Slaughterhouse-Five Or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death
Slaughterhous-Five is one of the world's great anti-war books. Centering on the infamous fire-bombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim's odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we are afraid to know.
The curriculet is being added to your library
This is an epigraph. An epigraph is a quotation set at the beginning of a literary work or one of its divisions to suggest its theme. The theme is the lesson the author is trying to teach us about life. As you read Slaughterhouse Five, think about what Vonnegut might be trying to teach the reader and how this epigraph connects to that lesson.
According to their website, "Guggenheim Fellowships are grants to selected individuals made for a minimum of six months and a maximum of twelve months. Since the purpose of the Guggenheim Fellowship program is to help provide Fellows with blocks of time in which they can work with as much creative freedom as possible, grants are made freely. No special conditions attach to them, and Fellows may spend their grant funds in any manner they deem necessary to their work. " Vonnegut apparently received one of these fellowships in order to write what he continues to refer to as his famous book about Dresden.
The attack on the city of Dresden took place in the final months of WWII. Over a three-day time period, 722 British Royal Air Force bombers and 527 U.S. Air Force bombers dropped 3,900 tons of bombs on the city, destroying 1,600 acres of the city and killing between 22,700 and 25,000 people. Because the destruction took place so late in the war, the justification for the bombing has become cause for controversy. (This annotation contains a link)
Read again the song about Yon Yonson. What comment do you think Vonnegut is making about the bombing of Dresden by comparing it to this song?
See the map below to put the setting of Vonnegut's story into context. Halle is located southwest of the capitol of Berlin. (This annotation contains an image)
In literature, what is another name for the villain of a novel?
Anthropology is the study of humans, past and present. (This annotation contains an image)
A mimeograph machine or stencil duplicator was a low-cost printing device which worked by forcing ink through a stencil onto paper. (This annotation contains an image)
Hiroshima was the first city in history to be destroyed by an atomic bomb when the U.S. Air Force targeted it in August 1945, near the end of WWII. (This annotation contains an image)
Watch the following video on types of irony before you access the next question. (This annotation contains a video)
Which type of irony is depicted in this example?
John Wayne was an American actor from the 1930s through the 1970s. Better known as an actor in Westerns, he made films supportive of the war effort during World War II. (This annotation contains an image)
Re-read the description of the Crusaders and look up any unfamiliar words. How would you summarize the contrasting depictions of the Crusaders in your own words?
Read the following website story about the Children's Crusade and compare it to the story Vonnegut told. Think about the reasons why numerous conflicting accounts of historical events exist. (This annotation contains a link)
The attached painting depicts Dresden as it would have looked before the bombing. The German quote below by Goethe tells of the destruction still visible when he visited over 10 years later. (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following statements about a massacre is NOT true, according to Vonnegut?
What literary device is being used to depict death in this phrase?
Watch the video below about characterization. Pay attention to the details that the author reveals about the character of Billy Pilgrim and determine whether Billy is a static or dynamic character. (This annotation contains a video)
Illium is a fictitious city in New York which is the setting for several Vonnegut novels.
Which cause/effect statement is correct according to the text?
Shock treatments, also known as electroconvulsive therapy or electroshock, is a psychiatric treatment in which seizures are induced in patients to provide relief for psychiatric illnesses. For more information, see the link below. (This annotation contains a link)
Note that, through this flashback from Billy's time with the Tralfamadorians, the reader now understands the repetition of this phrase throughout the course of the novel.
Vonnegut uses a number of literary devices in this paragraph. Which sentence contains an example of a metaphor?
Vox humana, which is Latin for "human voice," is a setting on an organ which is meant to mimic the human voice. Vox celeste, which means heavenly voice, is a setting in which two tones are slightly off-tune in order to create a beating effect. To hear an organ with the vox celeste setting, click on the link below. (This annotation contains a link)
Based on what you have read so far of Billy's study of the Tralfamadorians, explain why this event is described by Billy as a Tralfamadorian adventure.
