Chapter 2 Summary and Analysis
Billy Pilgrim: the time-travelling protagonist; he primarily varies between being a chaplain’s assistant taken prisoner of war by the Germans and between his later life as a successful optometrist
Barbara Pilgrim: Billy’s worried daughter
Tralfamadorians: according to Billy, creatures from outer space who can see in the fourth dimension (time)
Roland Weary: a cruel American soldier who travels with Billy after the Battle of the Bulge
Billy’s mom (no name given): in this chapter, a weak, old lady
Billy Pilgrim is introduced as an involuntary time traveller. After a youth spent in Ilium, New York, Billy is sent to the battlefields of World War II in Europe. After the war, Billy finishes optical school, marries the daughter of his school’s founder, and becomes a successful optometrist in Ilium. His grown daughter marries another optometrist, while his juvenile delinquent son straightens out to become a Green Beret and fight in Vietnam.
In 1968, Billy survives an airplane crash. His wife dies accidentally of carbon monoxide poisoning while he was recuperating in the hospital. Back at home, Billy slips off to New York City, where he gets on a radio talk show and announces that he had been kidnapped by space aliens from Tralfamadore, who kept him in a zoo with his mate, the movie starlet Montana Wildhack. After being transported back to Ilium by his upset daughter, Billy proceeds to further aggravate his family by writing a letter to the local newspaper describing the Tralfamadorians in detail.
Billy is in the middle of writing his second letter to the paper. It describes the Tralfamadorian view of death, which is strongly tied to the Tralfamadorian view of time. Billy wants to try to help the people of earth by showing them how to see things the Tralfamadorian way. Billy’s daughter finds him in the basement and berates him for making a fool of himself and his family.
The scene shifts to World War II, where Billy serves as a chaplain’s assistant. Billy is sent to Luxembourg in December of 1944, where his regiment is destroyed in the Battle of the Bulge before Billy can even be properly uniformed.
Billy joins a group of three Americans wandering behind the German lines. Two of the men are scouts; the third is Roland Weary. Weary entertains himself by telling Billy about instruments and methods of torture, including ones of his own invention. Weary, who is warm and has energy to spare, runs back and forth between the scouts and Billy, pretending that he is in a war story.
Billy falls behind the group and has his first time-travelling experience, in which his father drops him into a pool, and Billy sinks to the bottom. He then travels to 1965, where he visits his mother in a nursing home, and to 1958, and 1961, where he passes out in the back of his car while looking for the steering wheel. He is awakened by Weary banging him against a tree.
Weary forces Billy back to the scouts, who have determined that they are being pursued. While Billy hallucinates, the scouts decide to ditch him and Weary. Weary is furious at Billy, whom he blames for the breakup of the noble fighting unit to which Weary imagined he belonged. As Weary is preparing to kick Billy in the spine, he realizes that he is being watched by a group of German soldiers and their dog.
In the second chapter of Slaughterhouse-Five, the reader is finally introduced to the protagonist of the story, Billy Pilgrim, and given a quick summary of his life. After this, the main thrust of the story might be expected to be Billy’s conflicts with his daughter or his rise to success as a promoter of the Tralfamadorian way of life.
Yet, as this chapter shows, Vonnegut has not chosen to structure his novel around any expected form. The most important moment of Billy’s life, the time he spent as a prisoner of war, will have more weight than Billy’s life as an adult. Little time will be spent examining Billy’s activities after he writes his second letter about...
(The entire section is 1,703 words.)