- Recurring as a minor character, the narrator seems anonymous while also clearly identifying himself as Kurt Vonnegut, when he says, "That was I. That was me. That was the author of this book." As noted above, as an American soldier during World War II, Vonnegut was captured by Germans at the Battle of the Bulge and transported to Dresden. He and fellow prisoners-of-war survived the bombing while being held in a deep cellar of Schlachthof Fünf ("Slaughterhouse-Five"). The narrator begins the story by describing his connection to the firebombing of Dresden and his reasons for writing Slaughterhouse-Five.
- Billy Pilgrim
- A fatalistic optometrist ensconced in a dull, safe marriage in Ilium, New York. During World War II, he was held as a prisoner-of-war in Dresden and survived the firebombing, experiences which had a lasting effect on his post-war life. His time travel occurs at desperate times in his life; he relives past and future events and becomes fatalistic (though not a defeatist) because he claims to have 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 attaining military glory. Weary is also a bully who beats Billy and gets them both captured, leading to the loss of his winter uniforms and boots. Weary dies of gangrene on 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." Lazzaro eventually fulfills his promise to Weary and has Billy assassinated by a laser gun in 1976.
- Kilgore Trout
- A failed science fiction writer whose hometown is also Ilium, New York, and who makes money by managing newspaper delivery boys. He has received only one fan letter (from Eliot Rosewater; see below). After Billy meets him in a back alley in Ilium, he invites Trout to his wedding anniversary celebration. There, Kilgore follows Billy, thinking the latter has seen through a "time window." Kilgore Trout is also a main character in Vonnegut's 1973 novel Breakfast of Champions.
- Edgar Derby
- A middle-aged high school teacher who felt that he needed to participate in the war rather than just send off his students to fight. Though relatively unimportant, 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 after they catch him looting. Vonnegut has said that this death is the climax of the book as a whole.
- Howard W. Campbell, Jr.
- An American-born Nazi. Before the war, he lived in Germany where he was a noted German-language playwright and Nazi propagandist. In an essay, he connects the misery of American poverty to the disheveled appearance and behavior of the American POWs. Edgar Derby confronts him when Campbell tries to recruit American POWs into the American Free Corps to fight the Communist Soviet Union on behalf of the Nazis. Campbell is the protagonist of Vonnegut's 1962 novel Mother Night.
- Valencia Merble
- Billy's wife and the 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 worldview 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 widowed father as a childish invalid.
- The race of extraterrestrial beings who appear (to humans) like upright toilet plungers with a hand atop, in which is set a single green eye. They abduct Billy and teach him about time's relation to the world (as a fourth dimension), fate, and the nature of death. The Tralfamadorians are featured in several Vonnegut novels. In Slaughterhouse Five, they reveal that the universe will be accidentally destroyed by one of their test pilots, and there is nothing they can do about it.
- Montana Wildhack
- A beautiful young model who is abducted and placed alongside Billy in the zoo on Tralfamadore. She and Billy develop an intimate relationship and they have a child. She apparently remains on Tralfamadore with the child after Billy is sent back to Earth. Billy sees her in a film showing in a pornographic book store when he stops to look at the Kilgore Trout novels sitting in the window. Her unexplained disappearance is featured on the covers of magazines sold in the store.
- "Wild Bob"
- A superannuated army officer Billy meets in the war. He tells his fellow POWs to call him "Wild Bob", as he thinks they are the 451st Infantry Regiment and under his command. He explains "If you're ever in Cody, Wyoming, ask for Wild Bob", which is a phrase that Billy repeats to himself throughout the novel. He dies of pneumonia.
- Eliot Rosewater
- Billy befriends him in the veterans' hospital; he introduces Billy to the sci-fi novels of Kilgore Trout. Rosewater wrote the only fan letter Trout ever received. Rosewater had also suffered a terrible event during the war. Billy and Rosewater find the Trout novels helpful in dealing with the trauma of war. Rosewater is featured in other Vonnegut novels, such as God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965).
- Bertram Copeland Rumfoord
- A Harvard history professor, retired Air Force brigadier general, and millionaire. He shares a hospital room with Billy and is interested in the Dresden bombing. Bertram is likely a relative of Winston Niles Rumfoord, a character in Vonnegut's 1959 novel The Sirens of Titan.
- The Scouts
- Two American infantry scouts trapped behind German lines who find Roland Weary and Billy. Roland refers to himself and the scouts as the "Three Musketeers". The scouts abandon Roland and Billy because the latter are slowing them down. They are revealed to have been shot and killed by Germans in ambush.
- Bernard V. O'Hare
- The narrator's old war friend who was also held in Dresden and accompanies him there after the war. He is the husband of Mary O'Hare.
- Mary O'Hare
- The wife of Bernard V. O'Hare, to whom Vonnegut promised to name the book The Children's Crusade. She is briefly discussed in the beginning of the book.
- Werner Gluck
- The sixteen-year-old German charged with guarding Billy and Edgar Derby when they are first placed 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. He is described as appearing similar to Billy.
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