Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children’s Crusade
This book has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
The novel begins by informing the reader that Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time and has traveled through every part of his life. He has experienced it all many times over. The events of his life are told in unorganized flashes as he travels from time period to time period.
Billy was born in Ilium, New York, where he attended the Ilium School of Optometry before being drafted into World War II. He is trained as a chaplain’s assistant and deployed to Luxembourg. When Billy arrives, he isn’t issued any weapons or gear before Germans destroy his regiment.
Billy and three other survivors wander behind enemy lines, trying to avoid capture. Billy is weak and useless. It isn’t long before two of the survivors, trained scouts, abandon Billy and his fellow survivor, Ronald Weary. Billy and Ronald are found by the Germans and are taken prisoner.
Billy and Ronald are loaded onto separate boxcars with many other prisoners, and they must wait two days before the train even begins to move. The boxcars are cramped, and the men must take turns lying down to sleep as they all won’t fit lying down. After 10 days, the train reaches a prison camp. Billy learns that Ronald died of gangrene during the trip.
The prisoners are marched into the camp where they are greeted by a group of English soldiers. The Englishmen have endeared themselves to their German captors, and they are treated better than the other prisoners in the camp. The English have food ready for the Americans and put on a theatrical version of Cinderella for their guests. During the performance, Billy has a breakdown and is taken to the infirmary where he is given morphine to calm down.
Soon after Billy’s breakdown, he and other American’s are transferred to Dresden, Germany. The city is beautiful when they arrive and appears untouched by the war. The Americans are taken to slaughterhouse number five, which is to serve as their prison while in Dresden. Billy and his fellow POWs are forced to work in a factory that produces malt syrup intended as a nutritional supplement for pregnant women. The men use spoons hidden throughout the factory to sneak tastes of the syrup.
The American prisoners aren’t in Dresden long before bombs destroy it. Billy survives with the other Americans and four German guards by hunkering down in a sealed off meat locker. When they emerge, the four German’s stare openmouthed at the destruction around them. Billy thinks they look like a barbershop quartet from a silent film.
The prisoners are forced to help the Germans search for bodies in the destroyed city so they can be buried properly. The bodies decompose faster than they can be excavated. The Germans begin burning the bodies as they find them. Eventually all the Germans leave Dresden to fight elsewhere or to flee from the approaching Russians. The war ends, and Billy is honorably discharged.
Back in Ilium, Billy returns to school and meets a girl named Valencia who is the daughter of the school’s founder. During this point, Billy suffers a nervous breakdown and voluntarily commits himself to a mental hospital. While in the hospital, Billy is introduced to the work of Kilgore Trout, a little known science-fiction author.
After he has recuperated, Billy finishes school and marries Valencia, even though he doesn’t love her. His father-in-law gives the new couple a house and a car, and he makes Billy the manager of one of his most prosperous optometrist offices in Ilium. Valencia and Billy have two children, Barbara and Robert, and enjoy an easy and successful life until their 18th wedding anniversary. A barbershop quartet sings at the event, which triggers Billy’s memory of the four German soldiers after the bombing of Dresden.
The night that his daughter, Barbara, gets married, Billy claims that aliens known as the Tralfamadorians abduct him. They keep him in a zoo where all the Tralfamadorians can come and observe the human exhibit. The aliens introduce him to Montana Wildhack, an American actress, with the intention of mating them. Eventually, they do have sex, and Montana becomes pregnant. When Billy returns to Earth, he doesn’t mention what happened to him. No one knows he was gone because time travels differently for the Tralfamadorians; it doesn’t appear that Billy has been gone.
A year later, Billy is traveling to an optometrist conference when his plane crashes. He survives but has suffered a massive head trauma and must have surgery. Valencia hears about the crash and rushes to the hospital. On her way, she gets in an accident and subsequently dies of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Billy is eventually released from the hospital, and his daughter, Barbara, takes him home where he is set up with a nurse to care for him. Billy feels it is time for the world to know about his time with the Tralfamadorians and goes to New York City. He gets on to a nighttime talk show and begins sharing his story.
The book ends with his falling asleep in his hotel room and being transported back to Dresden in 1945.
Billy is made a chaplain’s assistant, though he doesn’t get the opportunity to serve in that position before he is captured. At the beginning of the novel, Billy has a small measure of faith in a loving Jesus.
The Serenity Prayer is quoted in full, and characters in one of Kilgore Trout’s novels are tricked into praying while aliens observe them.
Other Belief Systems
After the war Billy reads a book by Kilgore Trout that throws Christ’s divinity into question and paints God as a petulant being who only cares for those who are well-connected.
There is heavy use of profanity throughout the novel. The following are used in a number of variations b--ch,b--tard, h---, d--n, a--, s---, c---s-----, and the f-word. God’s name is taken in vain a number of times, as is the name of Jesus.
The descriptions of war are unsettling and at times graphic. Ronald Weary is fascinated with torture and violence. He talks about the different types of torture devices and torture methods he knows such as the iron maiden, a blood gutter and sticking a dentist’s drill into a person’s ear. Ronald tells Billy that the worst form of execution is to take a man into the desert, steak him on an anthill, cover his genitals in honey, and cut off his eyelids so he has to stare at the sun until he dies.
After the bombing of Dresden, Billy and the other prisoners are forced to search for bodies in the rubble. The prisoners dig until they find a pocket of bodies in the rubble. Then they are sent into the rubble to “mine” for them. Many of the bodies aren’t uncovered fast enough; eventually the bodies decay too much to be handled. The bodies are so disgusting that a fellow prisoner is said to have died from dry heaving after being sent into a body mine. The Germans eventually decide to burn any bodies that they find because it’s easier and less messy.
A number of characters die throughout the story — Edgar, Ronald, the two scouts and Valencia. The author writes, “so it goes,” after each death. Most of the deaths mention how the individual died but don’t go into too many details.
The Germans use the rendered fat of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and other “undesirables” to make candles and soap.
Sex is prevalent throughout the novel. Pornography, wet dreams, erections, orgasms, bestiality, contraception and sexual acts all make an appearance in the story.
Ronald has a picture of a woman trying to have sex with a horse. He shows it to his fellow soldiers and makes Billy look at it a number of times. The woman and the horse are posed in a setting that is supposed to appear Greek. There are no details about what the woman is doing to the horse other than that it is an attempt to have intercourse.
The image reappears in a New York City bookstore that is a front for an adult store where men can watch a peep show for money, purchase adult magazines and buy pornographic images. Billy goes into the store to look at a book in the window display by Kilgore Trout and doesn’t realize the store’s intent is to sell porn.
Billy and Valencia’s wedding night is a not a romantic or loving event. Valencia imagines that she is a great historical woman like Queen Elizabeth and that Billy is Christopher Columbus. When Billy has an orgasm, the sound he makes is compared to a rusted hinge. It is noted that the wedding night is when Valencia becomes pregnant with Robert.
When Billy and the other Americans make it to the prison, the cold makes their penises shrivel and their balls retract. Billy remembers a time when he fell asleep on a train and the porter woke him up and commented that he’d had an erection while he was asleep.
Ronald carries two condoms with him to prevent disease, and a friend of Valencia’s is said to never have been pregnant because she used birth control.
Homosexuals are mentioned as being part of the group that the Nazis persecuted.
The Tralfamadorians themselves have five difference sexes and each play a different role in the aliens’ reproductive process. They tell Billy that they’ve detected seven different sexes in humans that play a role in human reproduction, but most of them exist in the fourth dimension, which humans don’t experience. The Tralfamadorians don’t explain details but hint that male homosexuals are necessary for human reproduction but female homosexuals aren’t necessary.
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