Slaughterhouse-Five By Kurt Vonnegut Summary and Analysis Chapter 4

Summary

On the night of his daughter's wedding, Billy is kidnapped by Tralfamadorians. Prior to this event, he notes several things that remind him of his World War II experiences: the orange-and-black canopy in his backyard under which Barbara is married; his blue-and-ivory feet; and an old war movie that he watches forwards and backwards. Communicating telepathically, Billy and his captors discuss the significance of his being chosen by the Tralfamadorians: Quite simply, there is none. After the aliens prepare him for interstellar flight, the tremendous acceleration of the saucer sends him back to World War Il.

Still in the boxcar, he travels across Germany. The train stops at various prison camps to drop off POWs. On the ninth day of traveling, Roland Weary dies. He has been raving for some time, speaking of the Three Musketeers and leaving messages for his family back home. He yearns to be avenged, and again and again in his delirium, Weary divulges the name of the person who killed him: Billy Pilgrim.

On the tenth night, the train arrives at a prison camp, and guards force the prisoners out of the boxcars. Issued overcoats, they shuffle through gate after gate until they arrive at a delousing station and are ordered to take off their clothes and be deloused. The narrator describes two of the prisoners: Edgar Derby, a former high school teacher in Indianapolis, and Paul Lazzaro, who was in the same boxcar with Weary and promised him that he would make Billy pay for Weary's death.

Billy comes unstuck in time again. He is an infant, then a middle-aged man playing golf, and then he is onboard a flying saucer headed for the planet Tralfamadore. A loudspeaker on the spacecraft explains that Tralfamadorians understand time differently than do humans. A Tralfamadorian sees all time as an Earthling might see a stretch of mountains. Time is simply time. It does not change, nor does it lend itself to explanation: It simply is. When Billy suggests that Tralfamadorians do not appear to believe in free will, he is told that free will is an Earthling's notion; out of more than one hundred inhabited planets, only Earth's inhabitants talk about free will.

Analysis

The orange-and-black tent used for Barbara's wedding ceremony recalls the orange-and-black banners on the train transporting the POWs. In Chapter Three, we were told that orange and black indicated a train that was not fair game for air attack. Using the same analogy, orange-and-black stripes on the tent may suggest that the bride is no longer free to date socially, that she is off-limits to men other than her husband. But more in the tenor of the narrative is the implication that the institution of marriage is akin to the incarceration of a POW camp and the prison of conformity in which Billy lives.

Once again, the colors blue and ivory are used to describe Billy's feet. The report on the condition of Billy's feet immediately follows a brief description of his wife Valencia's reproductive state. Valencia has undergone a hysterectomy and is now infertile. These depictions of stasis, or stoppage, appear only a few pages after a description of the Americans standing naked in the POW camp's delousing shower. Their genitalia are rendered impotent by the paralysis of their predicament — the POWs are disabled, powerless to exercise free will. Although these episodes are separated by more than twenty years in linear time, they connect closely in terms of psychological time, a connection that is established again and again in Slaughterhouse-Five.

Billy watches the World War II movie forwards; then he watches it backwards. Seeing it backwards removes any suspense about the outcome. He experiences the effect of predestination: Because events in the future are known before they occur, free will is nonexistent. The significance of predestination is found in his questioning the Tralfamadorians why he has been chosen. "Why you?" they condescendingly ask him. "Why anything?" Moments in time simply are: "There is no why."

The notion of predestination also concerns Edgar Derby, who serves as a figure of contradictions. As a high school educator, he taught a course called "Contemporary Problems in Western Civilization." Now a soldier in Europe, Derby is presented literally with a contemporary problem of Western civilization. The irony is that, through the exercise of free will, the study of a problem should yield a solution. Yet despite attempts in the application of free will, humankind seemingly finds itself the slave of predestination.

Glossary

bandsaw a power saw for woodworking, consisting of a toothed metal band coupled to and driven around two wheels.

Barca-Lounger an upholstered lounge chair similar to a La-Z-Boy recliner.

madrigal an unaccompanied vocal composition for two or three voices.

Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727) English scientist who invented differential calculus and formulated the theory of universal gravitation.

delousing to get rid of lice by physical or chemical means.

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According to the Tralfamadorians, out of 100 inhabited planets, only the people of Earth talk about what?




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