Novel Conversations is a podcast summarizing the world’s greatest works of classic literature: in 35 minutes you get the whole story from cover to cover. (If SparkNotes had an audio best friend, it would be us!) In each episode, Frank Lavallo hosts two readers, and the three of them give their reactions to the story and read their favorite passages along the way. Each episode features Endnotes by Ted Schwartz, a segment with interesting facts about the author.More episodes
S6 Ep 3
Host: Frank Lavallo
Readers: Katie Smith and Peter Toomey
Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Year of Publication: 1969
Plot: Slaughterhouse-Five follows the life and experiences of Billy Pilgrim as he finds himself “unstuck in time”. The book is centered around his time as an American soldier during World War II, his capture by the German Army, and his survival of the Allied firebombing of Dresden as a prisoner-of-war - an experience which Vonnegut himself lived through as an American serviceman. Vonnegut offers a multi-dimensional view of fantasy and rock-hard reality.
Frank: Hello and welcome. I'm Frank Lavallo and this is Novel Conversations, a podcast about the world's greatest stories. For each episode of Novel Conversations, I talk to two readers about one book; and together we summarize the story for you. We introduce you to the characters, we tell you what happens to them, and we read from the book along the way. So, if you love hearing a good story, you're in the right place.
This novel conversation is about the novel, Slaughterhouse-Five or the Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death by Kurt Vonnegut. With that said, I'd like to introduce and welcome my guest readers this episode is Katie Smith and Peter Toomey. Katie. Peter. Welcome.
Katie and Peter: Thank you. Thanks for inviting us.
Frank: My pleasure. Before we start I want to give a quick brief summary of Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut and then we'll get into our discussion. Slaughterhouse Five as the story of Billy Pilgrim who becomes unstuck in time. Billy Pilgrim is a soldier who survived the 1945 firebombing of Dresden, then lives simultaneously in his past as a young American P.O.W. And in the future, as a well cared for resident of a zoo on the planet, Tralfamadore. And in the present as a middle aged optometrist in Illiam, New York. Or maybe he doesn't live as a soldier during the firebombing of Dresden or as a well cared resident in a zoo on Tralfamadore or as a middle-aged optometrist in Illiam, New York. He might just be a writer writing a really good anti-war story. We'll find out a little bit more about that as we get into our discussion.
(OUT: What we'll do now is we'll take a quick break and when we come back, I want to talk about the main characters of the novel. Are there two main characters or is it just one main character? I've got to be honest with you I'm not really sure and I would really love to know what you guys think but wait don't tell me now. Let's take a break and when we come back we'll continue our novel conversation on Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. I'm Frank Lavallo. We'll be right back.
(IN: And welcome back. I'm Frank Lavallo host of Novel Conversations. And today I'm having a conversation about the novel Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. And joining me in conversation today are Peter and Katie. All right, let’s talk about the main character and if there is actually one main character or two.)
Frank: Alright, let’s turn to our novel and talk about the main character, or should I say, characters. Peter, is there one character or their two main characters in this novel?
Peter: I read it as one character, as Billy Pilgrim being the main character. In the first couple chapters, the author is telling the story of how he came to write the book, but after that, it’s just is Billy Pilgrim's story.
Frank: All right Katie do you agree with that?
Katie: Yes, I do agree with that. I think though that Kurt Vonnegut, the author, two or three times in the middle of the story insinuated himself especially during the wartime moments when he's describing what's happening to the soldiers in a big crowd, if suddenly he'll say a bit of dialogue that happened to one of the soldiers and then he'll say that was me. I said that. That was me. So, he is narrating it but I don't think he is Billy Pilgrim.
Frank: Okay let's talk about the way this book is split up the first chapter is written by our narrator. We're not really sure we were right off the bat who this narrator is. We do come to learn within the first chapter that he has been trying to write a story about the firebombing of Dresden in 1945. The narrator is an American P.O.W. who survived that firebombing and has always meant to tell that story but has been unable to tell this story. At the end of chapter one he says, now I can tell the story. Here's my story. And then he moves on with chapter two, the story of Billy Pilgrim. Neither of you thought the narrator was Billy Pilgrim?
