Slaughterhouse-Five By Kurt Vonnegut Summary and Analysis Chapter 6

Summary

Billy wakes up in the prison camp hospital. Both Paul Lazzaro and Edgar Derby are nearby. Lazzaro explains that he holds Billy responsible for the death of Roland Weary. He also divulges a promise he made to Weary — he will kill Billy. He tells Billy to enjoy life while he can.

As a time traveler, Billy knows that Lazzaro's threat will come to pass. Billy has seen his death many times and has described it on a tape recorder he keeps in a safe deposit box. The tape recorder's message is: "I, Billy Pilgrim, will die, have died, and always will die on February thirteenth, 1976." Billy says that at the time of his death, he will be speaking at an engagement in Chicago on the nature of time and flying saucers. As he lectures to the large crowd, he predicts his death — within an hour — revealing Lazzaro's promise to kill him. He closes his speech with a message that death is not eternal. As Billy leaves the stage, a sniper fires at him from the press box. Billy Pilgrim is dead.

Billy time travels to 1945 Germany. Having left the POW hospital, he listens as an English officer lectures the Americans on personal hygiene. The officer reproaches them for their apparent lack of survival instincts and tells them it is important that they take pride in their appearance. Informing the Americans that they will be leaving the prison camp that very afternoon for Dresden, the English officer describes Dresden as an open city: It is undefended and contains no war industries or troop concentrations. In Dresden, they need not worry about being bombed.

The American prisoners march out of the compound headed for Dresden, with Edgar Derby and Billy at the head of the column. Derby has been elected leader. Billy wears a pair of silver boots he has found, and draped around him like a toga are some azure curtains taken from the Englishmen's compound; his hands are wrapped in the tiny, fur-collared coat that he carries like a muff.

At the railroad yard, the Americans board four boxcars. The trip to Dresden takes only two hours. A magnificent city, the loveliest the Americans have ever seen, Dresden is the only large German city exempt from Allied bombing. Although air raid sirens go off every day and the people go into their cellars, the planes overhead are always headed for other targets. In Dresden, life goes on in a civilized fashion: streetcars run, telephones work, and electrical power for lighting is functional. Theaters and restaurants are in service, and there is a zoo.

A squad of eight German soldiers meets the boxcars carrying the American prisoners. Two of the guards are veterans who were badly wounded on the eastern front. The other six, boys and elderly men, were sworn into the army just the day before. One of the men has an artificial leg and carries a rifle and a cane. When the Americans climb down, the guards' apprehensions vanish and they begin to laugh. They have nothing to fear: The Americans are nothing more than disabled buffoons like themselves.

Out of the gates of the railroad yard and into the streets of the city march the eight guards and their American prisoners. Thousands of tired townspeople on their way home after work are entertained by the parade. Billy is unaware of the ridiculous impression he presents, unaware of how this spectacle of misfits must look to other people. His mind is elsewhere: His memory of the future reminds him that the city will be bombed in about a month, and that most of the people watching this parade of American prisoners will be killed. Walking through the streets, Billy is mesmerized by the general beauty of the city, especially its architecture. As he trudges along, his fingers fondle two lumps he feels in the lining of his muff.

While stopped at a red light, he is addressed by an English-speaking German who takes affront to Billy's insufferable attire. The German assumes that Billy purposefully selected his costume. Billy is stunned by the German's questions. In his feeble attempt to be benevolent, he grasps the two objects in the lining of his coat. He reaches out and holds them under the German's nose: On his palm lie a 2-carat diamond and a partial denture.

The procession staggers along until it reaches the inoperative Dresden stockyards, where the men are taken to a cement-block building formerly used to house hogs. Inside, they find bunks, stoves, and a water tap. Outside, there is a makeshift latrine. Over the door a number has been painted: number five. A guard tells them to memorize their new address in case they get lost: Schlachthof-funf — Slaughterhouse-Five.

Analysis

Billy does not object when he learns that he will be murdered by an assassin's bullet. His contact with Tralfamadorians has taught him the meaning of predestination. He knows he will die on a particular date in 1976, yet he is aware that death is only one event in life, and that he will travel to other events in the future and in the past.

Once again, Edgar Derby demonstrates the personification of irony. In Chapter Four, we learned that Derby taught "Contemporary Problems in Western Civilization," and yet, ironically, he is personally enveloped in war, one of the greatest problems of our time, and is at the mercy of his captors. In this chapter, a letter he composes to his wife just before being led out of the POW camp is another comment on the pathetic irony linked to his character. He writes that he is going to Dresden, and that his wife should not worry as Dresden will never be bombed. Of course, it will be.

The colors of stasis, blue and ivory, appear once again. As the prisoners return to the railhead, they see the body of the hobo who rode initially with them to the POW camp, but who died along the way. The hobo's corpse, its feet blue and ivory, lies where the Germans left it. For the hobo, death is the final condition of paralysis, a final statement concerning his ability to exercise free will.

Glossary

Golgotha a hill outside ancient Jerusalem, where Jesus was crucified; also known as Calvary.

Balkanized a term originally referring to the political division of the Balkans in the early twentieth century; today, it means dividing a region or territory into small units.

"The Spirit of '76" an 1876 oil painting by Archibald MacNeal Willard (1836–1918), called "Yankee Doodle"; it captures the fighting qualities of the colonial troops in the three main figures, two drummers and a fife player.

Leipzig, Chemnitz, Plauen all cities located in east-central Germany, southwest of Berlin.

potbellied stove a short, rounded, usually freestanding stove, in which wood or coal is burned.

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