Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

  • ALL THIS HAPPENED, more or less. The war parts, anyway, are pretty much true.
  • I would hate to tell you what this lousy little book cost me in money and anxiety and time. When I got home from the Second World War twenty-three years ago, I thought it would be easy for me to write about the destruction of Dresden, since all I would have to do would be to report what I had seen. And I thought, too, that it would be a masterpiece or at least make me a lot of money, since the subject was so big.
  • “No. What do you say, Harrison Starr?” “I say, ‘Why don’t you write an anti-glacier book instead?’” What he meant, of course, was that there would always be wars, that they were as easy to stop as glaciers. I believe that, too.s51
  • “The irony is so great. A whole city gets burned down, and thousands and thousands of people are killed. And then this one American foot soldier is arrested in the ruins for taking a teapot. And he’s given a regular trial, and then he’s shot by a firing squad.”
  • The nicest veterans in Schenectady, I thought, the kindest and funniest ones, the ones who hated war the most, were the ones who’d really fought.
  • We saw waterfalls, too, streams jumping off cliffs into the valley of the Delaware. There were lots of things to stop and see—and then it was time to go, always time to go
  • We went to the New York World’s Fair, saw what the past had been like, according to the Ford Motor Car Company and Walt Disney, saw what the future would be like, according to General Motors.
  • And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep.
  • I have told my sons that they are not under any circumstances to take part in massacres, and that the news of massacres of enemies is not to fill them with satisfaction or glee.
  • No art is possible without a dance with death, he wrote.
  • Roland Weary and the scouts were safe in a ditch, and Weary growled at Billy, “Get out of the road, you dumb motherfucker.” The last word was still a novelty in the speech of white people in . It was fresh and astonishing to Billy, who had never fucked anybody—and it did its job. It woke him up and got him off the road.
  • Billy wanted to quit. He was cold, hungry, embarrassed, incompetent. He could scarcely distinguish between sleep and wakefulness now, on the third day, found no important differences, either, between walking and standing still.
  • A blood gutter, Billy learned, was the shallow groove in the side of the blade of a sword or bayonet
  • Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops.
  • She swallowed hard, shed some tears. Then she gathered energy from all over her ruined body, even from her toes and fingertips. At last she had accumulated enough to whisper this complete sentence: “How did I get so old?”
  • He told Billy to encourage people to call him Billy—because it would stick in their memories. It would also make him seem slightly magical, since there weren’t any other grown Billys around. It also compelled people to think of him as a friend right away.
  • One scout hung his head, let spit fall from his lips. The other did the same. They studied the infinitesimal effects of spit on snow and history. They were small, graceful people. They had been behind German lines before many times—living like woods creatures, living from moment to moment in useful terror, thinking brainlessly with their spinal cords.
  • The soldiers’ blue eyes were filled with a bleary civilian curiosity as to why one American would try to murder another one so far from home, and why the victim should laugh
  • He tore open Weary’s overcoat and blouse. Brass buttons flew like popcorn
  • The fuel was furniture. There were about twenty other Americans in there, sitting on the floor with their backs to the wall, staring into the flames—thinking whatever there was to think, which was zero. Nobody talked. Nobody had any good war stories to tell.
  • The view was still blocked by a venetian blind, which he hoisted clatteringly. Bright sunlight came crashing in
  • The date on the license plate was , which would make Billy Pilgrim forty-four years old. He asked himself this: “Where have all the years gone?”
  • Billy’s smile as he came out of the shrubbery was at least as peculiar as Mona Lisa’s, for he was simultaneously on foot in Germany in and riding his Cadillac in .
  • Another cripple was ringing a doorbell across the street. He was on crutches. He had only one leg. He was so jammed between his crutches that his shoulders hid his ears.
  • 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.
  • 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 night and day, 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 ever again.
  • It was a flying saucer from Tralfamadore, navigating in both space and time, therefore seeming to Billy Pilgrim to have come from nowhere all at once.
  • Down snaked a ladder that was outlined in pretty lights like a Ferris wheel.
  • Billy licked his lips, thought a while, inquired at last: “Why me?” “That is a very Earthling question to ask, Mr. Pilgrim. Why you? Why us for that matter? Why anything? Because this moment simply is.
  • Derby had pulled political wires to get into the army at his age. The subject he had taught in Indianapolis was Contemporary Problems in Western Civilization
  • An unseen hand turned a master valve. Out of the showerheads gushed scalding rain. The rain was a blowtorch that did not warm. It jazzed and jangled Billy’s skin without thawing the ice in the marrow of his long bones.s53
  • BILLY PILGRIM says that the Universe does not look like a lot of bright little dots to the creatures from Tralfamadore. The creatures can see where each star has been and where it is going, so that the heavens are filled with rarefied, luminous spaghetti. And Tralfamadorians don’t see human beings as two-legged creatures, either. They see them as great millepedes—”with babies’ legs at one end and old people’s legs at the other,” says Billy Pilgrim.
  • 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.”
