Slaughterhouse-Five Chapter 5
Tralfamadorians see the stars as luminous spaghetti. They can see where each star has been and where it is going. Humans have thousands of legs, from babies' to old people's.
Billy asked for something to read on the saucer trip and they gave him Valley of the Dolls. Tralfamadorian novels were symbols, like a telegram, with each clump describing a situation. There was no particular relationship between the messages, no beginning, end, or moral, except that they were beautiful and deep.
Billy was then flung back to when he was twelve years old, visiting the rim of the Grand Canyon. He was sure he would fall in. His mother touched him and he wet his pants.
A ranger told a French tourist there were about three suicides a year. So it goes. He then jumped ten days later to Carlsbad Caverns. Billy was sure the ceiling was going to fall in. The ranger turned out all the lights. Billy did not know if he was still alive or not.
He found himself back in the war. The shower was over. Billy got his clothes back. His coat was about the right size for an organ grinder's monkey, and it was full of bullet-holes. He tried to put it on and it split. The flare that was supposed to happen at the waist happened at Billy's armpits. The Germans found it screamingly funny.
The Americans, happier since the shower, were herded to a shed, where they were recorded in a ledger. Before this, they were missing in action or dead. So it goes. An American muttered something and the guard punched him in the face. The American asked "why me?" and the guard replied "why anybody?"
Billy got an iron dogtag; in case he died, one half could mark his body and one half his grave. When Edgar Derby died, his dogtag was snapped in two. So it goes. In two days the soldiers' families would learn of their whereabouts. Paul Lazzaro was next to Billy. His stomach had shrunk to the size of a walnut. Next was Edgar Derby. He had expected to become a captain because of his wisdom and age. They halted outside sheds. The doors opened and light poured out at 186,000 miles per second. Fifty middle-aged men marched out singing.
The English soldiers had not seen birds, women, or children for four years or more. They were officers who had tried to escape from another prison. They were strong and had been singing and exercising for years. A clerical error by the Red Cross had caused five hundred instead of fifty parcels to arrive every month. They had accumulated tons of sugar, coffee, chocolate, tobacco, tea, flour, canned beef, butter, cheese, milk, and marmalade. The Germans adored them for making war look stylish and reasonable and gave them four sheds. They gave them building materials in return for coffee. When the Englishmen heard that the Americans were coming, they fixed the place up. They set up a candle-lit banquet for the Americans. They did not know that the candles and soap of German origin were made of the fat of killed Jews and Gypsies and homosexuals and communists. So it goes.
Billy stood close to the stove and his coat caught on fire. He did not notice. He was thinking about calling his mother. An Englishman beat out the flames. The Englishman, stunned, said, "'My God--what have they done to you, lad? This isn't a man. It's a broken kite.'" Chapter 5, pg. 97 They asked if his coat was a joke. They told him that he mustn't let Jerry do things to humiliate him. He swooned, and when he came to, he had somehow eaten and was enjoying their production of Cinderella. While laughing Billy began shrieking. He was carried to the hospital.
He was tied down and given morphine. Edgar Derby volunteered to watch him and read The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. Under morphine, Billy dreamed of giraffes in a garden. He was a giraffe, too. They accepted them as his own and kissed him.
Night came to the garden. He slept without dreaming, time traveled, and woke in a ward for nonviolent mental patients in New York, three years after the war. A bird outside asked him, "Poo-tee-weet?" The narrator explains that the patients had come voluntarily, alarmed by the outside world. Billy had committed himself in his last year of school. The doctors thought it was because of his father throwing him into the pool. The man in the bed next to Billy's was named Eliot Rosewater. He was a former infantry captain who was tired of being drunk all the time. He had a huge, beloved collection of science fiction by a writer named Kilgore Trout, which he kept under his bed. They smelled like flannel pajamas that hadn't been washed for a month, or like Irish stew. Kilgore Trout became Billy's favorite too. The narrator explains that Rosewater was twice as smart as Billy, but they had both found life meaningless due to the war. Rosewater had shot a fourteen-year-old firefighter, mistaking him for a German soldier, and Billy had seen the firebombing of Dresden. So it goes.
"So they were trying to re-invent themselves and their universe....Science fiction was a big help." Chapter 5, pg. 101
One time Rosewater said that everything there was to know about life was in Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, but that wasn't enough anymore. Another time, Billy heard Rosewater tell a psychiatrist that they would have to come up with a whole lot of new lies, or people wouldn't want to keep living.
The narrator describes Billy's bedside table as a still-life. The glass of water was dead. So it goes. Weak bubbles were trying to get out. The cigarettes belonged to his mother. Billy covered his head when he saw his mother because he felt ungrateful that she had given him life and he didn't like it.