Peter: No, because I had in the back of my mind the whole time, the narrator's introduction to the book; and I felt that he was maybe a guiding hand or a guardian angel of the main character, but that Billy Pilgrim was the author's invention and that was the way he wanted to tell the story of Dresden. Through Billy Pilgrim.
Frank: All right well then that begs the question, if Billy Pilgrim was an invention of the author, is this a true story? Katie...
Katie: That's a good question. I think that it is a true story. The Dresden firebomb experience that the author had. Now I'm analyzing but I think he had to distance himself from the experience and write it from the eyes of someone else. And Billy Pilgrim seems like such an innocent. And I think that's how he wanted to present this horrendous war experience through the eyes of this total innocent.
Frank: All right well then let's talk about Billy Pilgrim as our main character. But Suzanna Katie before we get to Billy Pilgrim let's talk real briefly about the form of this novel. This is a non-linear narrative. It does not start at the beginning and it does not end at the end. It starts somewhere in the middle of Billy Pilgrim's life and then he - through a belief of his, that he's traveling in time - gives us different parts of his life throughout this novel. We might start when he's 35 years old and an optometrist. Then we go back to when he's an 18-year old P.O.W. in Dresden. Then we skip forward and he's living in a zoo on another planet. Yes, we will talk about that other planet. This is a novel that skips around. But let's try to pull Billy Pilgrim's life together as a linear story from start to finish. So, Peter this is an 18-year old boy World War 2 is happening. He joins the army. They make him a chaplain's assistant and then they send them to Belgium.
Peter: Yes, he's in the war and kind of a reluctant warrior and loses his group that he's with. And so he travels with a few people for a while and then it becomes a prisoner of war.
Frank: He actually gets sent to Dresden.
Peter: Yes, so he goes to Dresden. A couple of days after the bombing of Dresden, he is found. And that's when he goes back to his home and decides to go to optometry school. And interrupts his education for a while to become hospitalized.
Frank: Right. He actually has himself committed, we're led to believe some sort of post-traumatic stress syndrome, although of course they would called it 'shell shock' at that time.
Frank: And Katie you want to pick it up from there? He commits himself to a mental institution, tries to get himself healthy. Does he succeed?
Katie: Well he meets one character, Eliot Rosewater, who's actually a character and another Vonnegut novel. Eliot Rosewater is a patient in the bed next to him. And he also eventually proposes to a head optometrists’ daughter. I don't know if he really gets better. I don't know if that's the point where he becomes unstuck in time. It's kind of unclear when that happens.
Frank: But Peter he doesn't only meet Eliot Rosewater in this hospital he's actually introduced to another person, although not directly.
Peter: Yeah. Eliot Rosewater is reading the books of Kilgour Trotta, science fiction novelist, in the hospital.
Frank: And we get a couple of titles that Kilgore Trout has written but apparently, we're also led to believe that no one reads Kilgore Trout because he's really a bad writer. Actually, this is how Rosewater explains it to us. "If Kilgore Trout could only write Rosewater exclaimed, he had a point. Kilgore Trout's unpopularity was deserved. His prose was frightful. Only his ideas were good." We all know a few novelists like that don't we. All right so we've got Billy Pilgrim in basically a mental institution suffering from what they called then shell shock. Katie you said that he proposes to the daughter of the head optometrist in the town. I called it a love match. You're not so sure it was a love match.
Katie: Well she's not a very attractive woman. She's very overweight and thought that she would never ever marry, that nobody would ever want to marry her. But Billy thinks that, because he has seen the future his own future, he knows that the marriage is quite satisfactory. Maybe even a little bit more than that. So, he proposes to her.
Frank: Okay. And Peter they do get married and they do seem to have a satisfactory life. He becomes very wealthy. He's got six or seven optometry offices in the town. He's got a lot of assistants working for him. But his life is not a happy one.
Peter: I didn't think his life was unhappy. I just think that he had this strange inner life where he kept going back into his memories.
Frank: But as our story progresses more bad things happen to our character... Billy Pilgrim, after he's been in town for several years, as a leading optometrist, he decides to get on a plane and go to an optometry convention.
Katie: He's with his father in law and several other optometrists and they're in an airplane and he knows it's going to happen before it does, and...
Frank: ... at least he's telling us he knows that this plane is gonna crash and he prepares himself for that crash.
