Slaughterhouse-Five

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Slaughterhouse-Five Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The chapter begins with the story of Valencia’s death. After hearing that Billy was in a plane crash in Vermont, Valencia drives the family Cadillac and, because she is distraught, makes an incorrect turn, slows down, and is hit by a Mercedes, damaging the car’s exhaust system. Valencia continues driving despite the accident and pull into the hospital parking lot, only to pass out, blue in the face, and die of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Billy “causes” Valencia’s death just as he has “caused” Weary’s. This is another instance of immensely cruel fate, and of the violence that seems to follow Billy but never quite manages to kill him—until his death, ordered by Lazzaro, in the 1970s.
Themes
War and Death Theme Icon
Meanwhile, Billy is in a hospital room in Vermont with a Harvard professor named Bertram Copeland Rumfoord, who has broken a leg skiing. Rumfoord's fifth wife, Lily, who is twenty-three (Rumfoord is 70), brings him books to read. Lily is scared of Billy, who talks in his sleep, and Rumfoord finds him boring. Rumfoord is the official Air Force Historian and a retired brigadier general.
Rumfoord is in many ways the opposite of Billy—a distinguished academic with a long record of service in the armed forces. But he was not present at the firebombing of Dresden and Billy ways—making Billy’s experience of war, in some sense, more direct and authentic.
Themes
War and Death Theme Icon
Time, Time-travel, and Free Will Theme Icon
Money and Success Theme Icon
Witness and Truth Theme Icon
Lily has brought Rumfoord a Xerox of President Truman’s speech to the Japanese shortly after the bombing of Hiroshima—this is for Rumfoord’s research. Lily reads the document, which describes the atomic bomb, a brief history of its development, and the military and moral justification for its use in war. Lily has also brought a book called The Destruction of Dresden. One foreword to the book calls the bombing of that city a military necessity, and another claims that advocates of nuclear disarmament must take bombings like Dresden into account, conducted as they were with conventional weapons. Billy continues to mumble in his sleep.
Vonnegut uses Lily’s visit as an excuse to enter a few found documents into the text. The first is Truman’s justification of the use of the atomic bomb over Japan: he argued that, although many Japanese civilians were killed, far more would have been killed in a conventional ground attack on the Japanese islands. The Dresden book presents various arguments for and against the bombing and its military usefulness.
Themes
War and Death Theme Icon
Witness and Truth Theme Icon
Barbara, having just learned that her mother is dead and her father gravely wounded, visits Billy, who is time-traveling: to 1958, prescribing lenses; to age 16, in a doctor's waiting room with a man afflicted by awful gas. Billy briefly sees his son in Vermont and misses his wife’s funeral. Rumfoord tells Lily that he needs information about Dresden for his new one-volume history of the air war in World War II—none was included in previous multi-volume editions. Billy speaks, finally, saying: “I was there.”
Rumfoord is attempting to write a history of Dresden just as Vonnegut is trying to write a personal history of the bombings. What Rumfoord does not know, however, is that Billy, who has experienced the bombing firsthand, lies next to him. Indeed Rumfoord refuses to accept that Billy is telling the truth when he says he was present; eventually Rumfoord is convinced, but he still treats Billy as though he is unimportant.
Themes
War and Death Theme Icon
Time, Time-travel, and Free Will Theme Icon
Money and Success Theme Icon
Witness and Truth Theme Icon
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Rumfoord believes Billy is merely repeating what Rumfoord had been saying earlier; he does not believe Billy was in Dresden. Rumfoord believes Billy is weak, and that “weak people deserve to die.” Billy comes unstuck and is back outside Dresden, two days after the end of the war in Europe, May 1945. He and other Americans are in a wagon pulled by horses. They are using the wagon to collect material amid the rubble of the city. Sitting in the back of the wagon, dozing under the sun, becomes one of Billy’s happiest memories. A German couple speaks softly to the horses, which have been ill-treated by their American drivers, and curse Billy for this. When Billy looks at the broken-down horses, he cries.
An important passage in the novel. Billy believes that this scene, of dozing in the sun, is one of his most pleasant memories, one to which he will return again and again over the course of his later travels through time. This supports that idea that, even in the face of terrible tragedy and destruction, it is possible to find some beauty and goodness—however fleeting.
Themes
War and Death Theme Icon
Time, Time-travel, and Free Will Theme Icon
Money and Success Theme Icon
Witness and Truth Theme Icon
Vonnegut explains that the book’s epigraph, from a Christmas carol, describes Billy’s silent crying in later life: “The cattle are lowing / The Baby awakes. / But the little Lord Jesus / No crying He makes.” Billy is back in Vermont, telling the story of the horses to Rumfoord. Rumfoord argues that Dresden was militarily necessary. Billy said it was all right, that “everything is all right,” and that he learned this from the Tralfamadorians.
