Slaughterhouse-Five Chapter 2
The novel begins as he announced. Billy Pilgrim came unstuck in time. He went to bed a senile widower in 1955 and woke on his wedding day in 1941. He has no control over where in time he will go, and the trips are not always pleasant. "He is in a constant state of stage fright, he says, because he never knows what part of his life he is going to have to act in next." Chapter 2, pg. 23
Billy Pilgrim was born in 1922 in Ilium, New York. He is funny-looking. He was drafted for World War II after high school. His father died before the war. So it goes.
He was taken prisoner by the Germans. After his honorable discharge, he enrolled in the Ilium School of Optometry, became engaged to the owner's daughter, then suffered a breakdown. He was put in a veteran's hospital and married her after his release. Ilium was a good city for optometrists because there was a big company there where every employee (out of sixty-eight thousand) was required to have safety glasses.
Billy became rich and had two children. His daughter, Barbara, married another optometrist, who he set up in business. His son, Robert, joined the Green Berets and fought in Vietnam. In 1968, Billy was the only survivor of a plane crash on the way to a convention. So it goes. While he was recuperating, his wife accidentally died of carbon monoxide poisoning. So it goes.
He was very quiet when he got back, then went on the radio and started saying he had become unstuck in time, and that he had been abducted in 1967 and taken to the planet Tralfamadore, where he was put in a zoo and mated with movie star Montana Wildhack.
Barbara heard this and got upset. She brought him home. After a month, he wrote to the newspaper describing Tralfamadorians as two-foot-high toilet plungers. On top of the shaft is a hand with an eye. They are friendly and have much to teach. On Tralfamadore, people only appear to die. They do not cry because he is still alive in the past; all moments of past, present, and future are always alive. Earthlings' way of seeing time as moment-to-moment like beads on a string, is an illusion. When they see a corpse, they think that the person is in bad shape at that moment. Tralfamadorians' reaction to death is: "So it goes."
Billy is writing his next letter in his cold basement on an old, heavy typewriter. His feet are blue and cold, but his heart is warm, thinking about all the people his letter will comfort. Barbara is at the door but he does not answer. She thinks he is senile and considers herself the head of the family, taking care of her mother's funeral and her father's business. "'All this responsibility at such an early age,' writes the narrator, 'made her a bitchy flibbertigibbet.'" Chapter 2, pg. 29 Billy has been trying to convince her he was sane. She says he is lying that he didn't hear her at the door. She is pretty, except that she has legs like an Edwardian grand piano. She resents that he is making a fool of himself and everyone associated with him. She threatens to put him in a home. She is angry, but he is calm and insists that it is all true, and insists that the problem is that Tralfamadore cannot be detected from Earth. She asks why he didn't mention it before the airplane crash, and he says that the time wasn't ripe.
He he first came unstuck in 1944, long before he was abducted. He worked for a preacher in the war, and was powerless to harm the enemy. Once an "umpire" (the narrator explains that there were umpires everywhere, men who said who was winning or losing the theoretical battle) comes with comical news that they have been theoretically spotted by the theoretical enemy and are theoretically dead. The theoretically dead soldiers laughed and ate. Billy was sent home when his father died. So it goes.
He was in the last German attack of the war. He never met his supervisor, nor was he issued gear. He ended up alive, dazed behind German lines in Luxembourg, tagging along two scouts and one anti-tank gunner, without food or maps.
On the third day, someone shot at them. The first bullet hit the scouts, the second the antitank gunner, Roland Weary. The third missed Billy, buzzing by his ear. He politely waited for the next shot, thinking it was the rules of war that the shooter should get another chance. The next shot missed too. Weary yelled for him to get down, adding the word fucker, which Billy had never heard from a white person (nor adds the narrator, had he ever fucked anybody), and it snapped him out of his daze.
Weary had shot at a tank and missed. The tank turned its fire in his direction and killed everyone but him. So it goes. He was only eighteen, at the end of an unhappy childhood. He was always unpopular because he was fat and mean and always smelled like bacon. He was always ditched, and hated it. In return, he would find someone even more unpopular than him, be friendly, then find a reason to beat him up. His father collected torture instruments. He gave Weary's mother a thumbscrew for a paperweight and a table lamp which was a model of the Iron Maiden, which, the narrator explains, was a medieval torture instrument in which the victim was enclosed in a chamber whose inner surfaces were covered with spikes, with a drain to let out the blood. So it goes.
