Chapter 4 Notes from Slaughterhouse-Five

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Slaughterhouse-Five Chapter 4

Billy could not sleep on his daughter's wedding night. He was forty-four. The reception was in an orange and black tent. He was in bed with his wife Valencia, who was snoring like a saw, and whose uterus had been removed by a surgeon. Billy looked at his white and blue feet in the moonlight. He went down the hallway knowing he was about to be kidnapped by a flying saucer. He passed his children's rooms, thinking of how they were children no more. His daughter took all her stuff out of her room. He answered his daughter's phone and it was a wrong number. There was a soda bottle on her windowsill which boasted that it had no nutrition whatsoever.

He went downstairs and found half a bottle of champagne. It said "Drink me," but it was dead. So it goes. He looked at the clock and saw that he had an hour until the saucer came. He watched the late movie forward and backward. Backward, the movie went like this: Wounded American planes took off backward from England. German fighter planes sucked shrapnel and bullets from France and American bombers, who flew back into formation. The bombers sucked up fire into containers which were stored neatly in racks. The Germans below sucked more fragments from crewmen and planes. Over France, German fighters made everything good as new. The cylinders were shipped to factories in the USA, where women separated the dangerous contents into minerals which were shipped to remote areas where they were hidden in the ground so as never to harm people again. The Americans turned in their uniforms, and Billy elaborates on the movie, supposing that Hitler turned into a baby as well, as did all people, who conspired to produce two perfect people, Adam and Eve.

Topic Tracking: Anti-War 10
Topic Tracking: Humor 12

It was time to get into the saucer. It was one hundred feet in diameter and the portholes gave off purple light. A ladder came down and Billy's will was paralyzed. He took hold and was hauled into the saucer, where his brain started working again. The Tralfamadorians communicated telepathically. They used a computer and voice generator to welcome him aboard. Billy asked why he had been chosen. They told him that, like bugs trapped in amber, he is trapped in the amber of the moment; there was no why.

They gave him anaesthetic so he would sleep. They had stolen lots of Sears-Roebuck merchandise for his habitat. The acceleration sent him back to the war, where he was in a boxcar again. He imagined that there was a year between each click of the wheels on the tracks. Each time it passed a prison, it left a few cars. Billy wanted to go to sleep, but no one would let him sleep near them, saying he kicks and whimpers. He had to sleep standing from then on, food stopped coming in, and nights were getting colder.

On the eighth day, the hobo was still saying it wasn't so bad. He died on the ninth. Roland Weary died on the ninth day in his car, too. He kept talking about The Three Musketeers and how he wanted to be avenged. When he would ask who killed him, everyone knew that the answer was Billy Pilgrim.

On the tenth night the door of Billy's car was opened. As he coughed, he "shit thin gruel." The narrator explains that this was because of Newton's Third Law of Motion: for every action there is a reaction equal and opposite in direction, which is useful in rocketry.

The prison was originally an extermination camp for Russian prisoners of war. The guards had not dealt with Americans before. The narrator explains that they knew that the contents of the car was a liquid which could be convinced to flow toward coolness and light. It was night, and the only light was from a small bulb far away. It was silent except for the guards cooing. The narrator describes people unloading from the cars as liquid beginning to flow, gobs of it plopping to the ground. He explains that the hobo could not plop because he was not liquid anymore, but stone. So it goes.

Topic Tracking: Death 11

Billy did not want to drop from the car because he was convinced he would shatter. The guards cooed him down from the train. In the guards' car, dinner was served.

The Americans were herded toward three seeming haystacks which were really piles of jackets taken from dead prisoners. So it goes. The coats were frozen together. Billy got a small civilian's coat with a collar which looked like a dead furry animal. All the others got soldiers' coats. They were encouraged into long, narrow, unlit sheds. A dog barked and it sounded like a gong in the winter silence.

Billy saw his first Russian. Barbed wire separated them. He looked into Billy's soul with sweet hopefulness, as if Billy would have good news, even if he was too dumb to understand it. Billy zoned and came to a brightly lit building which he thought could be Tralfamadore, but which was the delousing station on Earth. He took off his clothes, which was also the first thing they made him do on Tralfamadore. A German inspected his body and wondered why America would send such a weakling to the front.

The best body was that of Edgar Derby. He was so old that he had a son in the war. He had used his connections to get into the war. He taught Contemporary Problems in Western Civilization in Indianapolis, and he was on the tennis team. The narrator explains that Derby's body would soon be filled with holes by a firing squad. So it goes.

Paul Lazarro had the worst body. His bones and teeth were rotten, and he was covered in boil scars. He had given his word to avenge Weary. The naked Americans were herded into showers. The narrator tells that their genitals were shriveled, but adds that reproduction was not the main business of the evening. While the hot water scalded their skin, still not thawing the ice in the marrow of Billy's bones, their clothes were passing through poison gas to kill bacteria and lice. So it goes. Billy zoomed back to his infancy. His mother gave him a warm, soft bath.

Topic Tracking: Anti-War 11

Then he was a middle-aged optometrist playing golf instead of going to church. He made a great shot, then was in the saucer again. Tralfamadorians explained that they will be in a time warp which will allow them to arrive in hours instead of centuries. He asks how, and they say Earthlings are the great explainers, explaining why and how, while Tralfamadorians see all time as constant: "'I am a Tralfamadorian, seeing all time as you might see a stretch of the Rocky Mountains. All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is.'" Chapter 4, pg. 86 The Tralfamadorian replies that only on Earth, of almost one hundred fifty planets, is there any talk of free will.

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