Election Day is November 3rd! Make sure your voice is heard

Slaughterhouse-Five

Summary

Chapter 8

Summary Chapter 8

Summary

Howard W. Campbell, Jr., the American Nazi propagandist, speaks to the weary, malnourished prisoners at the slaughterhouse. He solicits them to join his Free American Corps to fight on the Russian front, promising food and repatriation after the war. Edgar Derby stands up and, in his finest moment, denounces Campbell. He defends the American fight for freedom and praises the brotherhood between Russians and Americans. An air-raid siren concludes the confrontation, and everyone takes shelter in a meat locker carved into the bedrock beneath the slaughterhouse. The alarm is false. The narrator states that Dresden will not be destroyed until the next night.

Billy dozes off in the meat locker and travels back to a conversation with his exasperated daughter, Barbara. She blames Kilgore Trout for Billy’s Tralfamadorian pronouncements. Billy recalls the first time he mets Trout in his own hometown of Ilium. Trout manages newspaper delivery boys for the Ilium Gazette. He is shocked that Billy has read his books. Billy invites Trout to his eighteenth wedding anniversary celebration, where Trout is a hit with the optometrists and their wives. One of them, the credulous and attractive Maggie White, listens with concern as Trout leads her to believe that publishing made-up stories qualifies as a fraud punishable by God and worthy of jail time. In his enthusiasm, Trout accidentally spits a piece of salmon roe into Maggie’s cleavage.

The Four-eyed Bastards (or Febs), the barbershop quartet made up of optometrists, sing a sentimental song about old friendship. The experience of watching and listening to them visibly shakes Billy. Trout guesses that Billy has looked through a “time window.” When the barbershop quartet sings again, Billy has to leave the room. He goes upstairs, where he accidentally walks in on his son in the bathroom holding a guitar as he sits on the toilet. Billy lies down on his bed, trying to figure out why the Febs have such an effect on him. He remembers the night Dresden was destroyed. The American prisoners and four guards waited out the bombing in the meat locker. They emerged to find Dresden replaced by one big, smoking mineral deposit. The four guards huddled together, and the changing expressions on their faces—silent mouths open in awe and terror—seem to Billy like a silent film of a barbershop quartet.

Billy time-travels to Tralfamadore, where Montana Wildhack, who is six months pregnant, asks him to tell her a story. He tells her of the destruction of Dresden and of the little burned logs lying all around that were actually people. In bombed-out Dresden, the guards and the prisoners venture out onto the moonscape to forage for food and water. In the city itself they do not encounter another living soul. At nightfall, they reach an inn in a portion of a suburb untouched by bombs or flames. The blind innkeeper and his family know that Dresden has been destroyed. They give the prisoners soup and beer and a stable to sleep in for the night. As the prisoners prepare for bed, the innkeeper says in German, “Good night, Americans. Sleep well.”

Analysis

Billy’s realization that he is hiding his secret history of trauma from himself marks an important point in the novel. Despite the fact that Vonnegut has dispensed with most traditional narrative devices in Slaughterhouse-Five, the focusing of Billy’s self-awareness constitutes a crucial moment in the development of Billy’s character. It paves the way for his eventual decision to spread the Tralfamadorian gospel on earth. Ironically, instead of sitting back and accepting human ignorance of the true nature of time, Billy exerts his will to help his fellow inhabitants of earth.

Billy’s recognition of the effect of the Febs on his psyche demonstrates a great deal of self-awareness. Although he undergoes emotional stress in this section, his response is not to travel in time, as it has been in other chapters. The fact that he stays rooted in the present suggests that this moment is one of Billy’s sanest, even though he is suffering from tremendous emotional anguish. When Trout asks Billy if he has seen the past or the future through a “time window,” Billy answers no. Valencia hits closer to the mark when she says, “You looked as though you’d seen a ghost.” The sight of the Febs with their mouths open in song raises the specter of a tragic memory. As Billy retires to his room to attempt to sort out the cause of his distress, he remembers (without time-tripping, as the narrator takes pains to point out) the horrible sight of the four German guards, clustered together with their mouths agape.