Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

The Bird Who Says “Poo-tee-weet?”

The jabbering bird symbolizes the lack of anything intelligent to say about war. Birdsong rings out alone in the silence after a massacre, and “Poo-tee-weet?” seems about as appropriate a thing to say as any, since no words can really describe the horror of the Dresden firebombing. The bird sings outside of Billy’s hospital window and again in the last line of the book, asking a question for which we have no answer, just as we have no answer for how such an atrocity as the firebombing could happen.

The Colors Blue and Ivory

On various occasions in Slaughterhouse-Five, Billy’s bare feet are described as being blue and ivory, as when Billy writes a letter in his basement in the cold and when he waits for the flying saucer to kidnap him. These cold, corpselike hues suggest the fragility of the thin membrane between life and death, between worldly and otherworldly experience.

The Slaughterhouse

Although the slaughterhouse no. 5 in Dresden, where Billy and his fellow POWs are imprisoned, is a literal place, it also takes on a symbolic connotation that goes beyond its physical existence. The slaughterhouse – already an unsettling image, due to its practical use as a building in which livestock are killed – is the central setting around which the rest of the novel circulates. It exists not only in the story of real-life veterans Vonnegut and O’Hare, but also in the story of the fictional Billy Pilgrim. Many of Billy’s most profound and horrific war experiences happen within the slaughterhouse, and as he travels back and forth in time, it remains the focus of his memories and experiences. Billy finally emerges from the slaughterhouse after the bombing of Dresden, but the aftermath is so horrendous that he cannot stop remembering it and returning to it in his time travels. In this sense, the slaughterhouse becomes more than just a place – it is a state of mind. It is the manifestation of Billy’s PTSD, as well as Vonnegut’s and Bernard’s. Their traumatized minds cannot escape the slaughterhouse, which represents the horror they witnessed and experienced during WWII.