Rosewater was big, but not very powerful, as if he were made of putty. He was experimenting with being sympathetic with everyone in order to make the world more pleasant. He was calling everybody "dear." She told him that she prayed every night that someday Billy would come out and talk to her. She talked about the importance of prayer. Rosewater sympathetically agreed. She asked him if his mother came to visit and he told her she was dead. So it goes. She said Billy's father was dead and that a boy needs a father. The narrator says, "And on and on it went, that duet between the dumb, praying lady and the big, hollow man who was so full of loving echoes." Chapter 5, pg. 103
Billy's mother told Rosewater that her son was at the top of the class when he checked himself in. Rosewater suggested that he was working too hard. He was trying to be polite, but also trying to read Kilgore Trout's Maniacs in the Fourth Dimension, in which maniacs could not be treated because their diseases were of the fourth dimension, which Earthlings could not imagine. So were heaven and hell and William Blake.
She told him Billy was engaged to a rich girl. Rosewater agreed that money could be a comfort. Billy fell asleep and woke up tied to the prison bed with Edgar Derby reading to him. He saw the future of Edgar Derby, the firing squad with four men. The head Englishman, not a real doctor, came to check on him. The Englishman commented how nice it must be to feel nothing and still get full credit for being alive. Derby tried to salute, but the Englishman told him that it was unnecessary pageantry. The colonel told him that all the other men had been shaved, and it reminded him of The Children's Crusade. Derby described his capture, and how tanks drove him into hiding in the trees. He described the artificial weather Earthlings create for other Earthings whom they do not want to inhabit the earth any longer, showers of knives and needles and razorblades which wounded and killed lots of people. So it goes. Germans called for their surrender.
Billy traveled back to the veteran's hospital. His fiancée, Valencia, was there. She was big as a house from eating. Her rhinestone glasses matched her diamond engagement ring. Billy had found the diamond in Germany and insured it for eighteen hundred dollars. He knew he was going crazy when he heard himself proposing; she was a symptom of his disease. He said he was feeling better and sent wishes to his classmates. He told her about the Kilgore Trout books. Rosewater told him about The Gospel from Outer Space, in which an alien studied Christianity to learn why humans could be cruel. He came to the conclusion that the Gospels taught that before you kill someone, you should make sure he isn't well connected. The alien saw the flaw in the Christ story: readers, when confronted with the murder of the Son of the Most Powerful Being in the Universe, thought about how he was the wrong person to kill, and that there must be a right person to kill, a person who is not well connected. The alien made a gift of a new Gospel in which Jesus was a nobody, but when he was crucified, God said he was adopting the bum as his son and giving him full privileges as the Son of the Most Powerful Being in the Universe, and said that he would punish anyone who tormented an unconnected bum.
Valencia started on a second candy bar. Rosewater threw a book down, complaining that Trout's writing was dreadful; only his ideas were good. All of Trout's characters were Americans, as if he had never left the country. Rosewater tried to contact him many times, but no two books had the same publisher. He complimented Valencia's ring, and he said the attractive part of war was that everyone got something.
The narrator reveals that Kilgore Trout actually lived in Ilium, Billy's hometown, friendless and despised, and that they would meet.
Valencia asked Billy annoyingly about choosing a silver pattern. He traveled to Tralfamadore, where he was kept naked in a zoo. Thousands were looking at his body, fascinated. He could not escape; the atmosphere outside was cyanide and Earth was zillions of miles away. He had a fully furnished habitat with a TV that didn't work. Everything was out in the open. Billy urinated in the bathroom and the crowd went wild. He ate breakfast and exercised. Tralfamadorians had no way of knowing his body was not beautiful, which had a good effect on Billy's ego. The guide at the zoo was telepathically lecturing. One of the guests asked him if he was happy, and he replies that he was as happy as he was on Earth.
There were five genders on Tralfamadore. The differences were in the fourth dimension. Tralfamadorians told him that they had identified seven different genders on earth, but five were only active in the fourth dimension: there could be no babies without male homosexuals, old women, and babies who had lived an hour or less. They could not explain what time looked like to them, nor could he explain what time looked like him. The guide explained it as if they were looking across a desert and could see in all directions, but the Earthling's head was encased in a steel sphere which only had one eyehole. This was just the beginning of the analogies that the guide used, all of which were torturous and miserable for the Earthling Billy, who was unaware of his situation.
As a result of science fiction, Billy expected the Tralfamadorians to be stunned by all the killing on earth and to fear Earthlings for this. One day, when asked what he thought was most valuable about Tralfamadore, he said that it is how the whole planet can live in peace. He launched into what he thought was a soaring speech about the senseless slaughter on earth, how Earthlings know the secrets of the universe and could use it to harm other planets. However, he saw the Tralfamadorians put their hands on their eyes and knew he had said something stupid. The guide explained to him that they already knew how the universe would end: Earth would have nothing to do with it; Tralfamadorians will blow it up while experimenting with new fuels for their saucers.
They could not prevent it; it had always and would always happen. He went on to say that trying to prevent war on Earth was stupid, too, that there had been horrible wars on Tralfamadore, too but that they ignored the awful times and concentrated on the good.
After he went to sleep, Billy traveled to his wedding night. He was making love to Valencia. Valencia was imagining that she was Queen Elizabeth I and Billy was Christopher Columbus. The narrator explains that the result would be Robert Pilgrim, who would be a problem in high school but would straighten out in the Green Berets. Billy made a noise like a rusty hinge as he ejaculated into Valencia, which, explains the narrator, contributed his share of the Green Beret. Huge Valencia had a rapt expression on her face. Billy was rich, explains the narrator, rewarded for marrying a girl nobody in his right mind would have married. His mother said the Pilgrims were coming up in the world.
