Chapter 5 Summary

As Billy travels towards Tralfamadore, he takes a look at some of their books. Although he can’t read the words, he notices that all the books are laid out in an unusual way, with short passages of text separated by stars. He observes that they look like telegrams, and a Tralfamadorian agrees that this is so. Their books do not have beginnings, middles, and ends, or causes and effects. Rather, they are a series of brief, urgent messages chosen by the author in a particular way to convey “many marvelous moments seen all at one time.” Billy time-jumps back to being twelve years old, on a trip to the Grand Canyon with his parents. The Canyon and the Carlsbad Caverns which they visit a few days later both frighten him.

Billy time-jumps back to the POW camp in Germany. He and the other prisoners are issued dog tags with numbers stamped on them, and their names are entered into ledgers. The prisoners are then led to a shed housing fifty robust, healthy British officers who were among the first prisoners to be captured in the war. They have been here for four years, keeping themselves healthy by working out and eating well (due to a Red Cross clerical error, they have more food than practically anyone else in Europe), and mentally well by playing games and singing nightly. They greet their American guests with enthusiasm, having prepared a good meal and a musical production of Cinderella for the evening’s entertainment. During the musical, Billy laughs until he becomes hysterical, and he is taken to the Englishmen’s little hospital ward and given a shot of morphine. With Edgar Derby watching over him, he drifts into sleep.

When Billy wakes up, he has time-shifted to the mental ward of a veteran’s hospital in 1948. Billy has committed himself to the hospital after a nervous collapse. In the bed next to Billy’s is an infantry captain named Eliot Rosewater, who has committed himself because he is “sick and tired of being drunk all the time.” Rosewater introduces Billy to the novels of Kilgore Trout, a very...

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Essays About Slaughterhouse-Five