Slaughterhouse-Five Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis
by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

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Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Eliot Rosewater: a patient next to Billy at the insane asylum

Valencia Merble: Billy’s fiancée, and later wife

Montana Wildhack: Billy’s mate in the Tralfamadorian zoo

Billy reads Valley of the Dolls while he is aboard the spaceship. His captor explains to him the curious Tralfamadorian style of writing, which is like reading several telegrams at the same time.

Passing through a time warp sends Billy to two events on a family vacation in the West when he was twelve. Then he goes back to the prison camp. The Americans are led to a bright shed, from which a troop of Englishmen marches out to meet them. The Englishmen are in excellent shape. They have prepared a feast and entertainment for their American guests.

After setting his coat on fire and shocking the British with his miserable condition (and ridiculous coat), Billy watches a drag performance of Cinderella that makes him so hysterical he has to be carried out and given a shot of morphine. He is watched over in the prison hospital by Edgar Derby, who reads to him from The Red Badge of Courage.

Billy dreams, then time travels to 1948, where he is a patient at a mental ward in Lake Placid. In the bed next to Billy’s is Eliot Rosewater, who also is finding life meaningless. Rosewater has brought with him his beloved collection of science fiction books by Kilgore Trout. He has introduced Billy to them, and both of them have been using science fiction to help them reinvent their lives.

Billy hides from his mother underneath the bedcovers. She talks instead to Rosewater, telling him that Billy is engaged to a rich woman.

Billy wakes up in the prison hospital, where an Englishman is checking on him. He then returns to the asylum, where his fiancée, Valencia, is now visiting him. Rosewater talks to them about the Trout book he is reading.

Billy then travels to the zoo on Tralfamadore. While in the zoo, Billy is told that the Tralfamadorians will one day, accidentally, destroy the universe. The Tralfamadorians also tell Billy that they deal with such unpleasant moments by not looking at them. Instead, they look at enjoyable things, like the zoo. They think it’s a philosophy Earthlings would do well to follow.

Billy goes to his wedding night. Valencia tells him how happy she is, then tries to talk to him about the war. Walking into the hotel bathroom, Billy comes back to the prison camp, where the Americans are sick with diarrhea.

The next morning, Paul Lazzaro shows up in the hospital with a broken arm. A German major visits the Englishmen there and reads to them from a monograph about the pitiful condition of American enlisted men. Billy regains consciousness in Ilium, where his daughter is still lecturing him.

He then travels to the zoo, where Montana Wildhack has just arrived. Although she is initially terrified, she grows to love Billy and they have delightful sex together. Billy wakes up in his bed in Ilium, where he remembers his daughter taking him after she discovered the furnace was broken. He has had a wet dream about Montana Wildhack.

The next day he goes back to his office for the first time since his trip to New York. His first patient is a boy whose father has just been killed in Vietnam. Billy tries to share his Tralfamadorian philosophy with the boy, whose mother tells the receptionist that Dr. Pilgrim is insane. His daughter comes back to the office and takes him home.

This chapter is full of insights into Billy’s character. Outstanding among the elements of his personality is Billy’s lack of passion for life. He is a zombie, albeit a cheerful one. His existence is summed up in the words of the English officer who says that it must be nice to feel nothing and still get full credit for being alive. Billy’s view improves as he adopts the attitude of the Tralfamadorians, who only want to feel pleasant emotions, as is shown by Billy’s chosen epitaph. Billy manages his mind so that he can go from merely feeling nothing to seeing life as...

(The entire section is 1,513 words.)