They listened to the singing sounds of a boat. Their headboard made singing sounds as they made love. Valencia cried with happiness. She told him she never thought anyone would marry her. She said that she was going to get thin for him, and he said he liked her the way she was. He had already seen ahead that the marriage would be bearable.
Valencia asked her funny-looking husband if he ever thought about the war. When he replied "Sometimes," she said that she had a funny feeling he was full of secrets. He lied and said he wasn't. She told him she was proud that he had been a soldier and asked if it was awful. He said that sometimes it was. She asked him if he would talk about it if she asked him to. In her body, explains the narrator, she was assembling materials for a Green Beret. Billy told her it would sound like a dream, and others' dreams weren't usually interesting. She asked him many questions. He answered her in one-syllable answers and then excused himself to the bathroom, where he found that he had traveled to 1944, the prison hospital again.
(On the next page of the book is an illustration of a headstone. There is a fat little angel drawn on it, and the epitaph reads "Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.") Edgar Derby fell asleep in the cot next to him. Billy went looking for a bathroom but stumbled into barbed wire. A Russian saw a funny little scarecrow, Billy, and helped free him.
Billy peed on the ground. He contemplated where he had come from and where he should go. He shuffled toward cries of grief and approached, without knowing it, a latrine. His perceptions were so off that he read a sign on the wall as letters floating, with the words "Please leave this latrine as tidy as you found it!" The wall with the nails looked to Billy like a curtain with lovely silver dots, and he supposed it was all part of some religious ritual he knew nothing about. He looked in the latrine and it was full of Americans who had gotten terrible diarrhea from the banquet. One wailed that he had excreted everything but his brains, and moments later wailed that they too were gone. The narrator explains that was him, the author of the book. Billy reeled away. Englishmen told him disgustedly to button his pants. He found himself in Cape Ann again. Valencia said she missed him, and he said that he missed her. They went to sleep and Billy traveled back to the train ride in 1944 to his father's funeral.
The same night as Billy was brought to the prison hospital, so was Paul Lazzaro, who had been beaten for stealing cigarettes. The man who beat him up carried him in. The man had played the Blue Fairy Godmother in Cinderella. He was embarrassed that he had beaten such a weakling. He and a colonel talked about how wimpy the Americans. A German major who they knew well and who played games with them and gave them lessons came in. He apologized for their having to put up with the Americans, who he said would soon be shipped to Dresden as laborers. He had a report on the behavior of enlisted men written by an American who had risen high in the German Ministry of Propaganda, whose name was Howard W. Campbell, Jr. Campbell would later hang himself while awaiting trial as a war criminal. So it goes.
The German major read passages by Campbell about how America was a wealthy nation, but full of poor people who were urged to hate themselves. Every other nation has folk traditions of poor men who were extremely wise and therefore more esteemed than rich men. Campbell was said to have the highest I.Q. of any war criminal who faced death by hanging. So it goes. He wrote that Americans believe things that are obviously untrue, especially that it is easy to make money. The poor blame themselves when they find this is not true, and this provides an easy way out of guilt for the rich. Americans have the novelty of an undignified poor who do not love each other because they do not love themselves. Once this is understood, it is easy to understand why Americans in German prisons behave so badly. Every army but the Americans made an effort to dress their soldiers impressively. One should not expect brotherly love between American soldiers, but a sulky child who wishes he were dead.
Billy went to sleep and woke up as a widower. Barbara is yelling at him. She tells him he is a child when she realizes he didn't notice the heat wasn't on and he is freezing. The narrator writes that it was exciting for her to take his dignity away in the name of love.
She calls the oil-burner man and makes her father get under the electric blanket. Billy travels in time to the zoo again, where Montana Wildhack, a movie star, has arrived. The Tralfamadorians brought her as a mate for Billy. Everybody wanted to see Earthlings mate. They were both naked. The narrator reveals that Billy has "a tremendous wang."
Montana fluttered her long lashes, disoriented. The last thing she remembered was swimming in California. She was twenty, and wore a silver locket which hung between her breasts. She turned and saw the masses of Tralfamadorians and she screamed. Her terror was unpleasant, so the zookeeper covered the dome. Billy switched on a lamp and saw Montana's body, which reminded him of fantastic architecture in Dresden.
Montana came to love and trust him, and eventually, after what would have been an Earthling week, she asked him to sleep with her, and it was heavenly.
He travels back to 1968. The oil-burner man arrived and the heat is running. His sheets smell like a mushroom cellar. He has had a wet dream about Montana.
The morning after, he decides to return to his office. His assistants are startled, since Barbara told them he might never practice again. His first patient is a little boy whose father was killed in Vietnam. So it goes. Billy tells the boy all about his adventures on Tralfamadore, that his father is alive and he will surely see him again. The boy's mother tells the receptionist that Billy is crazy, and he is taken home. Barbara is dismayed.