Katie: Right. And he and the co-pilot are the only survivors and he goes back to the hospital, this time for his physical wounds - although one of the wounds is to his head; and his wife is racing to the hospital from Illium, New York and she gets into a slight car accident but it tears off the muffler of her car (Frank: And its presented this is basically a fender bender) Right. No one's hurt. They're both wearing their seat belts. And by the time she gets to the hospital parking lot she just slumps over and she's died of carbon monoxide poisoning because of the exhaust fumes from her car. So, Billy is now faced with the loss of his wife, his father in law, his probably employees the other optometrists. And it's then in there he decides that he's going to tell the world about time travel and the planet, Tralfamadore, and what really time means and that we shouldn't be concerned or cry over someone's death because really they're not dead, they're just in bad shape for the moment.
Frank: Actually, I'm going to stop you there. Let's not get into the Tralfamadore theory of time relativity just yet. I want to continue with our narrative a little bit more. You say this is when he decides he's going to tell his story. How does he do that Peter?
Peter: He goes to New York City and tries to get the media interested in him. And I think a radio show has him on and his daughter finds out about it and tries to restrain him from doing that.
Frank: He actually gets on a radio program and tells people that there are aliens among us...
Peter: ...and there's other guests and they think that he's one of them. And so, they don't say anything...
Frank: ... like one of them, you mean an author?
Peter: Yeah. And then it becomes clear, when he starts to tell his story, that he really wasn't an invited to be on this panel. So, they squeeze him out. But he does get some time to tell his story on the air.
Frank: All right. Now, let's talk a little bit about his time travel story. We've gotten this story throughout the novel because during his various time shifts, when we're going back and forth throughout Billy Pilgrim's life, he is telling us why he's able to do this time shift; because he has been basically taken over by these aliens from this planet, Tralfamadore. So we know this. But of course the world doesn't know this yet but he is now going to tell the story.
Katie: He was captured by aliens and they've put him on a zoo. But I think the most important thing that the aliens, the Tralfamadorians taught him, that he wants to tell the world, is that time has no meaning. And what they showed him is that time is like looking at a mountain range and that you see the whole thing at once. So death is not a permanent, forever state of existence or nonexistence. It is just a moment in time. But all the other moments are also moments in time and you can go back and forth to them. So, you're only dead just for a little while. But you'll be coming back.
Frank: So, if you see someone who happens to be dead at the moment you see them, don't necessarily grieve for them. Just remember the moments prior when they were alive or perhaps moments to come when they will be alive again. Don't just focus on the time you happen to find them. And that's because the Tralfamadorians really see four dimensions and time is their fourth dimension. They see all of time, all together.
Katie: Right. There's a really good line in the book and it says, "...and Tralfamadorians don't see human beings as two legged creatures, either. They see them as great millipedes with babies legs at one end and old people's legs at the other."
Frank: Exactly. They see our entire growth all at the same time. But then Peter, as you said, he's basically tossed off of this radio program; goes back to his home in Illium, New York, to the care of his daughter, who thinks he's going crazy, doesn't she?
Peter: Yeah she does. She wants to take care of them and thinks that he can't take care himself anymore.
Frank: And it's really about this time in the story that we're told that Billy Pilgrim knows the exact time and place of his death. And he tells us he's going to go to this meeting where he knows he's gonna be killed but he's peaceful about it. He goes, and although he's not actually killed in our novel, we know that his death takes place. And that's really basically the end of our narrative as we've reconstructed it, for Billy Pilgrim.
Katie: All right. I would like to bring up that he says the day of his death is February 13th, 1976 and the firebombing of Dresden is February 13th 1945.
Frank: Katie I'm glad you mentioned those dates, because those dates are important. It is important that Billy Pilgrim was killed on an anniversary of the firebombing in Dresden, because it's events in Dresden that actually led to Billy Pilgrim's death. Let’s talk a little bit more about those events. He wasn’t actually captured in Dresden, but I think he was captured in Luxembourg, right Peter?
(OUT: But wait let's not talk about it now I want to take a break and when we come back we'll talk about those events in Dresden and how they led to Billy Pilgrim's death and also how they may have led to Billy Pilgrim ending up on trial for murder. You're listening to Novel Conversations. We'll be right back.)
