Slaughterhouse-Five: Novel Summary: Chapter 5

Because the Tralfamadorians see in the fourth dimension the night sky to them looks like luminous spaghetti and human beings look like big millipedes “with babies legs at one end and old peoples legs at the other.” Billy asks for a book to read on the way to Tralfamadore and the aliens give him Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann. Though they possess over five million Earthling books this is the only title in hard copy. After reading the novel, and enjoying parts of it, Billy asks for another book. He is given a Tralfamadorian book. It is very small and though he can not read it he saw that it was laid out in brief clumps like telegrams. He is told that the books are like telegrams that are viewed all at once. The books have no chronology and express no morality. The aliens love their books because they contain the “depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time.”
The saucer enters a time warp and Billy visits the time when he was with his parents at the Grand Canyon. He was terrified and when his mother touched him he wet his pants. A park ranger tells a French tourist that about three people a year kill themselves by jumping into the canyon. Billy then travels to a time twelve days later when the family visited Carlsbad Caverns. Billy is afraid that the ceiling of the cave will fall on him. The tour guide turns out the light so that everyone can experience total darkness. Billy sees the radium dial of his fathers watch dial glowing in the darkness.
Billy is transported back to the delousing station in the POW camp. When his clothes are returned he finds that the coat he has been given is very small and it splits up the back and the sleeves fall off when he puts it on. The lining is crimson and the collar is made of fur. The Germans think he looks very funny and they laugh at him. The soldiers make the Americans march outside with Billy in the lead. They all have their names recorded so they can be reported to the Red Cross as prisoners. One of the Americans says something that a German guard does not like and the guard hits him in the face with his rifle butt. When the man asks why him the guard answers “Vy you? Vy anybody?” The dogtags the men are given are perforated so that when the man dies half the tag can be separated and the mans death recorded.
The Americans are very hungry. They are led to a shed from which march fifty middle-aged Englishmen who have been prisoners since the beginning of the war. They are all officers and they had all, at one time or another, tried to escape from other prisons which is why they were now held in the center of Germany where the only hospital was a room with six cots. The Englishmen were strong and well groomed. They sang “Hail, Hail, the Gangs All Here” for the Americans. Due to an error early in the war the Red Cross had regularly shipped them ten times the normal amount of food and supplies and by carefully conserving their resources they still retained immense quantities of items like dried beef, tobacco and butter. The Germans loved the English prisoners because they conformed so nicely to their understanding of the stereotypical Brit. The Americans were their first guests and they had prepared a lavish meal and entertainment. The Americans find the inside of the shed, which is heated by glowing fire, to be clean and orderly and arranged for a banquet. At each seat was a tin of warm milk and personal supplies and treats. The candles, unbeknownst to the English or Americans, were made from fat rendered from Jews, Gypsies and other enemies of the state. There is a big cauldron of soup, fresh bread and other succulent fare. There is a stage set with azure curtains and pillars, a bucket and a mop, for a production of Cinderella. The Englishmen are horrified to see that the Americans are a frowsy looking group. One of the Englishmen notices that Billy is standing too close to the stove and stamps out the fire that has begun on his ridiculous coat. The Englishmen tells Billy that the coat was an insult from the Germans.
Billy passes out and when he comes to he discovers that he has somehow already eaten dinner and is laughing heartily at the play. He begins to laugh hysterically and uncontrollably and is carried into the hospital where he is tied to a cot and given an injection of morphine. Edgar Derby volunteers to watch over him. Derby reads The Red Badge of Courage while he watches Billy sleep. Billy dreams that he is a giraffe being nuzzled by two female giraffes. He travels in time to a few years after the war when he is a mental patient in Lake Placid, New York. It is a sunny day and a bird outside the wards window asks him “Poo-tee-weet?” Billy has committed himself during his final year of optometry school. No one else suspected he was going crazy but the doctors agree that his is going crazy. They think it is because his father threw him in the deep end of the pool and taken him to the Grand Canyon when he was a child. The man in the bed next to Billy is Eliot Rosewater, a former infantry captain trying to overcome alcoholism and disillusionment. Rosewater introduces Billy to science fiction and the works of Kilgore Trout who becomes Billys favorite author as well. Rosewater and Billy connect because they both went through traumatic experiences during the war. Rosewater tells Billy that everything there is to know about life is in The Brothers Karamazov but that this isnt sufficient anymore. He tells a psychologist that they will have to develop new lies or no one will want to go on living. At the moment when Billy arrives at the ward in time his mother is visiting but has gone to the ladies room. When she returns Billy puts his head under a sheet because his mother makes him feel ungrateful since she gave him life but he doesnt like it very much. His mother has a conversation about Billy with Rosewater who is experimenting with being pleasant to everyone in the hopes that it will make the world a better place. Rosewater is reading a book by Kilgore Trout titled Maniacs in the Fourth Dimension in which the author claims that all mental diseases exist in the fourth dimension and cant be understood by psychologists. Trout claims that vampires, werewolves, goblins, angels and William Blake also live in the fourth dimension.
