Slaughterhouse Five Characters

Instructor: Jennifer Mallett Smith

Jennifer has taught high school English for eight years and has a master's degree in curriculum and assessment.

Kurt Vonnegut's novel, ''Slaughterhouse Five'', is the tale of a war veteran who is abducted by aliens and learns that death is not something to fear. This lesson will briefly describe the main characters in the novel and how they affect the plot and themes of the story.

Billy Pilgrim

Billy Pilgrim is the protagonist, or main character, of the novel. The story follows Billy on his lifetime journey; his life as a soldier in World War II, his career as an optometrist after the war, and his life on the alien planet of Tralfamadore are all explored. Billy serves in the army, is captured and taken as a prisoner-of-war to a camp in Dresden, Germany. The prisoners are held in a slaughterhouse below ground, which saves them during the bombing of Dresden. Billy is honorably discharged from the military and institutionalized for post-traumatic stress disorder. He returns home, where he marries Valencia and attends optometry school. On his daughter's wedding night, he is captured by the Tralfamadorians, where he is placed in a zoo and given a mate. He learns that time is the fourth dimension, and that death does not matter because the person is living in another part of time. Billy returns to Earth and is eventually killed by an assassin hired by Paul Lazarro, a fellow war veteran. Billy predicts his own murder because he has learned of it on Tralfamadore, but he does not fear it because he believes it is just a point in time and he will exist somewhere else. It is important to note that he has escaped death multiple times in war and in a plane crash, only to die at the whim of a mentally unstable man that he once served with.

An image of optometry.

The Pilgrim Family

  • Valencia Merble Pilgrim - Billy marries Valencia Merble, an obese and good-natured woman. Valencia is thankful that Billy has married her because she thought that nobody would want her because of her weight. Her father owns the Ilium School of Optometry, where Billy attends. Valencia gives birth to two children and lives happily with Billy until an unfortunate accident. She hears that Billy has been in a plane crash on the way to an optometry conference and rushes to the hospital. On the way, she is in a traffic accident, and the damage to her car causes it to fill with carbon monoxide. She makes it to the hospital, but dies from carbon monoxide poisoning. Valencia's love and concern for her husband is what ultimately kills her.
  • Barbara Pilgrim - The daughter of Valencia and Billy, Barbara is faced with the task of taking care of her father and his business dealings after Valencia dies. Billy asserts that he was taken by the Tralfamadorians on Barbara's wedding night. Barbara suspects that her father is senile because of the plane crash and his rantings about Tralfamadore. She is frustrated and embarrassed by his rantings.
  • Robert Pilgrim - The son of Valencia and Billy, Robert had difficulties in high school, but became a Green Beret and served in Vietnam. Billy describes him as a fine young man.

Soldiers from World War II

An image of U.S. prisoners of war in Germany.
US POW in Germany

  • Roland Weary - Roland served with Billy in Gremany. He is a bully who idealizes their situations; he imagines things as if they were in a movie. He envisions the scouts that accompany him as the ''Three Musketeers''. When the scouts desert him, he takes it out on Billy by beating him up. After being taken prisoner, Weary eventually dies of gangrene from the shoes he has had to wear. Before he dies, Weary tells Paul Lazarro that Billy is responsible for his death. Weary would be an example of an antagonist because his actions and behaviors create a conflict for Billy.
  • Edgar Derby - Derby is another POW, and one of Billy's only friends. He is one of the oldest soldiers serving with them, and he stands up to Howard W. Campbell Jr., a Nazi-propagandist, when he comes to the camp in Dresden to speak to the soldiers. Derby is put to death by firing squad for stealing a teapot.
  • Paul Lazarro - Paul Lazarro is also kept as a POW with Billy. Lazarro once tells Billy of a time when he sought revenge on a dog that bit him; he fed the dog razor blades. Lazarro promises to avenge Roland Weary's death, and he succeeds in the final pages of the book. He hires an assassin to murder Billy Pilgrim.

Characters from Tralfamadore

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