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Quotes

Quote #1

Do you know what I say to people when I hear they're writing anti-war books? . . . I say, 'Why don't you write an anti-glacier book instead?' (1.2.9-11)

These are the words of real-life director Harrison Starr to the narrator in Chapter 1. Billy Pilgrim spends most of Slaughterhouse-Five trying to survive when he has no control over his own life. Interestingly, the narrator himself seems to be struggling with a similar conceptual problem: how should he write a book against something he is pretty sure will never change? After all, if war and violence are part of human nature, how is Vonnegut supposed to imagine an alternative? But he tries, which is what distinguishes his character from Billy's.

Quote #2

You were just babies in the war – like the ones upstairs! . . . But you're not going to write it that way, are you. . . . You'll pretend you were men instead of babies, and you'll be played in the movies by Frank Sinatra and John Wayne or some of those other glamorous, war-loving, dirty old men. And war will look just wonderful, so we'll have a lot more of them. And they'll be fought by babies like the babies upstairs. (1.10.13-18)

Mary O'Hare thinks wars continue to be popular because writers glamorize the soldier's life. To counteract these kinds of stories, Slaughterhouse-Five is about the least glamorous account of life as a soldier you can imagine.

Quote #3

I have told my sons that they are not under any circumstances to take part in massacres, and that the news of massacres of enemies is not to fill them with satisfaction or glee. (1.16.1)

Billy's son Robert had a lot of trouble in high school, but then he joined the famous Green Berets. He straightened out, became a fine young man, and he fought in Vietnam. (2.4.1)

How does the narrator's treatment of his sons differ from Billy's treatment of Robert Pilgrim? Which do you think is the more ethically responsible? And why does Billy offer so little insight into Robert's character? He seems completely estranged from both his children. All this about Robert "straightening out and becoming a fine young man" reads more like a movie summary than a real assessment by a caring father of his son's character.

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