Billy returns in time to the POW hospital. He sees Edgar Derby reading at his bedside and he brings to mind the image of Derby being executed in the ruins of Dresden. An English Colonel, who also functions as the doctor, comes in. He tells Derby and Billy that all the others have shaved and expresses shock at the youth of the soldiers.
Billy travels forward in time and returns to the psychiatric ward. His mother has left but his fiance Valencia is there. She is fat and ugly and wears trifocal glasses rimmed with rhinestones. Billy knew he was going crazy when he asked her to marry him. Her engagement ring is a diamond that Billy brought back from the war. She is eating a Three Musketeers candy bar. She and Billy engage in small talk and Billy lures Rosewater into the conversation by asking him about the book he is reading. The book is by Kilgore Trout and is titled The Gospel from Outer Space. In the book a alien, much like a Tralfamadorian, determines that Christians find it easy to be cruel to each other because the moral of Jesus crucifixion should have been Before you kill somebody, make absolutely sure he isnt well connected. The alien makes a new gospel as a gift to humanity. In it, Jesus is not the Son of God but only a bum but he says everything he said before. One day he is strung up on the cross but before he dies the heavens open and God declares that he is adopting him. Gods message to humanity: From this moment on, He will punish horribly anybody who torments a bum who has no connections!
Rosewater explains that Trout is not a good writer but has great ideas. He tells Valencia that he has never met another person who has heard of Kilgore Trout and that nobody knows where he lives. He congratulates Valencia on her ring and upon learning that it was war booty exclaims that the nice thing about war is that everybody gets something. The author interjects to observe that Kilgore Trout actually lived in Illium and that Billy would eventually meet him. Valencia and Billy discuss their choice of silver pattern.
Billy travels in time to the zoo on Tralfamadore. He is totally naked and his habitat is furnished from the Sears Roebuck warehouse in Iowa. The television doesnt work and there is a picture of one cowboy killing another pasted to its screen. The crowd of thousands of Tralfamadorians goes wild with joy when Billy gets up to urinate. Billy then gets a drink of water. On the front of his fridge is a picture of a gay nineties couple on an old-fashioned bicycle. Billy goes the normal routines of morning. He does his exercises, cleans and grooms himself while the alien guide explains what the Earthling is doing. Using a small keyboard instrument the guide conveys questions from the crowd to Billy. The first question is “Are you happy here?” and Billy answers that he is about as happy as he was on Earth. There are five sexes on Tralfamadore but since they existed in the fourth dimension all the beings looked the same to Billy. The Tralfamadorians told him that there were at least seven sexes on Earth and that human babies would not be possible without people such as homosexual males and women over sixty-five. The guide tries to explain to the crowd how Billy perceives time. The alien asks the crowd to imagine being fitted with a metal sphere with one opening on six feet of pipe which was all a human could see of existence. The metaphor also states that the human is strapped to a railcar that sometimes moves fast and at other times slow. Billy expects the aliens to be horrified at the amount of violence and wars on Earth but the audience only closes their hands over their eyes, a gesture which Billy knows should be interpreted that he has asked a stupid question. He learns that the Universe ends when a Tralfamadorian test with new rocket fuel goes awry and since the moment is structured that way there is no point in questioning it. The aliens tell Billy that they have wars too but that they simply dont look at them and choose to focus on the good times. They suggest Earthlings should do the same.
Billy travels in time to his wedding night in a rented studio apartment on the water in Cape Ann. Billy was on top of Valencia making love to her. Valencia imagined that she was Queen Elizabeth the First and that Billy was Christopher Columbus. Billy finished making love to his fat wife and then lay with his hands behind his head. His new father-in-law had made him rich. Outside the French doors at the end of the room a boat motored past. Valencia thanked Billy and began to cry because she was so happy. She claims that she will lose weight and become beautiful but Billy tells her he likes her just the way she is. Another boat motors past. On its prow is a beautiful couple embracing in the moonlight. One day in the future Billy will share a hospital room with the young mans uncle, Professor Bertram Copeland Rumfoord of Harvard, official Historian of the United States Air Force. After the boat has passed Valencia questions Billy about the war but he gives only noncommittal responses. While she questions him Billy thinks of a wonderful epitaph and a picture appears on the following page of a tombstone with the words “Everything was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt” chiseled on it. The image of a baby angel appears above the words. When Valencia starts to question him about Edgar Derbys execution, Billy excuses himself to urinate. Inside the bathroom he travels back to the POW camp. Derby is asleep in the chair next to Billys cot. The candle has gone out and Billy is desperately groping in the dark for an exit because his has to urinate. He stumbles out of the tent and staggers over to a barbed wire fence that snags him in a dozen places. While he urinates a Russian POW on the other side of the fence asks him questions but Billy does not notice him. The Russian frees Billy from the fence and Billy staggers off into the night. He comes upon the latrine that has a freshly painted sign that reads “Please Leave This Latrine as Tidy as You Found It!” Inside are dozens of groaning Americans who are sick from the rich food. The buckets are full and tipped over. One American calls out that he has excreted everything but his brains and then a moment later calls out that they are gone too. Vonnegut interrupts to explain that that man was himself. Billy reels away from the latrine and passes two Englishmen who are disgusted by the Americans behavior.
