The two scouts decide to ditch Weary and Billy, much to Weary’s chagrin. All his life people have ditched him. He has imagined himself and the scouts as the Three Musketeers, and he blames Billy for breaking them up. Billy is suddenly giving a speech in 1957 as the newly elected president of the Ilium Lions Club. He is then back in the war, being captured by Germans along with Weary.

Analysis

The narrative device of spastic time leads to a logical and emotional instability in the novel, likening our experience as readers to the experience Billy has in attempting to make sense of his life. We can thus understand how Billy feels as he skips uncontrollably through his life. By telling the beginning, middle, and end of the story right away, Vonnegut departs from the familiar literary signposts of cause and effect, suspense and climax. We do not see Billy as everyone else in his life sees him; rather, instead of seeing his life in a linear progression, understanding it moment by moment, we see the entirety of his life come together to define him. In other words, we can better understand and sympathize with Billy’s dazed wandering through the totality of events that make up his existence.

Slaughterhouse-Five questions the possibility of human dignity in a century marked by unprecedented massacres and technological advancements in the machinery of mass murder. The initial stages of Billy’s war experience reveal a man denied dignity. He lacks the proper accoutrements of a soldier, including military attire and loyal companions who would give their lives for him. Instead, Billy wears an absurd outfit and falls in with Roland Weary, who grudgingly saves Billy only to feed the delusional fantasy of his own heroism.

Weary, like the medieval crusaders and the Three Musketeers whom he idolizes, believes he is acting in dignified and exalted accordance with God’s will. We see, however, that he actually has no more dignity than Billy. Vonnegut indicates here that war is war and death is death. Wars that seem like they are waged for religious or pious reasons seem to trickle down to pride, which is what motivates Weary despite the rhetoric about crusades and piety. The novel thus indicates one of war’s most tragic ironies: that there can be no heroes without villains and victims, which makes even the most glorified aspects of war useless in the face of death.

Even as the chapter begins, with a matter-of-fact rundown of Billy’s life story, Vonnegut confronts us with a litany of ironic deaths, each accompanied by the rhetorical shrug “So it goes.” Billy’s father dies in a hunting accident right before Billy ships overseas for combat; Billy is the only survivor in a plane full of optometrists when they crash into a mountain in Vermont; Billy’s wife dies of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning on her way to visit him in the hospital after the plane crash. These deaths lend weight to the declaration in Chapter 1 by filmmaker Harrison Starr that an antiwar book is as ineffective as an anti-glacier book. An overarching irony in Slaughterhouse-Five is that death does not discriminate. We already know that Billy will survive war and a plane crash, despite the fact that he is ill suited to a life of danger and hardship.