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Slaughterhouse-Five

Kurt Vonnegut

Key Facts

Important Quotations Explained

Study Questions & Essay Topics

full title  ·  Slaughterhouse-Five; or, The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death

author  · Kurt Vonnegut

type of work  · Novel

genre  · Antiwar novel; historical fiction; science fiction; semi-autobiographical fiction

language  · English

time and place written  · Approximately 1945–1968, United States

date of first publication  · 1969

publisher  · Dell Publishing

narrator · The author; or arguably, sometimes an anonymous narrator with a similar point of view

point of view  · The author narrates in both first and third person. The first-person sections are confined mainly to the first and last chapters. The narration is omniscient: it reveals the thoughts and motives of several characters, and provides details about their lives and some analysis of their motivations. The narrator primarily follows Billy Pilgrim but also presents the point of view of other characters whom Billy encounters.

tone · The narrator’s tone is familiar and ironic, and he uncovers touches of dark humor and absurdity that do not diminish the lyrical and emotional power of the material. His portrayal of Billy is intimate but ambivalent, and he occasionally emphasizes the diction of reported speech (prefacing a passage with “He says that” or “Billy says”) to draw a distinction between reality and Billy’s interpretation of events.

tense  · The majority of the book is written in the past tense, but the narrator occasionally uses the present tense—especially in the first and last chapters—when speaking from a personal point of view as Kurt Vonnegut. The reporting of Billy’s speech is in the present tense (for example: “Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time. Or so he says.”) Occasionally the tense switches to future, as when Billy describes his future death.

setting (time)  · The narrative provides a detailed account of Billy’s war experiences in 1944–1945, but it skips around his entire life, from his early childhood in the 1920s to his death in 1976. The author’s narration is set in 1968.

setting (place)  · The narrative thread of 1944–1945 concerns Billy’s army service in Germany and briefly in Luxembourg, where he is captured after the Battle of the Bulge. Most of the rest of Billy’s life takes place in Ilium, New York. He also travels to the planet Tralfamadore and lives there in a zoo.

protagonist  · Billy Pilgrim

major conflict  · Billy struggles to make sense out of a life forever marked by the firsthand experience of war’s tragedy.

rising action  · Billy and his fellow prisoners are transported across Germany and begin living in a slaughterhouse prison and working in the city of Dresden.

climax  · Dresden is incinerated in a deadly firebomb attack. But Billy misses the moment of destruction, waiting out the attack in a well-protected meat locker. Psychologically, Billy does not come to terms with this event until nearly twenty years later, when the sight of a barbershop quartet on his wedding anniversary triggers his suppressed sense of grief.

falling action  · The falling action occurs in the realm of Billy’s later life as he progresses toward a newfound consciousness and an increasingly tenuous mental state. Billy experiences alien abduction and prepares to share his new insights with the world.

themes  · The destructiveness of war; the illusion of free will; the importance of sight

motifs  · “So it goes”; the presence of the narrator as a character

symbols  · The bird who says “Poo-tee-weet?”; the colors blue and ivory

foreshadowing  · The narrative convention that Vonnegut dispenses with most thoroughly in this book is foreshadowing. He outlines all the events of Billy’s life before proceeding with the story.

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A few observations on Slaughterhouse Five

by Akumeoi, November 04, 2012

Some things that are significant about this book (in my view) that were not mentioned in the SparkNote are this:
Billy Pilgrim's last name
A religious connection in the book
The colour of his feet again
As to the first, I think that since 'Billy' was obviously chosen with care, 'Pilgrim' was too. Pilgrim could refer to his otherworldly journey through time, although it's uncertain what he would be making a pilgrimage too - possibly death. Or, it could just be his journey through the war.
As to the religious impl... Read more

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Where in the book is that

by mackeller, April 04, 2013

Do you know where in the book the christianity references are? The chapter might be more helpful because the pages are probably different.

An alternative explanation for Billy's "travels"

by almostpassingenglish, August 18, 2013

I think that BIlly Pilgrim's journeys through time could instead be a social commentary on Post-Traumatic Stress disorder. Billy isn't skipping through time, instead he's an old man sitting at his home, his daughter is taking care of him, and when he closes his eyes he suffers his wartime flashbacks and delusions about traveling through space in which he lives in a dream with elements from his life, like how Montana Wildhack was the Porn Star from the book store that Billy visited to see the Kilgore Trout novels. It also explains why the boo

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