Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, published in 1969, is a groundbreaking anti-war novel that blends science fiction elements with Vonnegut’s unique narrative style. The story follows Billy Pilgrim, an optometrist who becomes "unstuck in time" and experiences his life events out of chronological order, including his time as a prisoner of war in the city of Dresden in Germany during the bombing raids of World War II.

Set against the backdrop of war and its aftermath, the novel explores the senselessness and trauma of conflict in a light and humorous way. Vonnegut’s unconventional approach to storytelling and time travel, and his use of dark humor, contribute to the novel's distinctive impact. The title refers to the slaughterhouse where Billy and other POWs are held in Dresden.

Published during a tumultuous period marked by the Vietnam War and social upheaval, Slaughterhouse-Five instantly became a counter-cultural classic. Vonnegut’s satirical and anti-establishment tone resonated with a generation questioning the impact and purpose of war. The novel’s investigation of the human experience, time, and the destructiveness of war has solidified its place in the literary canon of America. In 1972 a film version by director George Roy Hill was released.

Read the full book summary, an in-depth character analysis of Billy Pilgrim, and explanations of important quotes from Slaughterhouse-Five.

Upgrade to PLUS and get instant access to all the study tools

Upgrade to PLUS and get instant access to all the study tools