(IN: And we're back. You're listening to Novel Conversations. I'm Frank Lavallo. And today I'm having a conversation about Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, Slaughterhouse Five. And joining me in conversation today are Peter and Katie. All right before we left, we promised to take Billy back to Dresden and talk about some of the things that happened to him in Dresden. But actually, he was not captured in Dresden, but I think he was captured in Luxembourg.)
Peter: Yeah, he had been separated from his platoon and he was traveling with a couple of other soldiers one of whom kept having to rescue him because he just wanted to hang back and just not have to worry about marching and doing anything anymore. But then they were captured by the Germans, with other American soldiers, and with other prisoners of war, they were all funneled into Dresden.
Frank: Right they were taken into the interior of Germany. This is really right at the end of the war. The Germans were sending some people to the front and sending all their prisoners back into Germany at this time.
Peter: They were gonna be working in Dresden.
Frank: And they get to Dresden and they find a beautiful city. This is a city that has not been bombed. There's no military bases there. There's no bomb factories there, so the city has basically been spared by the Allies. And actually, the work that they're given isn't all that bad either.
Peter: They were working in a syrup factory and they were all happy because it was such good food and they hadn't been used to having any food and they kept finding spoons all over the factory and spooning the syrup. And actually, they were working at the syrup factory. But the name of the novel comes from their living quarters, which was in an old slaughterhouse, Slaughterhouse-Five.
Frank: Right. And that's how we got the name of our novel. And it's also about this time that we learned that Billy Pilgrim has made an enemy. An enemy that's going to come back 40 years later and be the cause of his death.
Peter: When Billy Pilgrim gets separated from the platoon he is traveling with a couple of other soldiers. One of them, Roland Weary, he keeps rescuing him. And then when they finally get captured or are on kind of a troop transport, Roland Weary dies, but he makes another soldier, Paul Lazaro, promise that he would kill Billy Pilgrim.
Frank: Ronald Weary believes that Billy Pilgrim is the cause of his, Ronald Weary's death. It's because Billy Pilgrim was so indifferent to his surroundings and so lackadaisical in his hiding, really that causes them to get captured. And it's because they're captured they end up on this train. And it's because they're on this train that Roland Weary is going to die. He wants revenge on Billy Pilgrim. And he makes another soldier Paul Lazaro promise someday, somehow, some way, to get Billy Pilgrim. And as we come later to learn in the novel, this is what happens to Billy Pilgrim some 40 years later, or so. He goes to this meeting to make a speech. And Katie, as you said, on the anniversary of the firebombing of Dresden, Ronald weary through Paul Lazaro, gets his revenge. But of course for our novel, because Billy Pilgrim is living in all the moments, not just in this moment. He doesn't actually die. And in fact, when we come to the end of Billy Pilgrim's story, we actually leave him in the zoo on Tralfamadore, living with a former porn star who's just had his baby. But I'm not going to give you too much more information than that. Our listeners are just going to have to go and read the book themselves to find out the rest of it. What I want to talk about now is why Slaughterhouse Five. What was Kurt Vonnegut wanting to tell us about war, about science fiction, about the craft of being a writer. So let's start a little bit about war. Obviously he was anti-war. Was he anti- WWI, anti-WWII, anti-war in general?
Katie: I think he was anti-war in general. I think his experiences in seeing a beautiful city completely destroyed, is part of what feuls his writing.
Frank: Yes. I think it is important for us to know that Kurt Vonnegut himself was in the war was in Dresden during the bombing, he did survive the bombing of Dresden, and eventually some 30 years after, did come to write the novel we know today as Slaughterhouse Five.
Katie: In the middle of the novel when Billy meets science fiction writer Kilgore Trout, he just loves his stories. The quote is, "And Billy had seen the greatest massacre in European history which was the firebombing of Dresden. So it goes." So they (meaning Kilgore Trout and Billy Pilgrim). "So they were trying to reinvent themselves and their universe. Science fiction was a big help." I think that the point that he was trying to make, is that, through writing science fiction he could make sense of his universe. Because the reality of it didn't make sense to him.
Peter: Well this novel just seems to transcend genre. It seems to appeal on so many different levels. And I don't think you can put it into anyone category.
