Slaughterhouse-Five

by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

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Chapter 2 Summary

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Last Updated February 2, 2023.

The protagonist of Vonnegut’s novel is Billy Pilgrim, a man who has “come unstuck in time.” He travels at random between points in his life and “has seen his birth and death many times.” He was born in Ilium, New York, in 1922, fought in the Second World War, had a minor nervous breakdown, and studied to become an optometrist. He married the daughter of Lionel Merble, the Ilium Optometry School’s founder, became rich, and had two children. His wife, Valencia, later died of carbon monoxide poisoning while Billy was in hospital recovering from a plane crash, of which he was the only survivor.

After the crash, Billy claims to have been abducted by aliens from a planet called Tralfamadore. The Tralfamadorians see life in four dimensions, meaning that their view of time is different from that of humans. They see everything in a continuous present and can look at any moment that interests them, so that when they see a corpse, they think that person is doing badly in that moment but “just fine in plenty of other moments.”

Billy first started time-traveling in 1944, when he was a soldier. During the Battle of the Bulge, he dived into a ditch with another soldier named Roland Weary in an attempt to avoid enemy fire. He then came “unstuck in time” and found that he was a child being thrown into a swimming pool by his father, who was trying to teach him to swim. After this, Billy goes through a sequence of other experiences at different times, and passes out, after which he and Weary are captured by German soldiers.

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Chapter 1 Summary

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Chapter 3 Summary