The novel contains a meditation on the nature of success. Vonnegut and O’Hare are both wealthy in the late 1960s, during the novel’s composition. Vonnegut never expected to have any money, yet he hopes his “Dresden novel” will be a big hit. Kilgore Trout, then, is Vonnegut’s foil, since his books are barely read by the public. But Trout’s ideas, which begin as fictions, are central to the philosophical investigations of the novel.
Pilgrim is not a good soldier. No one wants to lie near him on the railcar; he appears even to be a bad sleeper. But in later life he becomes a successful optometrist and marries Valencia, daughter of another successful optometrist. After his experiences with the Tralfamadorians it is shown, briefly, that Billy has become a famous speaker on the nature of time and death. Billy’s son Robert is a “success,” a soldier in the Green Berets in Vietnam, though he has become, in essence, a well-trained killer. Neither Vonnegut nor Pilgrim valorizes this kind of success.
These investigations of money and success lead to the larger issues of the war, and intertwine with the other themes. Was the firebombing of Dresden a “success”? In a small sense it was, since of course the unarmed citizens could mount no defense. But in a larger sense, the Allies have succeeded only in proving the futility and barbarity of war. Similarly, despite Pilgrim’s successes after the war, he appears to find purpose in life only after meeting with the Tralfamadorians. They show him the true nature of time, the inconsequence of his activities on earth, and the importance of enjoying the pleasant moments in the life he has led.
Money and Success ThemeTracker
Money and Success Quotes in Slaughterhouse-Five
He didn’t look like a solider at all. He looked like a filthy flamingo.
And Billy had seen the greatest massacre in European history, which was the fire-bombing of Dresden. So it goes. So they were trying to re-invent themselves and their universe. Science fiction was a big help.
Billy thrust it into the vat, turned it around and around, making a gooey lollipop. He thrust it into his mouth . . . and then every cell in Billy’s body shook him with ravenous gratitude and applause.
Trout, incidentally, had written a book about a money tree. It had twenty-dollar bills for leaves. Its flowers were government bonds . . . It attracted human beings who killed each other around the roots and made very good fertilizer. So it goes.
The staff thought Rumfoord was a hateful old man, conceited and cruel. He often said to them . . . that people who were weak deserved to die. Whereas the staff, of course, was devoted to the idea that weak people should be helped as much as possible, that nobody should die.