Last Updated on February 2, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 263
On his daughter’s wedding night, Billy is unable to sleep. He knows that he is about to be abducted by aliens, but he has an hour in hand before this happens, so he watches a World War II film which, like him, is unstuck in time and playing backwards, with dead soldiers coming to life and shattered planes reassembling themselves. The Tralfamadorians arrive and take him on board their flying saucer. Billy asks why they have chosen him, and the Tralfamadorians respond that this is “a very Earthling question.” They are all trapped in time like bugs in amber, and it makes no sense to ask why anything happens.
Billy travels back in time to the Second World War. As the train moves through Germany, Roland Weary dies of gangrene and, in his delirium, blames Billy for his death. The day after this, the train arrives at the POW camp. The American prisoners have to strip as they enter the camp, just as Billy has to when he arrives on Tralfamadore. The Germans look contemptuously at the naked bodies of the Americans. One of the best bodies is that of the oldest prisoner, Edgar Derby, a forty-four year-old teacher who is soon to be executed by a firing squad in Dresden. The worst body, even worse than Billy’s, is that of Paul Lazzaro, a car thief. Billy comes unstuck in time and returns to Tralfamadore, where he discusses free will with the Tralfamadorians. They tell him this is a concept used exclusively by Earthlings and one which they do not recognize.