Frank: You mentioned something else while you were reading that quote, the three words. So it goes. We hear that throughout this entire novel. So it goes. And basically that's the Tralfamadorian theory of life and death. So it goes. And it will continue to go. So Kurt Vonnegut has his character Billy Pilgrim after the death of everything. Say, So it goes. A plant dies, So it goes, a horse is killed, So it goes. His father is killed. So it goes. They pop a bottle of champagne, the champagne loses its fizz. So it goes. What was, So it goes?
Peter: I think it goes back to the concept of the Tralfamadorian idea that death is temporary and it's life, or how you've lived your, life that counts.
Frank: Does it equalize all the deaths? So it goes, whether it's an animal. So it goes, whether it's a person. So it goes, whether it's a bottle of champagne? He's using it for some technique and I'm not sure I was able to figure it out.
Peter: I think it emphasizes the deaths and feeds into the anti-war theme that here is war, here's another death and you can have all these deaths, all the time, and all these different circumstances. So, I think he uses it to emphasize death. And to make us keep thinking about death and dying.
Frank: I also want to talk a little bit about how the narrator, who we're presuming is our author Kurt Vonnegut, sort of insinuates himself a couple of times into the novel as well. As I think we mentioned at the very beginning the entire first chapter and also the entire last chapter are really given to us by the author. We know it's the author talking to us. It gives us a little introduction in the beginning, how he came to finally write this novel, and also at the end he gives us a little bit of a wrap up.
Katie: In fact there are a couple of places in the middle of the novel where he interjects himself as the author. One place is right after Billy is captured as a prisoner of war, they're in a camp with some British soldiers who have been there for a while. The British feed the American POWs this fantastic feast and they all get sick. So they're in the latrine. And here's the quote. "An American near Billy wailed that he had excreted everything but his brains. Moments later he said there they, go there they go. He meant his brains. That was I. That was me." That was the author of this book. And then the second time that Vonnegut gets in there is when Billy Pilgrim arrives in Dresden for the first time as a prisoner. They're getting off the boxcar. And the quote is, "Somebody behind him in the box car said 'Oz' That was I. That was me. The only other city I'd ever seen was Indianapolis Indiana."
Frank: And as we know Kurt Vonnegut was in fact from Indianapolis Indiana. Now Peter for me I gotta admit with the author showing up in the novel like that a couple of times I got a little confused. I wasn't really sure if really what I was getting was Billy Pilgrim's story. Or am I getting Vonnegut's story. I just wasn't sure who the narrator was at that point. Did you have any confusions or did it hang for you?
Peter: It hung for me because I felt that that was a really powerful way to make his point about Dresden and about what happened in Dresden.
Frank: What was his point about Dresden?
Peter: That this firebombing had happened. Because I think that when he wrote this book it still wasn't well known in world history that this had happened and that it may or may not have been considered a war crime. And so by his design or not, I just like the way those couple of times he put himself in a story because all of a sudden he had to stand back and say 'well, oh wait, that's right, he was there...'
Frank: Does it make it more of a truthful story for you? Does it take it out of the realm of fiction?
Peter: Well a lot of times I can't read without having all these current events or historical associations, so you know that this happened to him. You're reminded of it one more time and it kind of reminds you of Kurt Vonnegut s artistry the way he wove the story together.
Frank: Katie, how about for you? Is it an author's conceit for him to show up in the novel or did it have a meaning for you and a reason?
Katie: For me it had a meaning I think as Peter said he wanted to remind us that yes he was there this event was real and it affected him deeply and Billy Pilgrim was there with him. But he was sort of an anonymous soldier who was in front of him as they got off the boxcar to go to Dresden.
Frank: In our first chapter, as I said, written entirely by the narrator and given to us as being from the author, this is what the author says about the work that's being presented to us as Slaughterhouse Five. He's actually talking to his editor. "It is so short and jumbled and jangled, Sam; because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre." Is that right? Short and jangled because there's nothing intelligent to say about a massacre.
Katie: I think he said a lot about it and a lot of it intelligently. (Frank: Yes.)
Katie: And he just skipped in time but I don't think it was jumbled and jangled. It was just in pieces.
