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Slaughterhouse Five Discussion Questions

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 2/17/2012

Billy Pilgrim can't make sense of the war, but we can make sense of Slaughterhouse Five with these thoughtful discussion questions.

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    Impress your teachers by preparing ahead of time for class discussion:

    Question: What is the significance of the title of the novel?

    Answer: Slaughterhouse Five is where Billy Pilgrim, Kurt Vonnegut, and about a hundred other Americans were imprisoned in Dresden, Germany toward the end of World War II. The fire bombing of Dresden is the central and unifying event in the novel.

    Question: What evidence is there that Billy Pilgrim is insane?

    Answer: (1) He speaks of being kidnapped by Tralfamadorians and being kept in a zoo with actress Montana Wildhack, with whom he mates; (2) He checks himself into a mental hospital in 1948 because his life no longer has meaning; (3) Billy claims he travels through time; (4) Billy sobs uncontrollably after the war, a sign of post traumatic stress disorder; (5) Billy needs a vibrating bed in order to sleep at night and falls asleep while giving eye examinations.

    Question: Why does Vonnegut structure the novel so strangely?

    Answer: Vonnegut felt there was no logic in war and a traditional structure to his novel would not reflect war's absurdity. In short, the novel's structure matches its theme.

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    Question: What proof is there that Billy actually served in the war and didn't just imagine it in his mad ramblings?

    Answer: The single biggest proof to Billy's war experience are the seemingly random path crossing with the author. Valencia questions Billy about the war on his wedding night and at his 18th wedding anniversary in chapter 8, Billy reflects on the faces of the four guards during the bombing of Dresden. He does so without the benefits of time travel.

    Question: What examples of irony are there in the novel?

    Answer: (1) Billy Pilgrim survives behind enemy lines, survives being a prisoner of war, and is the lone survivor of a plane crash despite being the least fit to survive in all cases; (2) Billy Pilgrim exercises free will in an effort to preach that there is no such thing as free will; (3) Billy can't sleep at night and can't stay awake at work; (4) Billy's backwards viewing of the war movie illustrates the cause and effect relationship between events that Tralfamadorians insist does not exist; (5) The Tralfamadorians celebrate the fact that good memories last forever, yet fail to acknowledge that Billy has no control over them and that he is forced to relive his war experience over and over.

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    Suggested Essay Topics

    Looking for a good essay topic? These ideas may be just what you're looking for. Check out the rest of the study guide for ideas on how to address the topics.

    1. The purpose and effect of the novel's plot structure on the overall meaning of the work
    2. Billy Pilgrim as a doppleganger for Kurt Vonnegut
    3. The purpose of Vonnegut's authorial intrusions
    4. Slaughterhouse Five as a satire
    5. Slaughterhouse Five as Science Fiction
    6. Free will or the lack of it
    7. The complications with time travel
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