Key Quotes

1. So then I understood. It was war that made her so angry. She didn’t want her babies or anybody else’s babies killed in wars. And she thought wars were partly encouraged by books and movies.

So I held up my right hand and I made her a promise: “Mary,” I said, “I don’t think this book of mine is ever going to be finished. I must have written five thousand pages by now, and thrown them all away. If I ever do finish it, though, I give you my word of honor: there won’t be a part for Frank Sinatra or John Wayne.

“I tell you what,” I said, “I’ll call it ‘The Children’s Crusade.’”

She was my friend after that.

In this excerpt from Chapter 1, Vonnegut has gone to see his old war buddy Bernard O’Hare and can tell that O’Hare’s wife is angry. She finally articulates her anger: She does not want Vonnegut to write a book in which the very young, inexperienced soldiers who fought in World War II are portrayed as heroes like John Wayne or Frank Sinatra. Mary fears that Vonnegut’s book—like so many other books and films on the subject—will glorify war, making it appear that the soldiers were mature, grown men, capable of acting with great strength and bravery, when in fact they were hardly more than babies, often no more than fourteen or sixteen years old: virginal, weak and terrified. Here, Vonnegut promises Mary that he will write no such thing, and he ultimately dedicates Slaughterhouse-Five to her. Vonnegut’s protagonist, the gawky, inept, clownish Billy Pilgrim, who survives the war only out of the merest chance rather than any innate heroism, certainly never would be played in a film by the likes of John Wayne.

2. “If I hadn’t spent so much time studying Earthlings,” said the Tralfamadorian, “I wouldn’t have any idea what was meant by ‘free will.’ I’ve visited thirty-one inhabited planets in the universe, and I...

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Essays About Slaughterhouse-Five