Slaughterhouse-Five: Novel Summary: Chapter 3
Two of the German soldiers are in their early teens while two others are old men. They are all farmers and the dog was borrowed from a farm that morning. Their commander is a veteran who is sick of the war. The commander is wearing golden boots that he took from a dead Hungarian on the Russian front. When Billy looks into the boots he sees a beautiful vision of Adam and Eve. To Billy one of the soldiers, a blond fifteen-year old boy, is as beautiful as Eve. While the soldiers search Billy and Roland they hear the sound of three gunshots. It is the sound of the two scouts being killed by a German ambush. The commanding soldier takes all of Weary's possessions, including the picture of the woman and the pony, and gives them to his soldiers. He takes Weary's boots and gives him the boys' clogs. They make Billy and Roland march to a stone cottage that is being used as a collection point for prisoners. The prisoners, about twenty in all, are silent and listless. Billy falls asleep on the shoulder of a rabbi chaplain.
Billy travels in time to 1967 during a moment in his optometry examining room. He tells a female patient that she needs glasses. He looks out the window of his office and views a sea of automobiles, including his own Cadillac El Dorado Coupe de Ville, in the mall's parking lot. He turns his attention to an optometry magazine and is startled when a noon siren goes off at the nearby firehouse. He awakes back in the war to a German soldier kicking him because it is time to leave the stone cottage. The American prisoners form a line for marching while some German photographers stage a scene in which Billy pretends to be captured by some German soldiers. While the capture is being staged Billy travels forward to 1967 when he is driving his Cadillac through Illium's black ghetto which had recently been burned in a race riot. A black man taps on the window of Billy's car but Billy drives on. He passes the neighborhood where he grew up but it has been transformed by urban renewal into a series of high rise buildings. Billy doesn't mind. At the Lion's club he listens to a Marine major defend the war in Vietnam. Billy doesn't have a political stance and is happy simply having lunch at the club. In Billy's office there is a framed prayer that reads:
God grant me
the serenity to accept.
the things I cannot change,
to change the things I can,
and wisdom always
to tell the
Billy knows that among the things he cannot change is the past, present and future. Billy meets the Marine major who, upon learning that Billy's son is a Green Beret, admonishes Billy to be proud of his son to which Billy responds that he most certainly is proud. After the luncheon Billy goes home to take a doctor-prescribed nap. The doctor has prescribed the naps because sometimes Billy, unknown to anyone but the doctor, weeps silently. Billy's home is a lovely Georgian style building. In addition to the house Billy owns a share in the town's new Holiday Inn and three Tastee-Freeze stands. The house is empty because his wife and daughter are out shopping for his daughter's approaching wedding. Billy is alone in the house because his dog, Spot, had died some time earlier. Billy crawls into bed and activates the Magic-Fingers massage function. Instead of sleeping he begins to cry. The doorbell sounds but Billy doesn't answer because he can see that the caller is one of several cripples working the block for phony magazine subscriptions. He returns to Luxembourg and the war.
Billy and the other prisoners march with their hands on their heads. Billy is bobbing up and down because of the broken heel and he occasionally bumps into Roland Weary whose own feet, poorly clad in clogs, are turning to bloody pulps. At each crossroads other groups of prisoners join the columns. Trucks full of hardy German reserves pass them on their way to the front. As the prisoners cross the border into Germany they pass a film crew set up to chronicle the battle. The camera crew is out of film. Eventually the prisoners reach a rail yard where many boxcars are waiting to take them further into Germany. The soldiers separate the men by rank and begin to stuff them into boxcars. One American officer, crazed by pneumonia, tells Billy that "If you're ever in Cody, Wyoming, just ask for Wild Bob!" Vonnegut interjects at this point to say that both he and Bernard O'Hare were there at that moment.
Billy and Roland are put in separate boxcars. Billy climbs into the corner of his car so he can see out the ventilator. He sees Germans spray painting the contents of each car on its side. One of the prisoners in the car with Billy is a hobo who blandly states that he has "been in worse places than this. This ain't so bad." A prisoner in another car calls out that one of the prisoners in his car has died. The guards don't seem to care and instead open the door to their own car which, much to Billy's fascination, is warm and cozy inside with a hot dinner waiting. Later the guards come out of their car smoking cigars and remove the dead American. It is Wild Bob. During the night some of the trains begin to pull out of the station. They have orange and black flags indicating they are carrying prisoners and should not be bombed. Billy's train, however, does not move for two days because all the prisons are full. During the two days that they wait the prisoners are not allowed to leave their cars. To the guards the boxcars become organisms that take in food and water and excrete piss and shit through their ventilators. Finally, the train with Billy's car begins to slowly move eastward. Billy is not aware of it but Christmas day comes and goes. On Christmas night he sleeps spooned up with the hobo on the floor of the boxcar. Billy travels through time to the night he was kidnapped by the flying saucer.
In the course of this chapter we learn some details of Billy's middle-aged years. He has lucrative investments, the appreciation of his peers, a large home and a fine automobile. Amid all this plenty, however, he suffers from spells of weeping which indicate a troubled psyche. These details are juxtaposed with the time he spent waiting in the prison boxcars during which he was powerless and miserable. The curious glimpse he gets of the plush interior of the guard's boxcar juxtaposes nicely with the details of his middle-aged years and serves to impress upon the reader the transitory (literal in the case of the boxcar) nature of wealth and comfort.