Billy finds himself back in his honeymoon suite and he crawls into bed with Valencia. While Billy and Valencia sleep spooned together Billy travels in time to the train ride he took to his fathers funeral. The train is uncomfortable and Billy finally falls asleep on a seat with his legs splayed in front of him. When the porter wakes him in Illium he tells Billy that he had a tremendous hard-on in his sleep.
Billy returns to his night of morphine induced delirium in the POW hospital. Two English POWs carry Paul Lazzaro, the small car thief from Cicero, Illinois, into the room. One of the Englishmen has accidentally broken Lazzaros arm and knocked him unconscious when he caught the American trying to steal cigarettes from under his sleeping head. The Englishmen is surprised at how light Lazzaro is and expresses his dissatisfaction with the quality of the Americans. A German major, a close friend of the English prisoners, enters and apologizes to the British for the Americans. He tells them that the Americans are going to be sent to Dresden as contract labor. The German major has a pamphlet with him written by an American named Howard W. Campbell, Jr. who had joined the Germans and risen high in their German Ministry of Propaganda. The report details the reprehensible quality of American enlisted men and describes the manner in which poor people in America are urged to hate themselves. Howard W. Campbell was a successful playwright before the war, had a very high I.Q. and hung himself while awaiting trial after the war.
Billy dozes off in the POW hospital and comes to after his wifes death in Illium. His daughter Barbara is berating him for writing letters about flying saucers to the local paper. She enjoys treating him like a child. The furnace is broken and she calls a repairman and orders Billy to get under his electric blanket and not come out until the heat is back on. Billy travels in time to Tralfamadore when the aliens gave him a mate, twenty-year old movie star Montana Wildhack. She is brought to him naked, like himself, and sedated. Billy, according to the narrator, has a “tremendous wang” and “you never know wholl get one.” The Tralfamadorians are anxious to see the humans mate and they crowd around the dome to watch. Billy tells Montana that everything is all right. Billy notices that Montana wears an amulet around her neck that hangs between her breasts. Montana sees the aliens and begins to scream. The zookeeper drops a shade over the dome and Billy switches on a floor lamp. The stark contours of her body remind him of Dresden before it was destroyed. Billy is very considerate to Montana and she comes to love and trust him. After a week Montana asks Billy to sleep with her and he enjoys the experience very much.
Billy travels back to his bed in Illium in 1968. The electric blanket is set on high and Billy is drenched in sweat. The repairman is knocking on the door to tell him that the furnace is fixed. Billys bed smells like a mushroom cellar because he has had a wet dream about Montana. The next day Billy decides much to his staffs surprise, to go back to work. His first patient is a twelve-year old boy whose father has just died in Vietnam. Billy tells the boy all about the Tralfamadorians and assures him that somewhere in time his father is still very much alive. The boys mother gets the nurse and Billy is sent home to his scolding daughter.
In this chapter we learn more about Billys early psychological makeup. As a child he is inspired with fear instead of awe at the sight of the Grand Canyon and even in the darkness of Carlsbad Caverns he is reminded that time is passing by the glowing light of his fathers watch.
The doctors at the mental hospital believe that Billys experiences as a child have caused his metal illness instead of the war. The English prisoners, who are devout believers in order and cause and effect, believe that Billys ridiculous coat is an insult from the Germans. They fail to understand that random chance has delivered this garb to Billy and that by wearing it he is simply doing the best with whatever comes his way.
The metaphor used by the alien guide to describe how earthlings perceive time makes human existence seem more like torture or imprisonment. Their opinion that human beings should learn to look at only the good times and ignore the bad mirrors Vonneguts own assertion that now that this book is written he intends to cease looking back to the war. Similarly, once Billy, using the advice of the Tralfamadorians, overcomes the fear of death and darkness that dominated his youth he is able to assimilate his war experience and view the war as simply an unconnected series of unavoidable events.
This chapter also serves to introduce the characters of Eliot Rosewater and Kilgore Trout. Rosewater is the subject of another Vonnegut novel, God Bless You Mr. Rosewater and Trout is Vonneguts alter ego who appears in many of the authors books. Howard W. Campbell, Jr. who tries to convince the Americans to join the German army is the subject of Vonneguts novel Mother Night.
Subtle parallels in Billys time traveling emerge as well during this chapter. He leaves his wedding bed to urinate and travels in time to the POW hospital where he is also seized by the need to urinate. Once back in bed with his wife he sleeps spooned against her as he had once slept spooned against the hobo in the boxcar.
Billy makes love to two women in the course of this chapter. The first is his fat wife Valencia whose dowry has made Billy rich. Interestingly, Valencia fantasizes that she and Billy are historical figures while they make love whereas the second woman Billy makes love with is a twenty-year old starlet, just the sort of person that a middle-aged man might fantasize about. In either case, Billy and the woman he is with are prisoners whether of circumstance or literally in a zoo on an alien planet.
The Tralfamadorian book that Billy looks at mirrors the construction of Slaughterhouse Five in that it is composed of short, blocked passages and features no hero nor holds any overt moral value. By introducing the alien book Vonnegut is able to explicate his own work within the confines of the story.