Slaughterhouse-Five Chapter 8 Summary and Analysis
by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

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Chapter 8 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Howard W. Campbell, Jr.: an American Nazi propagandist

Kilgore Trout: a reclusive science fiction author

Maggie White: a beautiful, if simple, woman married to an optometrist

Robert: Billy’s son, the future Green Beret

Howard Campbell comes to the American prisoners. He wants to recruit them to fight against the Russians. He bribes the weary, undernourished men with promises of good food.

Surprisingly, Edgar Derby stands against Campbell’s poisonous promises. He says that the Americans are going to unite with the Russians to crush Nazism. Then the air-raid siren starts to sound. All the men, including Campbell, hide in a meat locker far under the ground. However, no bombs fall, as they aren’t scheduled to fall until the next day.

That night, Billy returns to the argument with his daughter. She expresses anger at Kilgore Trout, whom she blames for her father’s problems. Trout is living in Ilium, where he works as a circulation manager for the local newspaper. Billy meets him in 1964. Billy is as amazed to find Trout as Trout is amazed to find someone who has read his books. Billy invites Trout to his eighteenth wedding anniversary party.

Because he is the only person at the party who is not an optometrist, Trout is a great hit. He tells Maggie White all sorts of lies about his work. The optometrist barbershop quartet begins to sing a song, which upsets Billy so much that people think he is having a heart attack. It reminds Billy that he has been keeping a secret inside himself, although he can no longer remember what it is. Trout accuses Billy of having seen through a time window, which Billy denies. Billy then hands Valencia the ring he bought her for an anniversary gift.

Curious about Billy’s reaction, Trout follows him around the house until the quartet starts to sing again. This bothers Billy so intensely that he has to leave the party. He runs upstairs, where he finds Robert sitting on the toilet with his electric guitar. Billy leaves him and goes into his bedroom.

Billy tries to understand why the quartet bothered him. The effort brings up a crystal clear memory. The American prisoners spent the night in the meat locker while Dresden was destroyed and its population burnt within their shelters. When the guards and the Americans emerged the next day, the burnt out city was like the surface of the moon. The expressions of the four Germans as they silently huddled together, making one face and then another, was identical to that of a barbershop quartet.

On Tralfamadore, Montana Wildhack is very pregnant. She asks Billy to tell her a story, and he relates the tale of the German barbershop quartet. He tells her about the little logs that were actually people scattered about the ruins of Dresden.

The group has to leave the city in search of food. They are shot at by American fighter planes as they walk over the mountains of rubble. They make it to a suburb where an inn is open, expecting refugees from Dresden. The guards tell the innkeeper that, after half a day’s travel, they have not seen one living person.

At long last, Chapter Eight arrives at the bombing of Dresden, the moment which the reader hopes will never come. In a certain sense, there has been little suspense about the event. The text has constantly pointed out people who would die in the firestorm and discussed the temporal nature of the city’s beauty.

Yet each reminder of coming death and destruction has only made the actual event more painful to read about. The reader has formed a relationship with the embarrassed girls in the shower and the worn down prison cook. Sympathy has been developed for the general population of Dresden, who have gone pale from living on potatoes. The reader can feel no sense of righteous victory over the forces of evil. In fact, one cannot help but wish a deus ex machina to provide a happy ending, but Slaughterhouse-Five gives no such relief. The scene is unbearably, heartbreakingly bleak.

Derby’s speech to...

(The entire section is 1,652 words.)