For more extensive information on the Battle of the Bulge and its significance during World War II, click on the link below. (This annotation contains a link)
Based on context clues, what would be the best definition for the word "incompetent" in this sentence?
While the Iron Maiden was a supposed Medieval torture device, there is no record of one before the late 1700s, and that reference has been proven to be a hoax. It is questionable whether these devices were ever actually used for torture. (This annotation contains an image)
Go back and note the details about Weary that have been revealed to the reader so far. Use this information to answer the next question. (This annotation contains an image)
Is the character of Weary static or dynamic? Using the information you've gathered on Weary as evidence, create a character description of Weary which answers this question.
Based on the quotes in the German phrase book, what does the text suggest about the Allied opinion of the war?
Throughout much of Chapter 2, the reader hears Billy's thoughts and feelings. In this section, Weary's thoughts and feelings are also shared. Which point of view is indicated through these details?
It is fairly easy for the reader to make connections between the pre-birth experience and the red light and bubbling sounds described by Vonnegut. In a paragraph, create an explanation for the violet light and hum associated with death.
The linked article contains more information on Private Slovik, who was convinced he would receive a dishonorable discharge and jail time (rather than execution) for desertion. (This annotation contains a link)
Which of the following is not a reason that Billy's father-in-law recommended he call himself Billy?
Think about the video on irony which you watched previously. What is ironic about Weary being ditched in this episode?
Do you consider Billy to be a static or a dynamic character? Use textual evidence to support your answer.
According to Internet sources, polishing with a deer bone is a proven method to keep leather shoes and boots clean and smooth. Bones have natural oils and the perfect density to remove scratches from boots and add shine without causing damage to the surface.
The definition of an optometer is "an instrument for testing the refractive power of the eye." This is generally the device used by opticians to determine the power of glasses or contact lenses needed to correct someone's eyesight. (This annotation contains an image)
Based on the details in the text and the annotation, which statement best describes Billy's father-in-law's politics?
Earl Warren was a Republican and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from 1953 to 1969. Under his leadership, the Supreme Court got rid of both public school segregation and public-school-sponsored prayer, considered quite liberal decisions. The John Birch Society is a right-wing political group which supports anti-Communism and limited government. (This annotation contains an image)
How might Billy's knowledge of Tralfamadorian philosophy about life affect Billy's views of war?
Croesus was the Iron-age king of Lydia who was renowned for his wealth. He is credited with issuing the first gold coins. The simile "as rich as Croesus" has come to mean anyone who has incredible wealth. (This annotation contains an image)
Based on textual evidence, which of the following statements is a logical conclusion which can be drawn about Billy's state of mind?
St. Elmo's fire is a glow discharge similar to neon, except that it is naturally occurring. The phenomena is seen during electrical storms, usually attached to a pointed object such as the mast of a ship. (This annotation contains an image)
Notice that this is the first reference to a first-person narrator since Chapter 1. In fact, a first-person narrator would not know the thoughts and feelings of the other characters. Vonnegut's use of himself as an omniscient first-person narrator is unusual.
This is the second time that the soldiers have been referred to as children. On the previous page, a reference to Wild Bob stated, "The was a man who had lost an entire regiment, about 4500 men--a lot of them children, actually." What connection can you make between these references and the sub-title of the book, "The Children's Crusade"?
Note Vonnegut's use of color imagery in the text. In the previous chapter, orange and black stripes were used to denote prison cars. What comment on marriage might Vonnegut be making through this repetition of these colors on the wedding tent? Likewise, the author previously made note of the ivory and blue feet of the dead. Here again he references these colors in his own feet.
Keeping in mind that Vonnegut is describing this scene in reverse order, what can the reader infer about the role of women in the war effort?
Note here the Tralfamadorian philosophy of life. Go back and re-read the Tralfamadorian philosophy about death in Chapter 2. What is one theme that Vonnegut seems to be portraying in this novel? (This annotation contains an image)
Which literary device is illustrated in the highlighted text?