  • A guard knocked on a door. The door was flung open from inside. Light leaped out through the door, escaped from prison at ,000 miles per second
  • They had not seen a woman or a child for four years or more. They hadn’t seen any birds, either. Not even sparrows would come into the camp.
  • The British had no way of knowing it, but the candles and the soap were made from the fat of rendered Jews and Gypsies and fairies and communists, and other enemies of the State. So it goes.
  • There were twenty-nine other patients assigned to the ward, but they were all outdoors now, enjoying the day. They were free to come and go as they pleased, to go home, even, if they like—and so was Billy Pilgrim. They had come here voluntarily, alarmed by the outside world.
  • Those beloved, frumpish books gave off a smell that permeated the ward
  • Rosewater said an interesting thing to Billy one time about a book that wasn’t science fiction. He said that everything there was to know about life was in The Brothers Karamazov, by Feodor Dostoevsky. “But that isn’t enough any more,” said Rosewater.
  • The book was Maniacs in the Fourth Dimension, by Kilgore Trout. It was about people whose mental diseases couldn’t be treated because the causes of the diseases were all in the fourth dimension, and three-dimensional Earthling doctors couldn’t see those causes at all, or even imagine them.
  • Billy got that diamond in the war.” “That’s the attractive thing about war,” said Rosewater. “Absolutely everybody gets a little something.”
  • There was a picture of one cowboy killing another one pasted to the television tube. So it goes.
  • There were five sexes on Tralfamadore, each of them performing a step necessary in the creation of a new individual. They looked identical to Billy—because their sex differences were all in the fourth dimension.
  • The guide invited the crowd to imagine that they were looking across a desert at a mountain range on a day that was twinkling bright and clear. They could look at a peak or a bird or a cloud, 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 eyehole through which he could look, and welded to that eyehole were six feet of pipe. This was only the beginning of Billy’s miseries in the metaphor. He was also strapped to a steel lattice which was bolted to a flatcar on rails, and there was no way he could turn his head or touch the pipe. The far end of the pipe rested on a bi-pod which was also bolted to the flatcar. All Billy could see was the little dot at the end of the pipe. He didn’t know he was on a flatcar, didn’t even know there was anything peculiar about his situation. The flatcar sometimes crept, sometimes went extremely fast, often stopped—went uphill, downhill, around curves, along straightways. Whatever poor Billy saw through the pipe, he had no choice but to say to himself, “That’s life.”
  • The coaches stunk of coal smoke and rationed tobacco and rationed booze and the farts of people eating wartime food
  • Real night came to the zoo for only one Earthling hour out of every sixty-two.
  • He was told not to find out what the lumps were. He was advised to be content with knowing that they could work miracles for him, provided he did not insist on learning their nature. That was all right with Billy Pilgrim. He was grateful. He was glad.
  • Lazzaro said that he could have anybody in the world killed for a thousand dollars plus traveling expenses. He had a list in his head, he said.s52
  • The skyline was intricate and voluptuous and enchanted and absurd
  • The Americans were taken to the fifth building inside the gate. It was a one-story cement-block cube with sliding doors in front and back. It had been built as a shelter for pigs about to be butchered
  • Their address was this: “Schlachthof-fünf.” Schlachthof meant slaughterhouse. Fun/was good old five.
  • There was a barbershop quartet on board. They were optometrists, too. They called themselves “The Febs,” which was an acronym for “Four-eyed Bastards.”
  • Billy thought the golliwog had something to do with World War Two, and he whispered to him his address: “Schlachthof-fünf.”
  • The city was blacked out because bombers might come, so Billy didn’t get to see Dresden do one of the most cheerful things a city is capable of doing when the sun goes down, which is to wink its lights on one by one.
  • Trout, incidentally, had written a book about a money tree. It had twenty-dollar bills for leaves. Its flowers were government bonds. Its fruit was diamonds. It attracted human beings who killed each other around the roots and made very good fertilizer. So it goes.
  • Trout was concerned, because, if the boy really quit, Trout would have to deliver the boy’s route himself, until he could find another sucker. “What are you?” Trout asked the boy scornfully. “Some kind of gutless wonder?” This, too, was the title of a book by Trout, The Gutless Wonder. It was about a robot who had bad breath, who became popular after his halitosis was cured.
  • Somewhere a big dog barked
  • When the Americans and their guards did come out, the sky was black with smoke. The sun was an angry little pinhead. Dresden was like the moon now, nothing but minerals. The stones were hot. Everybody else in the neighbourhood was dead
  • He told Montana about the four guards who, in their astonishment and grief, resembled a barbershop quartet
  • Absolutely everybody in the city was supposed to be dead, regardless of what they were, and that anybody that moved in it represented a flaw in the design. There were to be no moon men at all.
  • They made Billy get out of the wagon and come look at the horses. When Billy saw the condition of his means of transportation, he burst into tears. He hadn’t cried about anything else in the war.
  • If what Billy Pilgrim learned from the Tralfamadorians is true, that we will all live forever, no matter how dead we may sometimes seem to be, I am not overjoyed. Still—if I am going to spend eternity visiting this moment and that, I’m grateful that so many of those moments are nice.
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