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Free Study Guide for Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut-BookNotes
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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH ANALYSIS

CHAPTER 3

Summary

Billy and Roland are taken prisoners by the Germans. They are locked up with other captured American soldiers. During his imprisonment, Billy finds himself traveling in time and visiting many scenes from his future. When he returns from his time traveling, he finds himself being marched along with thousands of other prisoners. He then travels again to his future, where he finds himself prosperous and respected. In spite of his success, Billy is very depressed and apathetic about life in these future visions. Returning to reality, Billy finds that all the prisoners are being locked into trains. They are then taken into the interior, from where he is captured by a flying saucer from Tralfamadore.

Notes

The chapter begins on a note of irony. At the end of the last chapter, a frustrated Roland is seen hitting Billy for moving so slowly and causing the scouts to leave. Ironically, the arrival of the German soldiers, the enemy, saves Billy from further mistreatment by Roland; in other words, Billy is rescued from his American compatriot by the enemy.

The Germans who capture Billy and Roland are portrayed as weak men, not the invincible, omnipotent "enemy" that the Americans imagine them to be. Throughout the novel, Vonnegut tries to convey the message that the "enemy" is also human, and humans are vulnerable and imperfect, whether they are Germans or Americans. He also makes it obvious that war is an unnatural state of existence that dehumanizes people. This is clear in the description of the captured Americans who lose their individuality and their will to resist. Focusing only on survival, the prisoners become totally passive. The enemy is also dehumanized by treating the captured men as inanimate objects.


As an escape form the unpleasantness of imprisonment, Billy begins to involuntarily time-travel. In his future, he sees himself falling asleep at work. This action, coupled with his time traveling, reveals his tendency to escape from anything unpleasant. It is significant that in his time-traveling, Billy sees himself as a rich, prosperous, and respected man. In spite of his success, however, he is still "unenthusiastic about living."

Vonnegut makes it clear that Billy does not feel he has any control in shaping his life. He states, "Among the things Billy Pilgrim could not change were the past, the present, and the future." In other words, Billy simply takes what life dishes out and becomes depressed about his fate. His weeping fits result from his chronic depression.

Within the chapter, Vonnegut offers several criticisms. He compares the ravaged black ghetto in Ilium to the war ravaged towns of Europe. This comparison points out the fact that destruction is not restricted to war. It is also found in civilian life, wherever there is prejudice, poverty, and injustice. Vonnegut also critically points out that the attitude of the American military towards a problem is simply to destroy it. As an example, he tells of a major who wants to bomb North Vietnam until the country agrees to do what the United States wants.

CHAPTER 4

Summary

This chapter is set on the wedding night of Billy's daughter. He goes out in his garden, and an alien flying saucer comes and takes him inside. After falling asleep in the saucer, he finds himself traveling back in time to the war. He is in a boxcar crossing Germany with Roland, who is dying of gangrene. Roland accuses Billy of killing him. Billy and the other captured Americans are brought to a German prison where they are deloused and given used overcoats. One of the Americans, Paul Lazzaro, warns Billy that he will make him pay for Roland's death.

Billy then travels further into the past. First he returns to a scene in his infancy; he next visits the Middle Ages. Finally he is again aware of the fact that he is in the flying saucer on his way to Tralfamadore. When Billy says he does not want to go, he is told by one of the aliens that "free will" is a concept unique to Earth.

Notes

Before the flying saucer presents itself, Billy is aware that it will arrive and take him away on the night of his daughter's wedding; but he does absolutely nothing to prevent it from happening. He simply allows events to happen to him with absolutely no resistance on his part.

Although they have been mentioned before, it is in this chapter that the Tralfamadorians make their first direct appearance. Their conversation with Billy centers around how they differ from human beings in their style of perceiving reality. Unlike humans, they do not question what happens nor seek an explanation for events; much like Billy, they just accept life as it comes. Their philosophy is that what happens does so because "the moment is structured that way, and nothing can alter that. As a result, they totally discount the human concept of free will.

As Billy time-travels back to the war, he sees the mistreatment that the American prisoners receive at the hands of the Germans. In a dehumanizing process, they are intentionally treated like a herd of cattle, and like unthinking animals with no free will, they do as they are told; they are imprisoned psychologically as well as physically.

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