How is the experience of the American soldiers similar to and different from that of the Jews in the linked excerpt? Consider how Vonnegut may have used similar source material in crafting this scene.
Read the following excerpt from a website about the Auschwitz Concentration Camp: "The people who were sent to the left, which was the majority of those who arrived at Auschwitz, were never told that they had been chosen for death. The entire mass murder system depended on keeping this secret from its victims. If the victims had known they were headed to their death, they would most definitely have fought back. But they didn't know, so the victims latched onto the hope that the Nazis wanted them to believe. Having been told that they were going to be sent to work, the masses of victims believed it when they were told they first needed to be disinfected and have showers. The victims were ushered into an ante-room, where they were told to remove all their clothing. Completely naked, these men, women, and children were then ushered into a large room that looked like a big shower room (there were even fake shower heads on the walls). When the doors shut, a Nazi would pour Zyklon-B pellets into an opening (in the roof or through a window) which would turn into poison gas once it contacted air. The gas killed quickly, but it was not instantaneous. Victims, finally realizing that this was not a shower room, clambered over each other, trying to find a pocket of breathable air. Others would claw at the doors until their fingers bled."
Wikipedia describes Valley of the Dolls as "a novel by American writer Jacqueline Susann, published in 1966. The "dolls" within the title is a slang term for pills used only by Susann. The term dolls also represents the women in the novel and their mishandling by the patriarchal world in which they are "played" by and dealt with as mere toys. The term also represents the women's reliance on stimulants and soporifics and how it is reminiscent of children clinging to toy dolls for comfort."
Watch the following video on the pacing of a novel. Note that, while novels on earth contain pacing, Tralfamadorian novels do not because the story never unfolds; the reader sees the entire book all at the same time. (This annotation contains a video)
Based on the text, which adjective best describes Billy's reaction to the Grand Canyon? Feel free to use an online dictionary to look up any unfamiliar vocabulary terms.
What detail about the English soldiers would have initially surprised the American prisoners the most?
The tone of the German camp is very similar to the that of a popular American sit-com called Hogan's Heroes, which takes place in a German POW camp. Hogan's Heroes ran from 1965 to 1971. (This annotation contains a video)
The Red Badge of Courage is an American war novel, following the story of a private in the Union Army, Henry Fleming. After he runs from battle, he longs for a war wound, a "red badge of courage." When his company again goes into battle, he becomes the flag bearer. (This annotation contains an image)
The Brothers Karamazov is a 19th-century Russian novel. It is described as a philosophical novel which "enters deeply into the ethical debates of God, free will, and morality. It is a spiritual drama of moral struggles concerning faith, doubt, and reason, set against a modernizing Russia." (This annotation contains an image)
What literary device does Vonnegut use to describe the bubbles in this paragraph?
The following are acronyms for different women's forces during WWII: WACS - Women's Army Corps; WAVES - Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services (Navy); SPARS - U.S. Coast Guard Women's Reserve; WAFS - Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron.
Note here that we have a direct reference to the sub-title of the book and the reason for it.
If Billy knew he was going crazy and he didn't want to marry Valencia, why do you think he continues his engagement to her? Use textual evidence to support your answer.
According to the aliens in Kilgore Trout's book, the original Gospel's message was "Before you kill somebody, make absolutely sure he isn't well connected." The problem with this message was that it seemed to imply there were right people to lynch. Which statement below is true according to the new Gospel?
This is an example of the type of picture that was on Billy's refrigerator. Billy isn't able to think anything about the couple. Can you create a backstory for this couple? (This annotation contains an image)
Based on the Tralfamadorian explanation for the way Earthlings view life, which adjective would best describe this view?
Note Billy's response here to the Tralfamadorian philosophy of only concentrating on good times. While the Tralfamadorians clearly send Billy the message that he is being stupid by asking how to achieve a peaceful planet, Billy is far too polite to point out the naïveté of the Tralfamadorian philosophy. Do you agree more with Billy's search for world peace or the Tralfamadorian philosophy that wars are always going to happen, so we should just ignore them?
