- Intrusive and recurring as a minor character, the narrator seems anonymous while also clearly identifying himself when he, the narrator, says: "That was I. That was me. That was the author of this book." Vonnegut was captured by Germans at the Battle of the Bulge and transported to Dresden. He and fellow prisoners survived the bombing while being held in Schlachthof Fünf (Slaughterhouse 5). The narrator begins the story describing his connection to the fire-bombing of Dresden and his reasons for writing Slaughterhouse-Five.
- Billy Pilgrim
- A fatalistic optometrist ensconced in a dull, safe, marriage in Ilium, New York. He randomly travels in time and is abducted by aliens from planet Tralfamadore, who see everything in the fourth dimension. During World War II, he was a prisoner of war in Dresden, which had a lasting effect on his post-war life. His time travel occurs at desperate times in his life; he re-lives events past and future and becomes fatalistic (though not a defeatist) because he has seen when, how and why he will die.
- Roland Weary
- A weak man dreaming of grandeur and obsessed with gore and vengeance, who saves Billy several times (despite Billy's protests) in hopes of military glory. Weary gets them captured, leading to the loss of his winter uniforms and boots. Weary dies of gangrene in the train en route to the POW camp and blames Billy in his dying words.
- Paul Lazzaro
- Another POW. A sickly, ill-tempered car thief from Cicero, Illinois, who takes Weary's dying words as a revenge commission to kill Billy. He keeps a mental list of his enemies, claiming he can have anyone "killed for a thousand dollars plus traveling expenses".
- Kilgore Trout
- A failed science fiction writer who makes money by managing newspaper delivery boys and has received only one fan letter (from Eliot Rosewater; see below). After Billy meets him in a back alley in Ilium, New York, he invites Trout to his wedding anniversary celebration. There, Kilgore follows Billy, thinking the latter has seen through a "time window" (when he inexplicably becomes saddened by the barbershop quartet, later revealed as due to them reminding him of the four German guards trying and failing to vocalise the news of Dresden's destruction). Kilgore Trout is also a main character in Vonnegut's novel Breakfast of Champions.
- Edgar Derby
- A middle-aged man who has pulled strings to be able to fight in the war. He was a high school teacher who felt that he couldn't just let his young students go off to war without him. While a POW with Billy and Paul Lazzaro, he is the only one that stands up to the traitor Howard W. Campbell, Jr. and defends American ideals. Though he appears to be unimportant throughout most of the book, he seems to be the only American before the bombing of Dresden, to understand what war can do to people. German forces summarily execute him for looting a teapot. Though it doesn't appear to be the most pivotal death in the book, Vonnegut declares that this death is the climax of the book as a whole.
- Howard W. Campbell, Jr.
- An American Nazi. Before the war, he lived in Germany as a famous German-language playwright and Nazi propagandist. In an essay, he connects the misery of American poverty, to the disheveled appearance and behaviour of the American POWs. Edgar Derby confronts him when he tries to recruit American POWs into the American Free Corps to fight the Communist Russians on behalf of the Nazis. Campbell is the protagonist of an earlier Vonnegut novel, Mother Night, in which he is revealed to have been working for the OSS against the Germans, using his pro-Nazi persona as a cover. The Americans never reveal Campbell's true role after the end of the war, forcing him to lead a life of anonymity to avoid disgrace. Eventually, Campbell surrenders himself to Israeli authorities and hangs himself while in their custody.
- Valencia Merble
- Billy's obese wife and mother of their children, Robert and Barbara. Billy is emotionally distant from her. She dies from carbon monoxide poisoning, after an automobile accident en route to the hospital, to see Billy after his airplane crash.
- Robert Pilgrim
- Son of Billy and Valencia. A troubled, middle-class boy and disappointing son who so absorbs the anti-Communist world view that he metamorphoses from suburban adolescent rebel to Green Beret sergeant.
- Barbara Pilgrim
- Daughter of Billy and Valencia. She is a "bitchy flibbertigibbet", from having had to assume the family's leadership at the age of twenty. She has "legs like an Edwardian grand piano," marries an optometrist and treats her widower father as a childish invalid.
- The extraterrestrial race who appear (to humans) like upright toilet plungers with a hand atop, in which is set a green eye. They abduct Billy and teach him about time's relation to the world (as a fourth dimension), fate and death's indiscriminate nature. The Tralfamadorians appear in several Vonnegut novels. In Slaughterhouse Five, they reveal that the universe will be accidentally destroyed by one of their test pilots.
- Montana Wildhack
- A model who stars in a film shown in a pornographic book store when Billy stops by to check out the Kilgore Trout novels sitting in the window and appears on the cover of magazines in the store. She is also abducted and placed in Billy's habitat on Tralfamadore, where they have sex and produce a child.
- "Wild Bob"
- A superannuated army officer Billy met in the war. He is delirious and eventually dies of pneumonia. He tells his fellow POWs to call him "Wild Bob", as he thinks they're the 451st Infantry Regiment and under his command. "If you're ever in Cody, Wyoming, ask for Wild Bob," is an inspirational phrase of his that Billy repeats to himself. He was based on William Joseph Cody Garlow (grandson of the famed Buffalo Bill Cody) who surrendered his unit to the German forces during the Battle of the Bulge.
- Eliot Rosewater
- A friend whom Billy meets in the veterans' hospital and who introduces him to the science fiction novels of Kilgore Trout. Rosewater turns out to be the writer of the only fan letter Trout ever received. Rosewater, like Billy, has experienced a horrifying event in the war. The two feel that the Kilgore Trout novels they read help them to deal with the trauma of World War II. Eliot Rosewater also appears in other books by Kurt Vonnegut, such as God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.
- Bertram Copeland Rumfoord
- A Harvard history professor, retired Air Force brigadier general and millionaire, who shares a hospital room with Billy and is interested in the Dresden bombing. He is almost surely a relative of Winston Niles Rumfoord, a character in a previous novel by Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan.
- The Scouts
- Two American infantry scouts trapped behind German lines who found Roland and then Billy. Although Roland considers himself and the scouts to be best friends and heroes (calling their group the "Three Musketeers"), the scouts are uncomfortable around him. They later reveal that both Roland and Billy are slowing them down and abandon them. Shortly thereafter it is revealed they were found and shot from behind by German troops who were waiting in ambush.
- Mary O'Hare
- The character briefly discussed in the beginning of the book, to whom Vonnegut promised to name the book The Children's Crusade. She is the wife of Bernard V. O'Hare.
- Bernard V. O'Hare
- The husband of Mary O'Hare. He is the narrator's old war friend that accompanies him on his trip back to Dresden, where they were held captive in Slaughterhouse Five during the firebombing.
- Werner Gluck
- The sixteen-year-old German charged with guarding Billy and Edgar Derby, when they first arrive at Slaughterhouse Five in Dresden. He does not know his way around and accidentally leads Billy and Edgar into a communal shower, where some German refugee girls from the Eastern Front are bathing. Comments are made on how similar in appearance he is to Billy. Coincidentally, they are distant cousins but they never discover this.
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