Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis
Wild Bob: a colonel whose regiment has been destroyed
After Weary and Billy are captured, they hear the shots of the guns that kill the scouts with whom they had been travelling. Weary is relieved of his weapons, as well as his boots, and is given a pair of wooden clogs.
After taking a brief side trip to his optometry practice in 1967, Billy rejoins the prisoners being marched away from the front. Billy returns to 1967, where he drives through the remains of Ilium’s burnt-out ghetto neighborhood. He listens to a Marine major give a speech in favor of increased bombings of North Vietnam at a Lions Club meeting. He drives home for his afternoon nap, which he spends weeping quietly.
Billy opens his eyes to find it is the winter wind that is making them run. Weary, who is marching near him, is also crying, but it is because his feet are being destroyed by his clogs. Billy marvels at the exciting scenery as he walks along, spotting corpses, weapons of mass destruction, and shot-out farmhouses.
The prisoners finally arrive at the railyards. One of the colonels there, who is dying of pneumonia, asks frantically for men from his annihilated regiment. In a delirium, he addresses Billy as if he were his entire body of troops, inviting them all to visit Wild Bob in Cody, Wyoming. Weary is the only member of Wild Bob’s regiment at the railyards, but he is in great pain and does not respond to Wild Bob’s calls. Vonnegut adds that he and O’Hare were at the railyards.
The prisoners are loaded onto the boxcars according to their rank. A man dies in one of the boxcars. After dawdling in their own luxuriously outfitted car, the guards go to fetch the corpse, which is Wild Bob.
The prisoners wait two days for their train to depart, taking turns sleeping on the floor and sharing food. Billy falls asleep and time travels again to the night he was kidnapped by the Tralfamadorians.
This chapter follows the two main threads of Billy’s life: his capture by the Germans and subsequent march to the railyards with other prisoners of war, and his life as an optometrist in 1967.
While Billy is obviously under stress as a prisoner, Billy’s adult life presents several anomalies that seem to indicate a problem below the surface contentment. First, he falls asleep at work, even while examining patients. This is possibly a sign of narcolepsy, a stress-triggered sleeping disorder. Second, Billy cannot make himself care about things, whether it is the future of optometry in Europe or the destruction of North Vietnam by bombing. Third, he is prone to unexplained crying fits. All of these problems indicate stifled emotions.
This combination of symptoms makes it seem doubtful that Billy has adjusted to civilian life as well as his commercial success would indicate. Instead, he seems to be repressing some terrible secret, which requires such tremendous effort to contain that it results in his emotional withdrawal from the world. Even Billy does not know why he cries. It is a mystery for the reader to solve, one that seems likely to illuminate Billy’s flying saucer journey.
Billy’s sanity during his experiences as a prisoner of war is highly questionable. His journey to the railyard is marked by frequent trips through time, which occur even while Billy is involved in some other activity. He also begins to see electric haloes around people’s heads. These signs of mental distress make Billy’s lack of response to the death and destruction he sees seem less likely to be caused by indifference than stress. In fact, his brain is scrambling Billy’s sensory input well enough for him to greet abuse with laughter and smiles, and to welcome the sight of the guards’ home as heartily as that of a bullet-riddened farmhouse. Since Billy has no control over the events around him (as epitomized in the poem hung in his office), his brain seems to have decided to make every experience a pleasant one. The book will later label this a...
(The entire section is 1,359 words.)