Note how Vonnegut writes this statement almost as a Tralfamadorian observation, even though this section doesn't mention the aliens at all. Why might Vonnegut have chosen this wording?
An epitaph is an inscription on a tombstone. Make a prediction about what statement Billy (and Vonnegut) thought would make a good epitaph. Then advance to the next page to see if your prediction was correct.
Watch the following excerpt from War Horse and note the similarities and differences between the two scenes. (This annotation contains a video)
Based on textual evidence, which statement would the British most agree with?
The following article from the Ames, Iowa Historical Society does an excellent job describing the impact of rationing during WWII: (This annotation contains a link)
Campbell is a fictional character who appears in another Vonnegut novel--Mother Night. Mother Night is described as "the fictional memoirs of Howard W. Campbell Jr., an American, who moved to Germany in 1923 at age 11, approx. five years after World War I ended, and then later became alternately a well-known playwright and Nazi propagandist. The action of the novel is narrated by Campbell himself. The premise is that he is writing his memoirs while awaiting trial for war crimes in an Israeli prison."
"Avuncular" means kind and tolerant, like an uncle. Based on this definition, what conclusion can you make about the American army?
Based on context clues, what word best describes Barbara's tone in this sentence?
Note the differences in the Tralfamadorians' treatment of Montana and Billy. Why do you think they talked to Billy on his trip to Tralfamadore, while they kept Montana unconscious and didn't converse with her?
What is ironic about Vonnegut's description here of "ghostly candles"?
Golgotha ("the place of the skull" in Greek) was the site of Jesus' crucifixion and the place where the Romans executed insurrectionists. Think about what type of sounds would be associated with Golgotha and why Vonnegut would have chosen this word to use as an adjective here.
A sociopath is defined as a person with a psychopathic personality whose behavior is antisocial, often criminal, and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience. Note Lazzaro's treatment of the dog and his obsession with revenge. Decide whether these details qualify him as a sociopath.
Based on details in the preceding paragraph, which of the following statements is correct?
"The Spirit of '76" is an iconic painting of the Revolutionary War by Archibald MacNeal Willard. (This annotation contains an image)
Based on previous details from the novel, which of the Englishman's statements is most ironic?
Click on the link below and think about the four adjectives used to describe Dresden: intricate, voluptuous, enchanted, absurd. Try to find pictures in the archive which would illustrate each of these adjectives. (This annotation contains a link)
Why do you think Vonnegut includes these details of Dresden in the novel?
Why would Billy not try to stop the flight and save everyone on board? Use Tralfamadorian logic to support your answer.
Watch the following video on emerging themes and consider which themes Vonnegut seems to be supporting through the novel. (This annotation contains a video)
Time Magazine has this to say about golliwogs: "Golliwog dolls — named after a blackface minstrel-like character in Florence Kate Upton and Bertha Upton's 1895 book The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg — were enormously popular in England and elsewhere in the first half of the 20th century but fell out of fashion, for obvious reasons, starting in the civil rights era of the 1960s. The offensive figurines came roaring back into the public eye in February, however, when a shop on the Queen of England's estate was found to be selling them. They were quickly taken off the shelves, but more "gollies" surfaced in another English shop in May. "We sold out of them last time," explained the store manager. 'A lot of people had them in their childhood and now want them for their grandchildren.' Some things are better left in the past." (This annotation contains an image)
Breslau, which is now Wrocław, Poland, was the site of a three-month long siege by Soviet forces which ended with the end of WWII. Both the Soviets and the SS were responsible for destroying 80 to 90% of the city. On the map below, you can see its proximity to Dresden. (This annotation contains an image)
Based on textual evidence, which of the following themes most closely aligns with the actions in the paragraph?
We learned about the fictional character of Howard W. Campbell, Jr. in Chapter 5. Based on your knowledge of WWII, why would Americans fighting with the German army want to be posted only on the Russian front?
