Slaughterhouse-Five: Novel Summary: Chapter 4
It is the night of Billy's daughter's wedding. His wife has fallen asleep and is snoring loudly. Billy can't sleep. He feels strange and ethereal. The stripes on the wedding tent in the back yard are orange and black. He goes into his daughter's room. Her telephone rings but it is only a drunk making late night calls. Billy goes downstairs and takes a half-empty bottle of champagne into the living room. While he waits for the flying saucer to arrive he watches a movie. He becomes slightly unstuck in time and watches the movie backwards and then forwards. It is a movie about American bomber crews in the Second World War and viewed backwards some badly damaged planes take off in reverse and fly over German cities where they suck flame and destruction into cylinders which are carefully stored in their bellies. German guns and planes suck all the damage out of the bombers and their crew. Back at the base the bombs are shipped back to the United States where women in factories reduce the bombs to innocuous minerals which are stored in the ground. Billy supposes that Hitler, along with everyone else, turns into a baby and the whole human race works to produce Adam and Eve.
Billy realizes that it is time to meet the saucer. He walks outside but does not look up because he knows what is there. He hears a sound like a melodious owl - it is the saucer. The saucer is one hundred feet in diameter. A pulsing purple light emanates from its portholes. Billy is raised into the saucer's interior by an electrified ladder. Billy finds himself in an airlock being observed through two peepholes. Using a computer and a sort of electric organ the Tralfamadorians, who normally communicate telepathically, welcome their passenger aboard and ask if he has any questions. Billy why he of all people has been selected to which the Tralfamadorians, after remarking that his is a very Earthling question, respond that they are all like bugs trapped in amber, the moment is simply structured that way and there is no why.
The Tralfamadorians put Billy to sleep and strap him into a Sears Roebuck Barca-Lounger that they have stolen, along with many other furnishings, from a warehouse. The saucer's acceleration propels Billy back in time to the war. Billy is in the boxcar travelling east further into Germany. The car is going very slowly and Billy hopes that his turn to lie down and fall asleep will come soon. Billy lowers himself to the floor but none will let him sleep beside them because he kicks and whimpers in his sleep. Billy is forced to sleep standing up. After nine days in the car the hobo dies. In the car ahead of Billy's, Roland Weary also dies on the ninth day as a result of gangrene that started in his feet. Before he died, however, Weary told everyone in his car about the Three Musketeers and made sure that everyone knew that Billy Pilgrim was to blame for their demise. On the tenth day the car comes to rest at a prison which was originally constructed as an extermination camp for Russian prisoners of war. There are still Russians there but they are sequestered from the rest of the prison by fences. The Americans are herded toward a frozen pile of overcoats. They each select a garment but Billy's is the only civilian coat in the pile. It is far too small for him, it is frozen stiff and its fur collar looks like a dead animal. The prisoners are led to a delousing station where doctors examine them. The prisoner in the best shape is also the oldest American prisoner, a man named Edgar Derby who is forty-four years old. He is a high-school teacher from Indianapolis and he has a son serving in the Pacific. Sixty-eight days after arriving in the prison camp Edgar Derby would be killed by a firing squad in Dresden. The American prisoner in the worst shape is a car thief from Cicero, Illinois named Paul Lazzaro who is covered in boils. Lazzaro was in Weary's car and swore that he would avenge him by killing Billy Pilgrim.
While the prisoners are sprayed with hot water and their clothing is deloused Billy travels back in time to when he was an infant being towel dried by his mother. He travels forward to middle age and he is playing golf with his friends. He becomes dizzy and finds himself strapped in the Barca-Lounger in the flying saucer. Billy asks where he is and the Tralfamadorian tells him that they are where they have to be, namely on their way to a time warp that will take them to Tralfamadore. Billy asks how he got there and the alien explains that the question can only be answered by another Earthling since Tralfamadorians don't see cause and effect but only the long march of time that, moment to moment, renders them little more than bugs in amber. Billy remarks that it sounds like the Tralfamadorian doesn't believe in freewill to which the alien responds that only because he has studied Earthlings for so long does he understand the question. He goes on to remark that out of 31 inhabited planets that he has visited only on Earth is there any concept of freewill.
This chapter chronicles Billy's trip to the prison and provides some details about his arrival even as it chronicles his trip to Tralfamadore and the beginning of his indoctrination into the Tralfamadorian view of existence. These two moments are tied symbolically by the orange and black markings on the prison cars and the orange and black strips on the wedding tent. Billy's encounter with the Tralfamadorian point of view, which eschews cause and effect, is underscored by the experience of watching a war movie backward so that the normal effects of cause and effect are reversed and shown to be relative to the flow of time. Similarly, the beginning of his imprisonment and loss of control over his own life parallels the Tralfamadorian assertion that freewill is an invention unique to earthlings and holds no meaning for them otherwise. The essential difference between Billy's trip in the boxcar and his trip in the flying saucer is that in the boxcar he is cold and forced to sleep standing up whereas on the flying saucer he has a comfortable chair in which to relax.