Frank: Before we started our conversation today, I was ready to make an argument that this was actually not necessarily a novel but a collection of short stories. I'm not sure I'm ready to defend that argument now after we've talked about this book a little bit. Anyone want to maybe agree with me anyway.
Peter: Well I know you want to just keep the conversation between these covers but Kurt Vonnegut brings in several characters from other novels in this novel and in that way, I sort of agree with you, that it's maybe not a series of short stories, but a continuation of the story that Kurt Vonnegut wants to tell.
Frank: I'm going to jump right out of the covers with you and say, I believe it's Rosewater, as well as Kilgore Trout, are both characters in other Vonnegut novels.
Katie: There's also another one Campbell. He was the American who became a Nazi.
Frank: I remember the character, I don't remember him in another novel.
Katie: Mother Night.
Frank: Yes, thats right. Very good. That's why I love having people here have read a lot of books. Let me ask you another question. As we've said several times already now this is a narrative in a non-linear form. It skips back and forth. We have time travel, we have mined travel, we don't get any story start to finish. Was that necessary for this novel? Would it have been the same novel if it had just been a linear narrative? Could Vonnegut have told this story just a straight story start to finish?
Peter: Well what I kept thinking about when I was reading this novel, was Going After Cacciato by Tim O'Brien, who wrote several novels about his Vietnam War experience and post-traumatic stress syndrome... and Going After Cacciato, that was a story about a soldier walking from Indo-china to Paris. You're not sure if he's really doing this journey or if it's something that he's thinking about while he's on a watch. So, this form was familiar to me.
Frank: And actually, the other Tim O'Brien book that I'm familiar with, The Things They Carried, was also somewhat similar to this in that there were vignettes; and also in that you were never sure was this an actual experience, or was this man perhaps in a hospital suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome? And actually let me ask you about that. Is it possible that this novel occurs completely in the mind of a shell shocked P.O.W. in either a hospital or a prison camp. Katie?
Katie: Well I see Peter is nodding her head yes but I'm a science fiction fan so I want to believe that this is what really happened that you really went to the planet, Tralfamadore, and they enabled Billy Pilgrim to see all of time, all at once. So that's how I like to read it.
Frank: Peter you were nodding your head.
Peter: Well, I think you can read it that way. You can read it in several different ways.
Frank: Again, we're mentioning lots of other books, but two other novels that come to my mind are, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, where you're never really sure how much of the story is occurring within the mind of the Indian chief. And also Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo. There is a character lying in a hospital bed apparently limbless idleness and things are happening to him and again we're not really sure just what's actually happening to him or what's in his mind.
Peter: So, it makes me think that one way to capture the war experience for people who haven't been there, is to present it in this fashion, because I think it is the horrendous experience. And the only way to describe it is in these disjointed ways.
Frank: This could be really a series of flashbacks. (Peter: Right.) All right. Let’s head into our last segment where you share with us, maybe a passage or a favorite moment from the book. But before I let you start, I have a question that I would like one of you guys to answer the subtitle of the novel is The Children's Crusade. And in our first paragraph our author gives us a little bit about why he wants to call it that.
(OUT: With that said let's take a break here. When we come back what I'd like to hear from you guys then is some favorite moments or some favorite passages from the novel or perhaps a moment or two that we just haven't had a chance to get to that really impressed you or that will stick with you. And I would really like you to share those with us. Right now. We'll take a little break. You're listening to novel conversations and we'll be right back.)
(IN: And we're back. I'm Frank Lavallo. You're listening to Novel Conversations. And today I'm having a conversation about the novel Slaughterhouse Five or the Children's Crusade by Kurt Vonnegut. And I'm joined in conversation today by Peter and Katie. Okay, so what I would really like from you both is to share some favorite moments that you have in the novel…)
Peter: Well, Kurt Vonnegut talks about trying and trying to write this novel, and so he goes to visit his old friend O'Hare, an old war buddy. And he wants him to go back to Dresden with him so that it will help him write the novel. And he goes to visit O'Hare and O'Hare his wife, at first she's friendly, but then she's banging dishes around, something's batter her. It's making Kurt Vonnegut very uncomfortable. Finally he gets it out of her that she thinks he's going to be writing a novel that glorifies war. He says, "So I held up my right hand and I made her promise. Mary, I said, I don't think this book of mine is ever going to be finished. I must have written five thousand pages by now and throw them all away if I ever do finish it though, I give you my word of honor. There won't be a part for Frank Sinatra or John Wayne. I'll tell you what I said I'll call it The Children's Crusade." She was my friend after that.
