“Also on the table were controls for the electric blanket, and a switch to turn on a gentle vibrator which was bolted to the springs of the box mattress…Billy took off his tri-focals and his coat and his neck-tie and his shoes, and he closed the venetian blinds and then the drapes, and he lay down on the outside of the coverlet. But sleep would not come. Tears came instead. They seeped. Billy turned on the Magic Fingers, and he was jiggled as he wept.”Pg. 62
As I read this quote, tight knots formed in my stomach. My vision blurred. I was tearing up. For the first time, it dawned on me just how much war could ruin men. Truth be told that I, like the audience Vonnegut was writing for, was numb against the tragedies of war. I never thought about it. I never had to. Being a female and someone who was never interested in enlisting in the military, the thoughts never crossed my mind. Reading this chapter, though, was like being hit by a car, and I can fully say I’ve never been so moved so early on in a novel like I am with Slaughterhouse-Five.
Chapter 3, for me, is a tear-jerker. Billy Pilgrim is still “unstuck” in time, and I’m thrown back in time with him as he visualizes being taken a prisoner of war. It’s in this chapter that I’m able to realize just how horrendous war is– and just how it affects those involved in it. The chapter begins with Billy being taken prisoner by German enemies along with a man by the name of Ronald Weary. Weary’s combat boots are stripped from him and replaced with makeshift clogs. Later on in the chapter, the audience sees how even this small action can cause suffering when Vonnegut writes, “Weary’s eyes were tearful also. Weary was crying because of the horrible pains in his feet. The hinged clogs were transforming his feet into blood puddings”(64). Billy jumps in time once again, and he is back in modern time. Here, he hears a siren in the distance. It obvious that Billy’s PTSD has a suffocating grip on his life as Vonnegut writes, “A siren went off, scared the hell out of him. He was expecting World War Three at any time”(57). Back in the war, Billy is introduced to another prisoner of war, a colonel suffering from double pneumonia. Billy recalls the colonel was “dying and dying, drowning where he stood.” The colonel was left to suffer and drown from within, and he eventually died.
The last quote from this chapter that twisted my insides came from another prisoner of war, a former hobo, according to Billy. The hobo states to Billy, “I been hungrier than this. I been in worse places than this. This ain’t so bad”(68). Being taken a prisoner of war, I imagine, is nightmarish. I can only imagine what else the hobo has seen that could be worse, but I’m not surprised he’s seen more hellish situations.
Some parts of this chapter, like the ones I mentioned above, are sickening to read. I hear sirens around town constantly, with Monroe having the highest crime rates per capita, but it doesn’t phase me in the slightest. I love hearing fireworks around the holidays. I can hear gunshots and not flinch. Before this chapter, it never really hit me how all these sounds can send veterans with PTSD into a nervous wreck, thinking their life will turn to hell again. It’s depressing to realize. It’s depressing to read. It hurts to realize how depressing it must be to live.