Slaughterhouse-Five: Novel Summary: Chapter 9
Valencia is hysterical with grief and worry when she hears that Billy has been in the plane crash and that he might die. While driving the Cadillac from Illium to the hospital in Vermont she hits the brakes at the wrong moment and is rear-ended by a Mercedes. The back of the Cadillac is destroyed but Valencia, babbling incoherently about Billy to the driver of the Mercedes, drives off, leaving the Cadillac's exhaust system in the median strip. When she arrives as the hospital she collapses on the steering column. She has carbon monoxide poisoning from the exhaust and she soon dies.
Billy is unaware of his wife's death because he is sleeping and dreaming and traveling in time. He shares a room with Bertram Copeland Rumfoord who has broken his leg skiing. Rumfoord is seventy years old, a Harvard history professor and is in fantastic shape. He is in Vermont honeymooning with his fifth wife Lily who is twenty-three years old. At the moment that Valencia is pronounced dead Lily enters the room with a stack of library books for Rumfoord. The books are about famous bombings and sky battles and Rumfoord plans to use them in his history of the United States Army Air Corps in World War Two. Lily, whose I.Q. is 103 and previously worked as a go-go girl, complains that Billy, who talks in this sleep, scares her. Rumfoord says that he bores him. Rumfoord makes Lilly read a copy of Harry S. Truman's announcement concerning the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Lilly can't read very well but she pretends to read it anyway. One of the books Lilly has brought is The Destruction of Dresden witch has forewords by two of Rumfoord's friends. Both men acknowledge that the destruction of Dresden was a tragedy but that in the context of the war to defeat Nazism it was simply one of the mistakes that were inevitable. One of the writers observes that proponent of nuclear disarmament forget that whereas the atomic bomb killed 71,379 people in Hiroshima conventional weapons killed 135,000 people in Dresden.
Billy's daughter comes to see him. She is doped up from pills the doctors have given her to help her cope with her grief. Billy, however, is traveling in time. First he is in 1958 prescribing lenses and then he is a teenager waiting in a doctor's office with an old man who suffers from chronic flatulence. He eventually comes to in the Vermont hospital and sees his son, who was such a malcontent as a teenager, home from Vietnam. His son looks fit and polished in his Green Beret uniform.
Billy is still in the hospital on the day that Valencia is buried. The doctor's believe he has brain damage because he is unresponsive when in fact his mind is excitedly contemplating all the wonderful things he will write and say about flying saucers and the nature of death. One day Rumfoord is telling Lilly that one of the problems with his book is that he must include a section about the bombing of Dresden but because the raid's success has until recently been kept secret there isn't much information available. At this point Billy says, "I was there." Rumfoord, who considers Billy a babbling vegetable, fails to take him seriously even when Billy answers that he was in Dresden. Rumfoord assumes Billy has echolalia but the doctor's fail to evoke a response. The doctors and nurses don't like Rumfoord because he assumes that most people are weak and deserve to die. Billy tries his best to convince the skeptical Rumfoord that he was in Dresden when it was bombed but Rumfoord continues to doubt him. Billy travels back in time to the ruins of the city when he was riding in a coffin-shaped horse drawn wagon with some of the other prisoners. They are returning to the slaughterhouse to look for souvenirs. The war has been over for two days and the Russian soldiers who are rumored to be coming have not yet arrived. Billy is happy in the back of the wagon and he suns himself amid all the nice things the POWs have found in people's houses. Billy, for the first time since training, has a weapon. It is an antique from the First World War. He also has a Luftwaffe saber. Billy wakes up when he hears a German couple examining the horses. They scold Billy for the animals' poor condition. When Billy sees that the horse's mouths are bloody and their hooves broken and that they are insane with thirst he bursts into tears. It is the only time he cried during the war. Later in life Billy would occasionally cry silently but never out loud. This is why, Vonnegut explains, he resembles the Christ child in the carol at the beginning of the book.