Frank: And in fact, he dedicates this novel to a Mary O'Hare, who he tells us is this woman. So again, it's the author coming into the novel, the characters, perhaps a fictional character, maybe not a fictional character. It's all very confusing. Katie do you have a favorite passage or line you want to share for us?
Katie: I do. It's, as I said before, I'm a science fiction fan, so it's a Tralfamadorian passage. Apparently on the planet Tralfamadore, there are five sexes. I'm quoting here. "Each one of them performs a necessary step in the creation of a new individual." And they inform Billy that on Earth there are seven sexes and each one of them is essential to the reproduction of a new earthling. And I'd like to quote this. "They told him that there could be no earthling babies without male homosexuals. There could be babies without female homosexuals. There couldn't be babies without women over 65 years old. There could be babies without men over 65. There couldn't be babies without other babies who had lived an hour or less after birth, and so on." And I just think that that speaks to how most of us are just so important in the creation and of the continuation of life.
Frank: But don't they tell Billy Pilgrim that because we're not in a fourth dimension, because as humans we only have the three dimensions, we can't see the necessity of these other sexes. (Katie: Correct.) But there is a plan and they are all important.
Katie: Right. But to Billy it's all gibberish. It happens in the fourth dimension. We don't know about it.
Peter: There is another part in Tralfamadore too, because the Tralfamadores are watching Billy Pilgrim as if he's a zoo animal. And so they come and watch him do stuff. So, they never understand where he's coming from. One of the passages is... "They couldn't imagine what time looked like to him. Billy had given up on explaining that. The guide outside had to explain as best he could. The guide invited the crowd to imagine that they were looking across a desert at a mountain range and a day that was twinkling bright and clear. They could look at a peak or bird or a cloud or at a stone right in front of them or even down into a canyon behind them. But among them was this poor earthling and his head was encased in a steel sphere which he could never take off. There was only one eye hole through which he could look and welded in that eye hole were six feet of pipe. This was only the beginning of Billy's miseries in the metaphor."
Frank: Great, great. The moment that really stuck with me was when Billy was watching a late night war movie and because he's not in time, he can see the movie backwards. And here's a few paragraphs that explain what he was seeing. "American planes full of holes and wounded men and corpses, took off backwards from an airfield in England over France. A few German fighter planes flew at them backwards; sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation. The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The Bombers opened their Bombay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism, which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored neatly in racks. When the bombers got back to their base. The steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America where factories were operating day and night dismantling the cylinders separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody again." What a great way to watch a war movie. Anything else? Any other lines.
Peter: Well I think his anti-war message is pretty much crystallized in this passage where he's talking about a book by Kilgore Trout. The name of the book is The Gutless Wonder and I'm quoting from the book. "Tt was about a robot who had bad breath, who became popular after his halitosis was cured. But what made this story remarkable, since it was written in 1932, was that it predicted the widespread use of burning jellied gasoline on human beings. It was dropped on them from airplanes. Robots did the dropping. They had no conscience and no circuits which would allow them to imagine what was happening to the people on the ground. Trout's leading robot looked like a human being and could talk and dance and so on and go out with girls and nobody held it against him that he dropped jelly gasoline on people. But they found his halitosis unforgivable. But then he cleared that up and he was welcome to the human race.
Frank: Sort of a brutal commentary there, isn't it.
Peter: Yeah. I think it is.
Frank: If you're a bomber and a killer, as long as your breath isn't too bad. Okay I think we're gonna stop here. Katie. Peter I want to thank both of you for coming in and having a conversation with me today about Kurt Vonnegut Slaughterhouse Five.
Peter: Thanks for this opportunity to talk about my favorite author.
Katie: Yeah, what a great, classic read. I’m so glad we did this.
Frank: Well, I’m glad too. It was a great discussion and I'm glad you both came in to talk to me about it. You've been listening to Novel Conversations.