by Kurt Vonnegut
Slaughterhouse-Five Men and Masculinity Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Section.Paragraph)
A German measured Billy's upper right arm with his thumb and forefinger, asked a companion what sort of an army would send a weakling like that to the front. They looked at other American bodies now, pointed out a lot more that were nearly as bad as Billy's. (4.17.5)
Not only is Vonnegut seriously challenging all the heroic stereotypes of the war genre; he is also specifically criticizing the idea that American bodies are the best in the world. These patriotic stereotypes get turned on their ears in Slaughterhouse-Five, where nearly all the American soldiers are pretty busted. As America throws more troops at World War II, many of the recruits are too young, too old, or not athletic enough to be there. Still, war demands bodies, no matter what they look like.
The Englishmen were clean and enthusiastic and decent and strong. They sang boomingly well. They had been singing together every night for years.
The Englishmen had also been lifting weights and chinning themselves for years. Their bellies were like washboards. The muscles of their calves and upper arms were like cannonballs. They were all masters of checkers and chess and bridge and cribbage and dominoes and anagrams and charades and Ping-Pong and billiards, as well. (5.12.5)
The Englishmen have been living in captivity for years, eating and resting and staying warm. Meanwhile, the rest of Europe has been suffering and dying. There is a total irony here: the people who are actually fighting the war are ill-equipped boys, and the men who wish they were fighting the war are all cooped up in this compound in the middle of a German prison for Russians.
Most Tralfamadorians had no way of knowing Billy's body and face were not beautiful. They supposed that he was a splendid specimen. This had a pleasant effect on Billy, who began to enjoy his body for the first time. (5.40.1)
Everything is relative. The only reason everyone thinks Billy looks like a clownish, unattractive fellow is because we have billions of other humans to compare him to. Billy also loves to conform to other people's ideas: when everyone thinks he looks like a fool during the war, he dresses like a clown. When the Tralfamadorians think he is a perfect specimen of manhood, he starts to groom himself and exercise.