Slaughterhouse-Five: Novel Summary: Chapter 8

Two days before Dresden is destroyed Howard W. Campbell, Jr., the converted American Nazi propagandist, visits the prisoners. He offers them membership in the “Free American Corps” of the Nazi army for service against the Russians. Campbell wears an extravagant costume of his own design that blends symbols of the Third Reich and American history and he explains their significance to the exhausted and sick prisoners. Campbell reasons with his audience that they will eventually have to fight the Russians and they might as well get started. Edgar Derby insults Campbell, who smiles, and explains that every American POW would gladly die for their countrys ideals. Vonnegut notes that there are no characters in his novel because many of the people in it are sick or tired but at the moment of his patriotic speech Edgar Derby was a character. An air raid siren goes off and the whole group, including Campbell takes shelter in an underground meat locker. Billy falls asleep in the meat locker and travels to a time when his daughter is haranguing him. She swears she could “just kill” somebody and when Billy asks who she responds “That Kilgore Trout” the science-fiction writer. It turns out that the bitter Trout has become Billys friend.
Kilgore Tout lived in Illium where he made a living as a circulation man for the Illium Gazette. He is cowardly and dangerous and ran a gang of kids who delivered papers for him. Billy met him in 1964 when Trout was sixty-two years old. He did not think of himself as a writer, had never seen a copy of any of his books in print and had no idea how many he had written. Billy is driving his Cadillac down an alley when he recognizes a bearded man haranguing a group of kids to convince their customers to subscribe to the Sunday edition. Using vulgar language, he tells them that the carrier with the most new subscriptions will receive a free trip to Marthas Vineyard. The only girl carrier asks if she can take her sister too and Trout refuses and asks her if she thinks money grows on trees. One of Trouts stories is about a money tree that attracts humans who kill themselves for its fruit and make very good fertilizer. Billy recognizes the man but cant say for sure who he is. He parks his car and watches as one of Trouts boys quits, leaving Trout to deliver the route himself. Trout calls the boy a “gutless wonder” which is also the title of one of his stories about a robot that drops jellied gasoline on people and is ostracized by human society until it cures its halitosis. Billy approaches Trout and asks if he is the writer named Kilgore Trout. Trout is confused by the question and admits that nobody has ever called him a writer. Billy helps Trout, who enjoys having a fan, deliver the papers. Trout admits that he has received only one piece of fan mail and he assumed it was from an insane person. Billy tells him about Eliot Rosewater who wrote the letter and Trout is shocked to learn that it was written by a grown man. “He writes like a fourteen-year-old” Trout says.
Billy invites Trout to his eighteenth wedding anniversary where the writer, enjoying his sense of fame, flirts with Maggie White the beautiful wife of an optometrist. The guests love Trout because they admire authors though none of them have ever read his books. Billy listens to Trout and fingers the eight-hundred-dollar ring in his pocket that he plans to give to his wife. Maggie asks Trout about his most famous book and Trout invents a story about a famous chef who is sprinkled with herbs in his casket. Maggie asks if it is true and Trout explains to the gullible woman that all things that are written have to be true or the author could get sued for fraud. Trout tells Maggie that God sees everything she does and she will burn forever for the bad things. She believes him and is mortified which causes him to laugh and spit some of his caviar appetizer into her cleavage.
The barbershop quartet is at the anniversary party and someone requests that they sing in honor of Billy and Valencia. They sing a sentimental song about old friends which affects Billy strongly. Everyone thinks he is having a heart attack but he insists that he is all right. He realizes that he must have a big secret buried in him somewhere for the song to have elicited such a reaction. Billy seems to recover and the crowd drifts away but Kilgore Trout remains close and curious. Valencia says that he looks like he has seen a ghost and Trout believes he has seen a window in time but Billy denies both ideas. He gives Valencia the ring and a crowd of women gathers to admire the fine jewelry. Some of them are jealous because of the large diamond that Billy gave Valencia as an engagement ring. It is the same diamond he found in the war. The dentures that he found are kept in the box with his cufflinks collection. Billy circulates among his guests but Trout follows him. He tells Billy that when the quartet sang Billy looked like a dog standing on a mirror that believed that nothing existed underneath him. The quartet resumes singing and the feeling returns. Billy realizes that it is the sight of these four men and not what they are singing which is affecting him. He goes to the upstairs bathroom for privacy but encounters his teenage son sitting on the toilet in the dark with a pink electric guitar around his neck. Billy says hello to his son and then retreats to his bed and turns on the magic finger massage function. While laying on the bed he remembers the night that Dresden was firebombed and he and the other prisoners took shelter in the meat locker with four of the guards while the city was destroyed. The next day they emerged into the smoldering ruins. The sky was black with smoke and the sun seemed very small. The guards grouped together and made faces of surprise and sadness and at that moment they resembled a barbershop quartet.
One time on Tralfamadore Montana Wildhack, who was six-months pregnant with his child, asked Billy about the war and he told of the day after Dresdens destruction. He tells her that all the collapsed buildings looked like the surface of the moon.
The four German guards and the one hundred American POWs climb over the ruins of Dresden in order to leave the city and find food and shelter. On the way American fighter planes strafe them. Toward evening they reach a suburb untouched by the destruction. They find a pleasant inn run by a blind man and his wife and their two daughters. They feed the men and put the Americans to bed in their barn. The blind innkeeper comes out and says “Good night, Americans. Sleep well.”
Howard Campbells speech to the prisoners mirrors that of the British officer in that both speakers implore the men to think of maintaining themselves for the future when all the men can think about is how tired and sick they are in the present. Like the British officer, Campbell succeeds in eliciting a response from only Edgar Derby.
Kilgore Trout and Billy Pilgrim represent two potential courses for Vonneguts own life. Trout represents the bitter opportunist that Vonnegut would have become if he had been a less successful writer and Pilgrim represents the malaise of middle-class suburban life that would have consumed him if he had not started writing. In a humorous commentary on the relationship between writers and their readers, Kilgore Trout believes that his number one fan, Eliot Rosewater, writes like and adolescent and Rosewater believes that Trout is a horrible writer with good ideas.
The story of Dresdens destruction is tied to the anniversary party in that the two stories overlap in the course of the chapter. Dresdens destruction is presented as something that merely happened whereas Billys consternation at the party reveals, many years after that fact, the extent to which the citys destruction affected him. While the barbershop quartets singing might be expected to bother Billy because it was the last thing to occur before the plane accident he realizes, upon reflection, that its effect upon him is the result of a war experience. The awakening of the war memory brings to fruition the latent misery in Billys soul and acts as a catalyst for his adoption of a Tralfamadorian view of the world in which seemingly large events are rendered unimportant in the grand sweep of time.