Slaughterhouse Five

Slaughterhouse Five Summary and Analysis of Chapters 7-8

Chapter Seven:


Billy is on a plane next to his father-in-law. Billy and a number of optometrists have chartered a plane to go to a convention in Montreal. There's a barbershop quartet on board. Billy's father-in-law loves it when they sing songs mocking the Polish. Vonnegut mentions that in Germany Billy saw a Pole getting executed for having sex with a German girl. Billy leaps in time to his wandering behind the German lines with the two scouts and Roland Weary. He leaps in time again to the plane crash. Everyone dies but him. The plane has crashed in Vermont, and Billy is found by Austrian ski instructors. When he hears them speaking German, he thinks he's back in the war. He is unconscious for days, and during that time he dreams about the days right before the bombing.

He remembers a boy named Werner Gluck, one of the guards. He was good-natured, as awkward and puny as Billy. One day, Gluck and Billy and Derby were looking for the kitchen. Derby and Billy were pulling a two-wheeled cart; it was their duty to bring dinner back for the boys. Gluck pulled a door open, thinking the kitchen might be there, and instead revealed naked teenage girls showering, refugees from another city that was bombed. The women scream and Gluck shuts the door. When they finally find the kitchen, an old cook talks with the trio critically and proclaims that all the real soldiers are dead. Billy also remembers working in the malt syrup factory in Dresden. The syrup is for pregnant women, and it is fortified with vitamins. The POWs do everything they can to sneak spoonfuls of it. Billy sneaks a spoonful to Edgar Derby, who is outside. He bursts into tears after he tastes it.


Chapter Seven is very short. The plane ride gives Vonnegut an opportunity to criticize the bigotry of Billy's father-in-law. The old optometrist loves the songs mocking the Polish, but Vonnegut follows the event with the execution of a real Pole. Vonnegut drives home the connection between the execution and the songs: the Germans, obsessed with maintaining racial purity, are executing the Polish man for having had sex with a German woman. Although bigoted songs and hate-motivated murder are two different things, Vonnegut puts the two events right after each other, suggesting that there is a significant connection between these different forms of hate.

Billy's memories of Dresden before the bombing are gentler than many of his other memories of the war. The moment when the three men stumble into the room of naked women is humorous and also beautiful. It is completely innocent: Edgar Derby is an old man with a wife, and Billy and Werner are two boys who are too awkward to be threatening. Neither of them has seen a naked woman before. Vonnegut creates sympathy for the people of Dresden. The girls are refugees who have lost their homes to bombing in the nearby city of Breslau; they have survived only to die here in Dresden. Werner is an innocent, as unsuited for war as Billy. Vonnegut emphasizes the connection between all men by mentioning that Billy and Werner look like brothers. He also says that the two boys are actually cousins, something that they never learn. The time in Dresden is peaceful. The war here is not about glorious battlefield exploits. Instead, we watch the POWs survive as best they can, sneaking tastes of vitamin-enriched syrup. The syrup becomes a symbol of longing for simple pleasures, simple happiness. The POWs work in a factory surrounded by the sweet substance, and to get a taste of it they have to steal small spoonfuls of it. Edgar Derby's tears are enigmatic. Is he crying because he has been reduced to stealing from a supply of syrup intended for pregnant women? Is he crying because as a POW so much has been taken from him, and the simple pleasure of the syrup reminds him of pleasures he used to take for granted?

Chapter Eight:


Howard Campbell, Jr., the American-turned-Nazi propagandist, visits the captives of Slaughterhouse Five. He wears an elaborate costume of his own design, a cross between cowboy outfit and a Nazi uniform. The POWs are tired and unhealthy, undernourished and overworked. Campbell offers them good eating if they join his Free American Corps. The Corps is Campbell's idea. Composed of Americans fighting for the Germans, they will be sent to fight on the Russian front. After the war, they will be repatriated through Switzerland. Campbell reasons that the Americans will have to fight the Soviet Union sooner or later, and they might as well get it out of the way. Edgar Derby rises for his finest moment. He denounces Campbell soundly, praises American forms of government, and speaks of the brotherhood between Russians and Americans. Air raid sirens sound, and everyone takes cover in a meat locker. The firebombing will not occur until tomorrow night; these sirens are only a false alarm. Billy dozes, and then leaps in time to an argument with his daughter Barbara. She is worrying about what should be done about Billy. She tells him that she feels like she could kill Kilgore Trout.

We move to Billy's first meeting with Trout, which happened in 1964. He is out driving when he recognizes Trout from the jackets of his books. Trout's books have never made money, so he works as a newspaper circulation man, bullying and terrorizing newspaper delivery boys. One of Trout's boys quits, and Billy offers to help Trout deliver the papers on the boy's route. He gives Trout a ride. Trout is overwhelmed by meeting an avid fan. He has only received one letter in the course of his career, and the letter was crazed. It was written by none other than Billy's friend from the mental ward, Elliot Rosewater. Billy invites Kilgore Trout to his anniversary party.

At the party, Trout is obnoxious, but the optometrists and their spouses are still enchanted by having an actual writer among them. A barbershop quartet sings "That Old Gang of Mine," and Billy is visibly disturbed. After giving Valencia her gift, he flees upstairs. Lying in bed, Billy remembers the bombing of Dresden.

We see the events as Billy remembers them. He and the other POWs, along with four of their guards, spend the night in the meat locker. The girls from the shower were being killed in a shallower shelter nearby. The POWs emerge at noon the next day into what looks like the surface of the moon. The guards gape at the destruction. They look like a silent film of a barbershop quartet.

We move to the Tralfamadorian Zoo. Montana Wildhack asked Billy to tell her a story. He tells her about the burnt logs, actually corpses. He tells her about the great monuments and buildings of the city turned into a flat, lunar surface.

We move to Dresden. Without food or water, the POWs have to march to find some if they are to survive. They make their way across the treacherous landscape, much of it still hot, bits of crumbling. They are attacked by American fighter planes. The end up in the suburbs, at an inn that has prepared to receive any survivors. The innkeeper lets the Americans sleep in the stable. He provides them with food and drink, and goes out to bid them goodnight as they go to bed.


Before Derby's heroic condemnation of Campbell, Vonnegut points out that his book has no characters. Most of the people in the book are too sick and tired to really have confrontations with people; one of war's effects, Vonnegut says, is to discourage people form being characters. His theme of narrative and anti-narrative is here again. The people of this novel are not heroes. They are subject to incredible forces much larger than themselves. This is another key theme, emphasized by Vonnegut's play with narrative.

Finally, we are at the destruction of Dresden. Although Billy often seems to bounce through life, at key points he shows the signs of serious damage. The barbershop quartet, the same one that will die on the plane, makes Billy remember the destruction of Dresden. A sentimental song about a gang of friends (the kind of gang, incidentally, of which Billy has never been a part) makes him think of the four guards looking out on their destroyed city. This is not a jump through time. This part is memory. There is a connection between the Tralfamadorian concept of time and memory; in a real sense, memory means that events in the past do continue to exist. Here, we do not see the firebombing of Dresden after one of Billy's leaps through time. He remembers it, an old man unnerved by a song, and the memory is as real as a time leap. The Tralfamadorian concept of time may teach us more than their pain-avoiding philosophy. According to the alien view, massacres that happen are always happening. Time's passage cannot get rid of them. Although Billy and the aliens choose to try to take comfort from the always-existing quality of events, Billy's near-breakdown and the return of his memories of Dresden suggest that things are not always so easy. Atrocities cannot just be ignored.