Another reference to Jesus. Billy’s crying, though frequent, is not perceptible by those around him. Finally, when Rumfoord argues that Dresden was necessary for the Americans to win the war, Billy agrees. His statement, “Everything is all right,” echoes the previous statement “Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt.”
Themes
War and Death Theme Icon
Time, Time-travel, and Free Will Theme Icon
Science Fiction and Aliens Theme Icon
Money and Success Theme Icon
Witness and Truth Theme Icon
Barbara takes Billy home, where a nurse can take care of him, but Billy sneaks off to a hotel in New York. He is looking for a news program on which he can speak about his experiences with the Tralfamadorians. Billy goes into an adult bookstore because he sees four Trout novels in the front window. He reads the beginning of a book called The Big Board, about a man and woman captured by aliens and put in a zoo on Zircon-212.
Another instance of the events in a Trout novel coming to pass in the “reality” of Billy’s life: two humans are captured by aliens and placed in a zoo on a faraway planet. Billy is not interested in the other, adult material in the bookstore, only in the books the proprietors consider props to disguise the store’s true purpose.
Themes
War and Death Theme Icon
Time, Time-travel, and Free Will Theme Icon
Science Fiction and Aliens Theme Icon
Witness and Truth Theme Icon
He realizes he read this book in the veterans’ hospital after the war. The plot of the book is as follows: On the “big board” in the human zoo is information about the humans’ “investments,” which have been simulated by the aliens. The humans are instructed to make as much money as they can while the aliens observe their behavior. In another of the Trout novels, a man builds a time machine and travels back to meet a twelve-year-old Jesus. Jesus was instructed by Roman soldiers to build a device for killing a “rabble-rouser.”
The Trout book dealing with Jesus is of great importance in the novel. Jesus is portrayed as the son of a carpenter, learning the trade himself. But ironically he is asked to develop the machine that will eventually be used to kill him. It is Jesus’ fate to die for humanity’s sake, and he knows this all along, yet he willingly participates in the creation of the implement of his own demise.
Themes
War and Death Theme Icon
Time, Time-travel, and Free Will Theme Icon
Science Fiction and Aliens Theme Icon
Witness and Truth Theme Icon
A clerk comes up to Billy and tells him that adult materials are in the back of the shop. Billy continues reading the Trout book about Jesus and the time-machine; at the end, Jesus is killed, and the man checks Jesus’ pulse, determining that he has in fact died on the cross. When Jesus is taken off the cross the man measures him; he is five feet, three and one-half inches tall. At checkout, buying the book about Jesus, he sees a magazine asking, “What really became of Montana Wildhack?”
Jesus was, in this telling, quite small and seemingly frail—not a majestic or imposing figure. Again, Jesus is introduced as a figure of pity and as a double for Billy: a man who travels between heaven and earth, and who is powerless (and does not try) to stop the fate that has been imposed upon him.
Themes
War and Death Theme Icon
Time, Time-travel, and Free Will Theme Icon
Science Fiction and Aliens Theme Icon
Witness and Truth Theme Icon
Billy knows what actually happened to Montana: she was on Tralfamadore with him. He walks to the back and looks into a picture-machine showing Montana eating a banana. Then another clerk shows him a suggestive picture of a woman and a pony.
The lewd pony picture has come “unstuck” and has followed Billy into the 1960s. Only Billy knows that Montana was on Tralfamadore with him, where they raise a child together. Though the novel never makes clear whether the Tralfamadore episodes are real or figments of Billy's imagination, and in not making this clear the novel suggests that it doesn't matter.
Themes
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Science Fiction and Aliens Theme Icon
Witness and Truth Theme Icon
Billy finds his way into a radio show in progress, its topic: the future of the novel. Billy gets into the show by saying he is a literary critic for the Ilium Gazette. Various critics offer their opinions of novels, mostly agreeing that they aren’t very socially useful. Billy is then called on, and he tells of his experiences on Tralfamadore. He is asked to leave at the commercial break.
The critics’ opinions of novels presented in the round-table radio discussion are included for comedic effect. Vonnegut believes that his novel is useful for trying to explain what happened in Dresden, even if that story is disjointed, full of false starts and blind alleys.
Themes
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Billy is back on Tralfamadore with Montana, who says she knows he has been time-traveling. She also knows that he was a “clown” in the war and that Derby was shot. Montana is nursing her and Billy’s child, and between her bare breasts is a silver locket, on which is engraved: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change . . . .”
Montana understands the way that Billy can move through time. She wears on her neck that same prayer found in Billy’s office, which can be read as a desire to come to terms with life’s ups and downs—quite similar to the Tralfamadorian philosophy.
Themes
Time, Time-travel, and Free Will Theme Icon
Science Fiction and Aliens Theme Icon
Witness and Truth Theme Icon