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Slaughterhouse Five Character Essays

Billy Pilgrim

The novel’s protagonist, Billy Pilgrim is an optometrist and former chaplain’s assistant in the US Army who has “come unstuck in time,” meaning he can travel between moments in his life. Billy was captured by… (read full character analysis)

Kurt Vonnegut

The author of the novel, Kurt Vonnegut was also taken as a POW during the Battle of the Bulge and survived the firebombing of Dresden in Slaughterhouse-Five. In the opening and closing chapters of… (read full character analysis)

Bernard O’Hare

Vonnegut’s friend from World War II, who also hid in the slaughterhouse during the bombing, O’Hare finds it difficult to recall memories of Dresden. He travels back to Germany with Vonnegut in the late 1960s… (read full character analysis)

Roland Weary

An antisocial, bullying young soldier from Pittsburgh, Roland Weary survives a German attack on his unit and stumbles on two scouts, with whom he imagines he has teamed to form “The Three Musketeers.” Weary also… (read full character analysis)


Small aliens with one hand and an eye in the palm, the Tralfamadorians, from the planet Tralfamadore, abduct Billy after the war and hold him captive many millions of miles from earth. They keep Billy… (read full character analysis)

Edgar Derby

A middle-aged English teacher from Indianapolis, Edgar Derby is a passionate, upright, and courageous soldier who cares for Billy when he falls ill in the German POW camp. Derby later defends American ideals to Howard… (read full character analysis)

Kilgore Trout

An obscure science fiction writer, Kilgore Trout writes novels full of good ideas and bad writing, and is in some sense a caricature of Kurt Vonnegut, whose early writings were exercises in science fiction… (read full character analysis)

Bertram C. Rumfoord

A 70-year-old Harvard professor and the official Air Force Historian, Bertram C. Rumfoord recuperates from a skiing injury in the bed next to Billy, who has recently been in his plane crash. Rumfoord at… (read full character analysis)

Wild Bob

A colonel in the Army who is taken prisoner and placed in a railcar, Wild Bob has double pneumonia and eventually dies of his illness. He tells all to ask for him in Cody, Wyoming… (read full character analysis)

Minor Characters

Paul Lazzaro

A criminal from Illinois, Paul Lazzaro holds Weary as he dies and vows to take revenge on Billy, Weary’s supposed “killer.” Lazzaro does in fact have Billy killed in the 1970s, long after the war is over.

Valencia Pilgrim

Billy’s wife and the heiress to a small optometry fortune, Valencia loves Billy deeply. In her panic after hearing of Billy’s plane crash, Valencia is involved in a minor car accident that eventually causes her death from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Barbara and Robert Pilgrim

Billy’s daughter and son. Barbara takes care of Billy after his plane crash and believes he is senile when he begins talking of his Tralfamadorian abduction. Robert, a troubled youth in high school, becomes a successful member of the Green Berets fighting in Vietnam.

Eliot Rosewater

Lying in a hospital bed next to Billy during his mental breakdown after the war, Eliot Rosewater introduces Billy to Kilgore Trout’s science fiction and speaks kindly to Billy’s mother when Billy refuses to listen.

Werner Gluck

A very young German solider, Werner Gluck leads Billy and Derby to the slaughterhouse kitchen and where they accidentally happen upon a group of young women showering. This is the first time he has seen a naked woman.

Howard W. Campbell, Jr.

An American turncoat who has become a propagandist for the Nazi war cause, Howard W. Campbell, Jr., writes books on the rudeness of American GIs and tries to convince the POWs to fight with the Germans against Russia. Derby argues with Campbell and defends America’s ideals.

Mary O’Hare

Bernard’s wife, Mary urges Vonnegut to show in his novel that war is fought by very young men—children. Vonnegut agrees and promises to subtitle the novel “The Children’s Crusade.”


Rumfoord’s 23-year-old fifth wife, Lily brings her husband books in the hospital and pretends to read from President Truman’s announcement of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, though she is a poor reader.

The hobo

Also a POW corralled into a railcar, the hobo claims that his treatment at the hands of the Germans is “not so bad.” The hobo later dies and his boots are stolen.

Montana Wildhack

An American film star, Montana is abducted by the Tralfamadorians as a companion to Billy. They have a child together in the Tralfamadorian zoo where they are kept.

The Englishmen

POWs captured at the beginning of the war, the Englishmen create a small fantasy-land within their prison camp, putting on performances, stockpiling excess food, and generally ignoring the horrors of the war raging outside.

Maggie White

A young woman whom Kilgore Trout talks to at Billy Pilgrim's 18th wedding anniversary party. When Trout tells Maggie that God knows all the good and bad things she thinks and says, and will use that information on Judgment Day, she gets scared and leaves the party.

Schlegel, Chris. "Slaughterhouse-Five Characters." LitCharts. LitCharts LLC, 16 Sep 2013. Web. 13 Mar 2018.

