Slaughterhouse Five
Kurt Vonnegut
Contributed by Marinda Dreiling
Chapter 7
Summary

Billy is on a plane next to his father-in-law. Billy and a number of optometrists have chartered a plane to go to a convention in Montreal. There’s a barbershop quartet on board. Billy’s father-in-law loves it when they sing songs mocking the Polish. Vonnegut mentions that in Germany Billy saw a Pole getting executed for having sex with a German girl. Billy leaps in time to his wandering behind the German lines with the two scouts and Roland Weary. He leaps in time again to the plane crash. Everyone dies but him. The plane has crashed in Vermont, and Billy is found by Austrian ski instructors. When he hears them speaking German, he thinks he’s back in the war. He is unconscious for days, and during that time he dreams about the days right before the bombing.

He remembers a boy named Werner Gluck, one of the guards. He was good-natured, as awkward and puny as Billy. One day, Gluck and Billy and Derby were looking for the kitchen. Derby and Billy were pulling a two-wheeled cart; it was their duty to bring dinner back for the boys. Gluck pulled a door open, thinking the kitchen might be there, and instead revealed naked teenage girls showering, refugees from another city that was bombed. The women scream and Gluck shuts the door. When they finally find the kitchen, an old cook talks with the trio critically and proclaims that all the real soldiers are dead. Billy also remembers working in the malt syrup factory in Dresden. The syrup is for pregnant women, and it is fortified with vitamins. The POWs do everything they can to sneak spoonfuls of it. Billy sneaks a spoonful to Edgar Derby, who is outside. He bursts into tears after he tastes it.

Analysis

Chapter Seven is very short. The plane ride gives Vonnegut an opportunity to criticize the bigotry of Billy’s father-in-law. The old optometrist loves the songs mocking the Polish, but Vonnegut follows the event with the execution of a real Pole. Vonnegut drives home the connection between the execution and the songs: the Germans, obsessed with maintaining racial purity, are executing the Polish man for having had sex with a German woman. Although bigoted songs and hate-motivated murder are two different things, Vonnegut puts the two events right after each other, suggesting that there is a significant connection between these different forms of hate.

Billy’s memories of Dresden before the bombing are gentler than many of his other memories of the war. The moment when the three men stumble into the room of naked women is humorous and also beautiful. It is completely innocent: Edgar Derby is an old man with a wife, and Billy and Werner are two boys who are too awkward to be threatening. Neither of them has seen a naked woman before. Vonnegut creates sympathy for the people of Dresden. The girls are refugees who have lost their homes to bombing in the nearby city of Breslau; they have survived only to die here in Dresden. Werner is an innocent, as unsuited for war as Billy. Vonnegut emphasizes the connection between all men by mentioning that Billy and Werner look like brothers. He also says that the two boys are actually cousins, something that they never learn. The time in Dresden is peaceful. The war here is not about glorious battlefield exploits. Instead, we watch the POWs survive as best they can, sneaking tastes of vitamin-enriched syrup. The syrup becomes a symbol of longing for simple pleasures, simple happiness. The POWs work in a factory surrounded by the sweet substance, and to get a taste of it they have to steal small spoonfuls of it. Edgar Derby’s tears are enigmatic. Is he crying because he has been reduced to stealing from a supply of syrup intended for pregnant women? Is he crying because as a POW so much has been taken from him, and the simple pleasure of the syrup reminds him of pleasures he used to take for granted?

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