Billy travels forward in time to the hospital in Vermont. It is shortly after breakfast and Rumfoord, who now believes Billy, has asked him about Dresden so Billy tells him the story about the horse. Billy tells Rumfoord that before anyone could help the horses Russian soldiers had arrived an taken everyone, except the horses, prisoner and then two days later Billy and a lot of other prisoners were turned over to the Americans. Rumfoord defends the bombing of Dresden and Billy explains that to him everything is all right because of what the Tralfamadorians have taught him. Billy's daughter takes him home that day and leaves a nurse to watch over him but Billy sneaks off to New York City. Billy checks into the Royalton Hotel and after watching the people on the pavement far below and unsuccessfully searching on the television for a program that might allow him to appear he goes for a walk in Times Square. Billy notices that four Kilgore Trout novels are on display in the window of a tawdry bookstore so he goes inside. In the back of the store are peep shows and photographs of naked girls but Billy picks up one of the Trout novels and realizes he has read it before. It is about a couple that are kidnapped by aliens and put on display in a zoo. The aliens rig a fake stock ticker and telephones and tell the captives that they have invested one million dollars for them in the stock market and it's up to the couple to manage the money wisely so they'd be rich when the got home. The whole thing is a hoax to make the earthlings do entertaining things while on display in the zoo. Another book is about a man who builds a time machine so he can see Jesus as a twelve-year old. Jesus and his father are given a job to build a wooden cross for a rabble-rouser. They are happy to have the work. One of the owners of the bookstore tells Billy that the good stuff is in the back. Billy politely walks to the back but he continues to read the novel. In the story the time traveler witnesses Jesus' execution and then uses a stethoscope to make sure that the Son of God is truly dead. He measures Jesus and finds him to be five feet and three and a half inches long. One of the clerks approaches Billy and asks if he intends to buy what the clerk assumes is a dirty book. The clerk is surprised to find that Billy wants to buy the window dressing. Billy notices that an old magazine contains a story about what really became of Montana Wildhack. The story asserts that she is dead at the bottom of San Pedro Bay but Billy knows she is actually caring for their baby on Tralfamadore. Billy looks into a peep show movie projector and sees an old film of Montana in bed with a banana. The clerk calls him to the counter and shows him a picture of a woman attempting intercourse with a Shetland pony on a curtained stage flanked by Doric columns.
That night Billy goes into a radio station next to the hotel and joins a group of literary critics who are discussing whether or not the novel is dead. They assume Billy is also a literary critic until his turn comes to speak and he begins talking about the Tralfamadorians and Montana Wildhack. During a commercial break he is gently expelled from the studio. He goes back to his hotel room and falls asleep. He travels in time to Tralfamadore. Montana is breast-feeding their baby and she notices that Billy has been traveling in time again and he tells her that he visited New York. He tells her that he saw one of her blue movies and she gets defensive and says that she's heard how he was such a clown during the war and that the high-school teacher who was shot made a sort of blue movie with the firing squad. Hanging between Montana's breasts is a heart-shaped locket containing a grainy picture of her alcoholic mother. On the other side is an engraving that reads:
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
In this chapter Billy achieves a catharsis on two levels. First, the injuries he receives in the plane crash destabilize him and allow him to discuss the lessons he learned while on Tralfamadore. Second, the sight of the wounded horses leads him to shed real tears for the suffering brought about by the war. Suffering animals are used often in war literature to convey the indescribable and often suppressed suffering of men. The scenes in which Billy finally cries at the sight of the horses, though he has had many reasons to cry until that point, underscores his humanity and the horror he has experienced in the ruined city.
Fact and fiction blend in this chapter so that the reader is left to wonder if he or she is to assume that the Tralfamadore experience truly occurred or if it is merely a creation of Billy's damaged brain. For instance, the poem that Montana wears on her locket is the same as that which hangs in Billy's office. Ultimately, it's not important whether the Tralfamadorian episodes are true or not because they serve to illustrate the manner in which Billy has learned to deal with the horrors of the war. Billy's discussion with Rumfoord, though arguably more fact than fiction, underscore the extent to which Billy has learned to assimilate the destruction of Dresden into his world view. He does not contest Rumfoord's assertion that the raid was not inspired by evil and was simply an unfortunate accident. On the contrary, he wholeheartedly agrees because he feels that all of existence is simply one great accident playing itself out.