Schlegel, Chris. "Slaughterhouse-Five Characters." LitCharts LLC, September 16, 2013. Retrieved March 13, 2018. http://www.litcharts.com/lit/slaughterhouse-five/characters.

Average Overall Rating: 5
Total Votes: 129

Billy Pilgrim: Billy is the protagonist of the novel. He is unstuck in time and travels to different moments in his life. He grew up a fearful child and was taken prisoner by the Germans during WWII. Billy was working as prison labor in Dresden when an allied bombing raid destroyed the city and most of its inhabitants. After the war Billy finished school, had a nervous breakdown, married the daughter of the dean of the school, became a successful optometrist and later survived a plane crash that took the life of all the other passengers. On the night of his daughter's wedding he was kidnapped by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore and put on display in a zoo where he mated with movie star Montana Wildhack. He has foreseen that his own death will come at the hands of Paul Lazzaro following a speech in Chicago.
Valencia Pilgrim: Billy's overweight, unattractive wife who loves him dearly. Valencia's father sets Billy up in business and as a result Billy becomes very wealthy. Valencia dies of carbon monoxide poisoning when she rushes to the hospital in Vermont where Billy is recovering after the plane accident.
Barbara Pilgrim: Billy and Valencia's daughter who marries young and then assumes responsibility for her father after her mother dies and Billy begins talking openly about his experience with the Tralfamadorians.
Robert Pilgrim: Billy and Valencia's son who is a teenage delinquent but joins the Marines and returns from Vietnam a highly decorated Green Beret.
Bernard V. O'Hare: Vonnegut's war buddy who also survived the destruction of Dresden. O'Hare is a district attorney in Pennsylvania when Vonnegut contacts him to see what he remembers of the war. Vonnegut and O'Hare have a pleasant trip when they return to Dresden after the war.
Kurt Vonnegut: The author of the book and also one of its characters. Not only are the first and last chapters from Vonnegut's perspective but twice during the plot he interjects that he was present at that moment of the story.
Kilgore Trout: A largely unknown science-fiction writer who becomes Billy's favorite author. Billy eventually meets Trout, who supports himself by managing a group of child newspaper carriers, and invites the near-do-well author to his anniversary party. Trout appears in several other Vonnegut novels and represents what Vonnegut might have come to if his writing career been unsuccessful.
Roland Weary: Roland and Billy are trapped behind enemy lines during the Battle of the Bulge and are taken prisoner together. Roland has trouble keeping friendships and lashes out violently when he feels rejected. Thanks to his father, he has an obsession with instruments of torture. He insists on pushing Billy to continue the struggle to return to friendly lines and after they are taken prisoner blames Billy for his capture. Before Roland dies in the boxcar on the way to the prison he makes Paul Lazzaro promise to kill Billy for him.
Paul Lazzaro: Holds the dying Weary in his arms and promises to revenge his death by killing Billy Pilgrim. Lazzaro is a vengeful ex-car thief whom Vonnegut characterizes as akin to a rabid dog. While recovering from a broken arm after trying to steal cigarettes, Lazzaro tells Billy that he will kill him at some point and that Billy should relax and enjoy the time he has left.
Edgar Derby: A high school teacher who is one of the POWs in Billy's group. Derby is the oldest of the POWs and he assumes responsibility for their well being. According to Vonnegut he is the only true character in the novel and his best moment is when he rebukes the recruiting efforts of Nazi sympathizer Howard W. Campbell, Jr. Derby's death at the hands of a German firing squad for stealing a teapot, while never fully described serves as the novel's climax.
Eliot Rosewater: Shares a room with Billy in the psychiatric hospital where he introduces Billy to the works of Kilgore Trout. Rosewater is the protagonist of another Vonnegut novel God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.
Howard W. Campbell, Jr. : An American playwright who serves the Nazis by composing and publishing anti-American propaganda. Edgar Derby rebukes him when he tries to convince the POW's to join the Nazi army. Campbell is the protagonist of another Vonnegut novel Mother Night.
Montana Wildhack: a pornographic movie starlet kidnapped at age twenty by the Tralfamadorians to be Billy's mate. She and Billy learn to trust each other and they have a child while on display in the zoo. While in New York Billy sees a blue movie staring Montana and reads a magazine article that suggests she was killed by the mob but he knows she is on Tralfamadore.
Bertram Copeland Rumfoord: an extremely virile and outgoing septuagenarian who shares a hospital room with Billy after the plane crash. Rumfoord, who is recovering from a skiing accident, is working on a history of the U.S. airforce and though he initially detests and mistrusts Billy he comes to believe that Billy was in Dresden at the time of its destruction.
Lily Rumfoord: Bertram's very young, very beautiful very dim wife.
Werner Gluck: a teenage guard in Dresden who is Billy's distant cousin though neither of them know it.

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