Quote: “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.” (Chapter 1).
Analysis: Slaughterhouse Five is an anti-war book. Who better to understand the horrors of war than those who fought in it.
Quote: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom always to tell the difference.” Among the things Billy Pilgrim could not change were the past, the present, and the future.” (Chapter 3).
Analysis: This quote provides an excellent example of meiosis, or deliberate understatement. Billy has no control over anything that happens in his life and he has accepted it.
Quote: “I am a Tralfamadorian, seeing all time as you might see a stretch of the Rocky Mountains. All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is.” (Chapter 4).
Analysis: Billy, unable to confront the atrocities he has experienced, resigns himself to the Tralfamadorian philosophy that he has no control over his life and creates a make believe escape through the novels of Kilgore Trout and time-traveling hallucinations (if, in fact, they are hallucinations).
Quote: “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.” (Chapter 10).
Analysis: One of many authorial intrusions, Vonnegut interjects that he is not fully convinced that Billy Pilgrim’s time-traveling escapades are true. In fact, he hopes they are not. He does, however, take an optimistic view on the subject and thinks of all the nice moments in his life.
Quote: “So they were trying to re-invent themselves and their universe… Science fiction was a big help.” (Chapter 4).
Analysis: Billy Pilgrim’s uncontrollable sobbing and erratic sleep patterns, signs of post traumatic stress disorder and common to soldiers, causes him to voluntarily enter a mental hospital in an effort to recognize meaning in his life. He gets that meaning through escapism, inventing an alternative time structure, aided by the literary workings of Kilgore Trout.
Quote: “If I hadn’t spent so much time studying Earthlings,” said the Tralfamadorian, “I wouldn’t have any idea what was meant by ‘free will.’ I’ve visited thirty-one inhabited planets in the universe, and I have studied reports on one hundred more. Only on Earth is there any talk of free will.” (Chapter 4).
Analysis: In order to escape the horrors of war, Billy Pilgrim creates an alternate Universe where free will does not exist. Everything exists in the moment it was framed and nothing can be done about it. How else could he explain the atrocities he witnesses as a prisoner of war? Be careful not to confuse the Tralfamadorian view of free will with that of the author. Pilgrim, for example, deliberately chooses to make his discovery about the absence of free will public. A clear cause and effect relationship of events is also demonstrated when Billy gets mildly unstuck in time and watches a war movie in reverse, where instead of blowing things up, war planes suck in weapons and make everything better.
Quote: “Poo-tee-weet?” (Chapter 10).
Analysis: Vonnegut, like Billy, can make no sense of the war. “Poo-tee-weet” is the last word of the novel, the only response to the destruction brought about from the fire bombing of Dresden.
Feel free to share your favorite Slaughterhouse Five quotes by commenting below.
This post is part of the series: Study Guide for Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
- Chapter Summaries of Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
- Important Quotes from Slaughterhouse Five with Analysis
- "Slaughterhouse Five" Central Themes
- Slaughterhouse Five Analysis: Billy Pilgrim, Irony, and Symbolism
- Slaughterhouse Five Discussion Questions