfamadore to be Billy's mate in the zoo.

Trafalmadorians

Aliens from the planet Tralfamadore, which is located 446,120,000,000,000,000 miles away from Earth. They come to earth in a flying saucer and kidnap Billy Pilgrim. They have the ability to perceive the past, present, and future simultaneously, which Billy finds fascinating.

Roland Weary

An eighteen-year old anti-tank gunner. He saves Billy's life many times behind the enemy lines and then dies on the train trip to the interior of Germany. Paul Lazzaro is convinced that Billy is responsible for his death and wants revenge.

Blue Fairy Godmother

An English officer who takes part in the play, Cinderella, which was performed to entertain the Americans. He breaks Lazzaro's arm when he catches the latter stealing cigarettes from beneath his pillow.

Eliot Rosewater

An alcoholic, assigned to the bed next to Billy's in the mental ward of the veterans' hospital. He introduces Billy to the works of Kilgore Trout.

Kilgore Trout

An unsuccessful science-fiction writer who lives in Ilium and makes his living as a circulation man for the Ilium Gazette. He and Billy become good friends. Barbara, Billy's daughter, holds him responsible for giving her father strange ideas.

Bertram Rumfoord

A history professor at Harvard and the official Historian of United States Air Force. He shares a hospital room with Billy after the plane crash.

Lily Rumfoord

Rumfoord's wife and an ex-go-go girl.

Howard W. Campbell Jr.

A former American who turns Nazi and rises high in the German Ministry of Propaganda. He tries to get the Americans to go and fight with him on the Russian front.

Werner Gluck

A young German guard who watches Billy and the other Americans held in Dresden. He is a native of the city. Maggie White - a guest at the celebration of Billy's eighteenth wedding anniversary.

The Febs

A quartet of optometrists who sing at Billy's eighteenth anniversary party.

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