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There happens to be a radio station near Billy’s hotel. Claiming to be a writer from the Ilium Gazette, Billy gets on a talk-show panel of literary critics discussing the state of the novel. Billy waits his turn, then speaks about Tralfamadore and Montana Wildhack and the nature of time. He is escorted to the street and makes his way back to his hotel. There he falls asleep and time-travels back to Tralfamadore, where Montana is breast-feeding their child. She says that she can tell that Billy has been time-traveling. A silver locket hanging between her bare breasts bears the same inscription—the Serenity Prayer—as the plaque in Billy’s optometry office.

Analysis

Vonnegut throws the tragic absurdity of human life into sharp relief in his description of Billy’s happiest moment. The day after the German surrender, Billy dozes blissfully in the sun amid Dresden’s ruins, but he is lying in a tomb on wheels. The coffin-shaped wagon points to a symbolic death suffered even by the survivors of war. It is the death of a meaningful existence, the death of innocence for all the “babies” who carry out the latest Children’s Crusade. Billy has not yet grasped the emptiness of victory. Yet when two Germans point out the miserable state of the horses hitched to Billy’s coffin, he cannot avoid the fact that his victory also contains his own defeat. The happiest moment in Billy’s life ends in tears for the plight of two beleaguered beasts of burden.

Billy’s interaction with the historian in the Vermont hospital shows how history and fiction are to some degree interchangeable in Slaughterhouse-Five. Although Billy’s stories of time travel and alien abduction are clearly spurious, it is still possible that he has been a soldier in World War II. But when the official author of Dresden’s history of destruction dismisses Billy’s claim of having witnessed it, it becomes clear that our conception of history is shaped by the people who are in charge of writing about it. The world knows little about the massive and grisly loss of civilian life at Dresden, and it is partly up to Rumfoord to keep it that way. He would rather not hear what he fears Billy might have to say about the events. Slaughterhouse-Five is Vonnegut’s offensive against the collective amnesia propagated by people like Rumfoord.

The things Billy sees when he visits the bookstore in Times Square further confuse our understanding of reality within the novel’s fictional framework. Books by Kilgore Trout are displayed mysteriously in the store’s window, making us wonder whether or not it is a coincidence that Billy looks at the Trout book about aliens abducting a man and a woman right before he tells a nighttime radio audience about an experience of his own similar to what Trout’s book describes. When Billy brings the book to the front of the store, the clerks react with bewilderment—they do not even know that they carry Trout novels. The books take on a fantastical aura; it seems possible that they have been placed by an alien hand for Billy’s eyes only, to open him up to a new consciousness. Or, perhaps, Vonnegut is removing the credibility with which Billy’s story begins. We see similar stories of alien abduction in other Trout novels within Slaughterhouse-Five, and Billy also sees pornographic movies starring Montana Wildhack that portray her as a captive in an alien zoo. These late mentions of such material suggest that Billy’s life with Montana in the Tralfamadorian zoo might not be a lucid memory or an instance of time travel but rather a delusion that incorporates elements that Billy has encountered in fictional works.