by Kurt Vonnegut
Slaughterhouse-Five Foolishness and Folly Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Section.Paragraph)
Billy Pilgrim dressed himself. He put on the little overcoat, too. It split up the back, and, at the shoulders, the sleeves came entirely free. So the coat became a fur-collared vest. It was meant to flare at its owner's waist, but the flaring took place at Billy's armpits. The Germans found him to be one of the most screamingly funny things they had seen in all of World War II. They laughed and laughed. (5.7.3)
One thing you can say about Billy is that he is completely unselfconscious. He spends much of the war looking like a fool, in a too-small coat, a blue curtain, and silver boots. But he keeps on going. Billy goes on looking like an idiot and surviving where other, self-consciously idealistic men die. We can compare him with men like Weary, who is so well equipped that he overestimates his own strength against the Germans, and Edgar Derby, who keeps up his physique and is relatively worldly wise, but still manages to get shot at the end of the war.
There at the corner, in the front rank of pedestrians, was a surgeon who had been operating all day. He was a civilian, but his posture was military. He had served in two world wars. The sight of Billy offended him, especially after he learned from the guards that Billy was an American. It seemed to him that Billy was in abominable taste, supposed that Billy had gone to a lot of silly trouble to costume himself just so.
The surgeon spoke English, and he said to Billy, "I take it you find war a very comical thing." (6.21.1-2)
No one can believe that Billy could look the way he does unintentionally. But pretty much nothing he does is intentional. He has no idea what to do or even where he is half the time. Is there ever a moment in the novel in which Billy seems to care about his appearance? When and why?
Billy Pilgrim got onto a chartered airplane in Ilium twenty-five years after [going to Slaughterhouse-Five]. He knew it was going to crash, but he didn't want to make a fool of himself by saying so. (7.1.1)
Billy claims to know his plane is going to crash, but he doesn't want to look like a fool by saying so. If he really did know, Billy could have saved a lot of lives, including his father-in-law's, by being willing to look like a fool. Billy survives the war by being lucky (and unselfconscious). When does he suddenly start to feel embarrassed or ashamed of himself?