Jesus and the cross are important symbols in the novel, and are repeated numerous times both in the frame narrative (Vonnegut’s attempt to write Slaughterhouse-Five) and in the story of Billy Pilgrim. Billy, whose last name is a reference to those who take trips for religious purposes (pilgrimages), is a chaplain’s assistant in the war, and though he was not religious as a child, he grew up with a crucifix on his wall. In a book written by Kilgore Trout, Elie Rosewater reads about a group of Tralfamadorian-like aliens who, in a re-writing of the Gospels, insist that Jesus be a “nobody,” a person of little influence, since God’s saving of a nobody would be a more powerful and more helpful message on which to base a religion. Later, Billy stumbles upon a Trout novel in a bookstore that references Jesus and his father, a carpenter, who are invited by a Roman soldier to build a “device” to kill “a rabble-rouser.” In this way Jesus and his father actually develop the cross used in the crucifixion. Jesus represents a figure who, like Pilgrim, is capable of “moving through time,” acting as a messenger between the divine and human worlds. The crucifixion represents Jesus’ violent death, which was fated and predicted by Jesus himself (just as Billy knows his own death is coming).
Jesus and the Cross Symbol Timeline in Slaughterhouse-Five
The timeline below shows where the symbol Jesus and the Cross appears in Slaughterhouse-Five. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
...on the side of a sword. It is revealed that, although Billy had a crucifix (Jesus on the cross) in his room as a child, his family was not religious. (full context)
...Tralfamadorian-like aliens who study Christianity on earth. The alien says the problem with Christianity is Jesus’ power, and the alien then describes an alternate Gospel where Jesus is a “nobody” who... (full context)
...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... (full context)
...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.” (full context)
...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,... (full context)