Slaughterhouse Five Quotes

"It is so short and jumbled and jangled, Sam, because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want anything ever again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds.

     And what do the birds say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like "Poo-tee-weet?" (Chapter 1)

     This quotation from the novel's opening chapter exemplifies the author's difficulty in writing about Dresden, and the idea that the novel is nonsensical, because there is no sense to be made from war.

"All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just the way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever." (Chapter 2)

     An excerpt from one of Billy's letters to the Ilium News Leader, this is an explanation of how Tralfamadorians perceive time. Whether you interpret Billy's experience to be real or imagined, this quote is an important insight into the idea that a moment is never really gone, but rather than only focusing on the good moments, as the Tralfamadorians suggest, Billy is continually brought back to the horror of war.

"'There isn't any particular relationship between all the messages, except that the author has chosen them carefully, so that, when seen all at once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep. There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time.'" (Chapter 5)

     This meta-referential quote comes from a Tralfamadorian's explanation to Billy of how its race's novels are structured. Echoing Vonnegut's description of Slaughterhouse Five as "jumbled and jangled", the quote reveals to the audience that his intention, although he considers it failed, was to provide the reader something "beautiful and surprising and deep".

"Billy had a framed prayer on his office wall which expressed his method for keeping going, even though he was unenthusiastic about living. A lot of patients who saw the prayer on Billy's wall told him that it helped them to keep going, too. It went like this:

GOD GRANT ME

THE SERENITY TO ACCEPT

THE THINGS I CANNOT CHANGE,

COURAGE

TO CHANGE THE THINGS I CAN,

AND WISDOM ALWAYS

TO TELL THE

DIFFERENCE.


Among the things Billy Pilgrim could not change were the past, the present, and the future." (Chapter 3)

     The serenity prayer hung in Billy's office represents his belief in the Tralfamadorian philosophy that events throughout time are predetermined, and that free will is an illusion held only by the people of Earth. This quote becomes even more meaningful at the end of Chapter 9, when it is revealed that the serenity prayer is engraved in Montana Wildhack's locket, suggesting that Billy's experiences on Tralfamadore are delusions where the details have been filled in from elements of his reality.

"He went home for a nap after lunch. He was under doctor's orders to take a nap every day. The doctor hoped that this would relieve a complaint that Billy had: Every so often, for no apparent reason, Billy Pilgrim would find himself weeping. Nobody had ever caught Billy doing it. Only the doctor knew. It was an extremely quiet thing Billy did, and not very moist." (Chapter 3)

     This quote comes from 1967, before Billy's plane crash and the death of his wife, and serves as evidence that he is suffering from emotional and psychological trauma that cannot be blamed on head trauma sustained in the plane crash.

"'Really - I'm O.K.' And he was, too, except that he could find no explanation for why the song had affected him so grotesquely. He has supposed for years that he had no secrets from himself. Here was proof that he had great big secret somewhere inside, and he could not imagine what it was." (Chapter 8)

     This quote comes directly after Billy is overcome with emotion when a barbershop quartet reminds him of Dresden after it was destroyed. Intense and seemingly unwarranted flashbacks or memory triggers are one of the hallmark symptoms of post- traumatic stress disorder, and this quote seems to indicate that Billy's trauma is something he is only subconsciously aware of.

"Rosewater was twice as smart as Billy, but he and Billy were dealing with similar crises in similar ways. They had both found life meaningless, partly because of what they had seen in war. Rosewater, for instance, had shot a fourteen-year-old fireman, mistaking him for a German soldier. So it goes. 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." (Chapter 5)

     This quotation provides a brief insight into Billy's mental state after the war, and describes the similar situation of his roommate, Eliot Rosewater. Both men have been traumatized by the war, and end up seeking comfort and solace in the science fiction works of Kilgore Trout, despite having different backgrounds and experiences.



Related Links:

Slaughterhouse Five Summary
Slaughterhouse Five Quiz
Slaughterhouse Five Chapters 9-10 Summary
Slaughterhouse Five Chapters 1-2 Summary
Slaughterhouse Five Chapters 3-4 Summary
Slaughterhouse Five Important Characters
Literature
Literature Summaries
Kurt Vonnegut Facts


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