Weary told Billy that the worst form of torture is to stake a man over an anthill in the desert, with honey on his balls and pecker, and cut off his eyelids so he has to stare at the sun until he dies. He showed Billy his knife with a triangular blade, which caused a wound which wouldn't close. He taunted Billy for not knowing more about it, and sneered, asking what the hell they taught him in college. Billy meekly said he wasn't there for long. Weary told him there was more to life than what one read in books. Billy thought he could tell Weary about gore, since he had a gory crucifix above his bed in Ilium. Christ died horribly on Billy's crucifix. So it goes.
Billy's mother bought the crucifix in Santa Fe, the narrator writes, because she was like other Americans, trying to make sense of life through things she bought in gift shops.
After ten minutes, the two scouts decided to leave the ditch: "They crawled into a forest like the big, unlucky mammals they were." Chapter 2, pg. 29 They left tracks. Roland Weary was wearing every piece of equipment he'd ever been issued, every present he'd received from home, and carrying tons of supplies, including booklets called "Know Your Enemy" and "Why We Fight" and a pamphlet of German phrases such as, "Where is your headquarters?" and "Surrender, your situation is hopeless." He had a print of the first dirty picture, of a woman attempting sex with a pony, which he showed Billy. The narrator explains that the word photography was first used in 1839. Louis J. M. Daguerre revealed to the French Academy his process for developing an image. His assistant was arrested for trying to sell the pony picture and claimed that it evoked Greek mythology because of the columns in the background and the precedence for sex between mortals and gods posing as animals. He died in prison. So it goes.
Roland considered himself the leader because he was the busiest. He also had no sense of danger, so snug and warm was he, and he could pretend that he was safe at home. Weary's story for his family went like this: There was a big German attack which only he survived. He found the two scouts and they formed "The Three Musketeers." A damn college kid joined them and they dragged him along, saving his hide. In reality, he was walking, trying to find Billy. He bumped his head, which went clonk, but he did not hear it because he was imagining that he and The Three Musketeers were winning medals and would never be separated.
Meanwhile, Billy Pilgrim was sitting against a tree, and he became unstuck in time for the first time. He passed through his life and into his death, which was nothing but violet light and a hum. He swung into pre-birth, red light and bubbling sounds, then into life, where he was a little boy showering with his hairy father at the YMCA. He was terrified, for his father had said that he would learn to swim by the sink or swim method, which consisted of Billy's father throwing him into the deep end. When Billy opened his eyes, he was at the bottom of the pool, and he dimly sensed someone rescuing him, which he resented.
He traveled to 1965, where he was visiting his mother at a nursing home. She asked him "How?" and was too tired to finish. He did not understand. She cried, summoned up all her energy, and asked him how she got so old. She passed out. Billy saw the body of an old man wheeled by. He was a famous runner. So it goes. In the waiting room, he read an account of a soldier executed for cowardice in the Civil War. So it goes. The judge said that it had to be done to uphold the discipline necessary for an army to defeat an enemy. So it goes.
He went back to 1958, a little league banquet for Robert. The coach spoke emotionally.
He traveled to 1961, where he was disgracefully drunk at an optometry New Year's party. He was cheating on his wife for the first and only time with another drunk woman in the laundry room. She asks why he is called Billy and not William. He says business reasons, which means that his father told him people would remember "Billy" because there weren't any other grown Billys and it was a friendly name. He climbed into his car and tried to find the steering wheel. Amazingly, he could not. He was in the backseat.
Roland Weary found him in the snow and shook him awake, then flung him against the tree. He told Weary to leave him behind. Weary shoved and kicked him back with him, and told the scouts how Billy would owe his life to the Three Musketeers. This was the first they had heard of The Three Musketeers. Billy lay there thinking he was turning into steam, wishing people would leave him alone. Weary threw his arms around the scouts and asked what the Three Musketeers should do. Billy hallucinated that he was wearing warm, white socks and skating on a ballroom floor. The narrator clarifies that this is not time travel, but the craziness of a dying young man with shoes full of snow. The scouts ditched Weary and Billy in the creekbed and told them to find someone to surrender to.
Billy's skating gave way to 1967, where he was receiving an award in Ilium for being elected to the president of the Lions Club. He is scared stiff to make the speech, but all of a sudden, a humble, funny speech came out. The narrator explains that the miracle happened because he took a class on public speaking. He traveled back to the creek. Roland Weary was about to beat the living shit out him. Weary was furious at having been ditched again. He felt that it was Billy's fault that he was ditched. He thought Billy was laughing, and he was about to kick his spine when he saw five German soldiers and a dog wondering why one American would try to murder another, and why he was laughing.