Nutrient deficiency can lead to a whole host of problems. Look over the linked list and see if you can decide which vitamin deficiencies Vonnegut is describing. (This annotation contains a link)
Read a summary of the Pardoner's Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer before moving on to the next question. (This annotation contains a link)
After reading the Pardoner's Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer, consider the similarities shared with Kilgore Trout's story. What do the two stories have in common and what common theme can be formulated about the two stories?
Based on context clues, which definition for the word "impudent" best defines the use of the word in this sentence?
Trout here is explaining one side of a centuries-old religious argument--salvation based on faith or salvation based on works? See the link below to explore the argument further. (This annotation contains a link)
It's interesting to note here that Billy himself doesn't understand his reaction to the quartet. With Billy's time traveling and extra-terrestrial experiences, Vonnegut has so far created a character who seems to approach the world calmly and unemotionally. How can you account for this episode of semi-amnesia?
What is Billy inferring about his son in this sentence?
Below you'll find an audio interview with Victor Gregg, who was a British soldier and prisoner of war in Dresden when the bombing took place. Listen to his account of the bombing before answering the next question. (This annotation contains a link)
How does Billy's experience during the bombing of Dresden compare and contrast with Victor Gregg's interview?
Which literary device is NOT used in the description of the Cadillac?
Watch the following video clip from the movie Slaughterhouse Five. Note the similarities and differences in the scene vs. the text. (This annotation contains a video)
According to Wikipedia, go-go girls were "dancers who were employed to entertain crowds at clubs where music is played. Go-go dancing originated in the early 1960s. Many 1960s-era clubgoers wore miniskirts and knee-high, high-heeled boots, which eventually came to be called go-go boots, to night clubs. Night club promoters in the mid‑1960s then conceived the idea of hiring women dressed in these outfits to entertain patrons." (This annotation contains an image)
Re-read the excerpts by Harry Truman, Ira Eaker and Sir Robert Saundby. How would each man respond to the theme "the senselessness of war"?
Based on Rumfoord's tone, with which of the following statements would he probably agree?
The idea that Rumfoord is expressing here is commonly referred to as "survival of the fittest." While this phrase is often associated with Charles Darwin, it was actually Herbert Spencer who used it first. (This annotation contains a link)
The possibility of enjoying a sunny afternoon in a wagon in the midst of incredible destruction would be an example of which literary device?
You may remember learning about epigraphs at the beginning of this book. Here Vonnegut explains why he chose a stanza from "Away in the Manger" as the epigraph and how it connects to a theme in the novel. Try to state, in one sentence if possible, a theme for the novel which would connect to this epigraph.
George Jean Nathan was an American drama critic who coincidentally lived through the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II. He was once quoted as saying, "Patriotism is an arbitrary veneration of real estate above principles." Using textual evidence, how might this quote be used as one theme of this novel?
Note how this entire scene is incredibly ironic: first, that Billy is reading about Jesus in a porn shop; next, that he just happens to see a magazine about a "missing" woman with whom he is living on Tralfamadore; last, that Jesus, who was certainly larger than life in history, was only 5' 3" tall according to Kilgore Trout. Even Billy sees the irony in this situation.
"Blue movie" is a middle-Eastern term for an adult film. Here Montana uses this term as a metaphor for the execution of Edgar Derby. Based on this metaphor, which statement about war most closely aligns with Montana's viewpoint?
Adolphe Menjou was an American actor whose successful career spanned both silent films and talkies. (This annotation contains an image)
What can you infer is the reason Germans were not permitted into the ruins of Dresden, but Americans were?
Below you can find the official movie trailer for Slaughterhouse Five. (This annotation contains a video)
In the movie trailer you just watched, think about the key scenes depicted in the trailer. Choose two scenes that you believe were most accurately depicted in the trailer and explain why you believe these were chosen as key scenes from the novel. Feel free to go back and re-watch the trailer if needed.