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by Kurt Vonnegut
Billy Pilgrim Timeline and Summary
Billy Pilgrim is an optometry school student in upstate New York when he is drafted to join the army in 1944. He is sent to Luxembourg to fight the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge. He gets lost behind enemy lines and falls in with a bullying 18-year old, Roland Weary. He becomes unstuck in time and starts jumping around to random moments in his life without warning. He gets taken prisoner and is sent to a POW compound just inside the German border. Weary dies of gangrene on the way. At the compound, Billy meets Paul Lazzaro and Edgar Derby. Lazzaro swears revenge on Billy for Weary's death. Billy and Edgar Derby are sent on to Dresden, Germany, to live in an abandoned slaughterhouse. Billy and Derby both survive the Dresden firestorm, but Derby is later executed for stealing a teapot from the ruins. After the war ends, Billy is sent home to upstate New York, where he finishes his optometry degree. He gets engaged to Valencia Merble and has a nervous breakdown. Billy recovers, marries Valencia, has two children (Robert and Barbara), and settles down to make lots of money in optometry. In 1968 Billy gets into a plane crash on his way to an optometry conference in Montreal. He has a terrible skull fracture. Valencia dies of carbon monoxide poisoning on her way to see him in the hospital. Billy recovers from the skull fracture and then runs away from the hospital. He goes to New York City to tell the world about the planet Tralfamadore, where he claims to have spent lots of time. This is possible without anyone noticing because he is a time-traveler. Billy tells the world that the Tralfamadorians believe that time does not move forward. Every individual moment in time happens at the exact same time as every other moment, so the past, the present, and the future are illusions. Also, because the future cannot possibly be changed, humans do not have free will. We should just sit back and accept that life is the way it is. Barbara Pilgrim, Billy's daughter, hears that he has been telling the world about his travels in a Tralfamadorian flying saucer. She feels that Billy has gone senile, so she threatens to put him in an old-age home along with his mother.