Slaughterhouse-Five Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis
by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

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Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Paul Lazzaro: a rabid American with a thirst for revenge

Edgar Derby: a kind, middle-aged American doomed to be shot for stealing a teapot

Billy is unable to sleep the night after his daughter’s wedding. He wanders around the house, knowing he is about to be kidnapped by the Tralfamadorians. He watches a movie in reverse time, then imagines it continuing from World War II all the way to Adam and Eve. After watching the movie in regular time, he goes outside and enters the space ship.

Billy asks why he has been taken. A Tralfamadorian tells him that the moment just is, and that there is no “why” to be asked. Billy is stuck like a bug in amber.

The acceleration of the Tralfamadorian ship sends Billy back to his boxcar. He wants to sleep, but his fellow prisoners refuse to let him lie among them because he thrashes in his dreams.

No food is given to the prisoners as they are transported across Germany. In the car ahead of Billy’s, Roland Weary dies of gangrene. He tells everyone on his car that he wants Billy to be punished for killing him.

The prisoners finally arrive in a converted extermination camp and leave their boxcars. Billy is given a ridiculous overcoat.

In the camp, the prisoners are stripped prior to delousing. Among the men are Edgar Derby, who comforted Weary as he died, and Paul Lazzaro, who promised Weary he’d get Billy Pilgrim.

The shower sends Billy back to a happy moment in his infancy. Then he travels to his middle age, where he is playing a game of golf. In a moment of dizziness, he goes back to the spaceship, where he is strapped to a contour chair. The spaceship is heading for a time warp.

A Tralfamadorian tells Billy that he is on the spaceship because that is the way things have to be. When Billy asks if this means that the creature doesn’t believe in free will, the Tralfamadorian responds that across the universe, only Earthlings believe in free will.

This chapter follows young Billy up to his arrival in the prisoner-of-war camp in Germany, while simultaneously recounting the events surrounding Billy’s kidnapping by the Tralfamadorians. In both of these story lines, Billy is being held against his will by kindly jailors.

Lawrence Broer finds many other parallels between Billy’s experiences with the Tralfamadorians and his memories of being a prisoner of war. For example, Billy himself finds that the buildings look the same. Billy’s reception in both places is also similar; he is laughed at by Germans and Tralfamadorians alike. Later, both of his prisons will be destroyed in an apocalyptic fashion. The primary difference between the two scenarios is, according to Lawrence R. Broer, that “in the case of his Tralfamadorian fantasy, Billy himself holds the keys to the locked doors of his mind.”

The argument for Billy’s flying saucer adventure being a delusion is great. The living situation in which he describes there, that of being in a zoo with an Earth woman as his mate, parallels the plot of a science fiction book he reads after the war. Furthermore, the woman who is chosen for his mate is a porn star—exactly the kind of woman a man living in a sexless marriage might fantasize about living with. While in a New York sex shop, Billy reads that his zoo mate Montana has disappeared and is presumed to be “wearing a cement overcoat” in the bottom of a bay. This is a clear example of reality intruding into Billy’s fantasy. The only argument in favor of Billy not being delusional is his foreknowledge of his death; but as one critic put it, this could be a fantasy, too.

The main purpose of the existence of the Tralfamadorians in this novel (they previously appeared in Sirens of Titan ) is to introduce a new philosophy. The primary component of Tralfamadorian philosophy is their understanding of time. Since they can see in four dimensions, they can view all moments in time simultaneously, like a mountain range. (By comparison, the human concept of time will later be...

(The entire section is 1,340 words.)