Billy Pilgrim is born in 1922 and grows up in Ilium, New York. A funny-looking, weak youth, he does well in high school, then he enrolls in night classes at the Ilium School of Optometry, and is soon drafted into the army. He serves as a chaplain's assistant, is sent into the Battle of the Bulge, and almost gets taken prisoner by the Germans. Just before being captured he first becomes unstuck in time. He sees the entirety of his life in one sweep. Billy is transported with other privates to the beautiful city of Dresden. There the prisoners are made to work for their keep. They are kept in a former slaughterhouse. Billy and his fellow POWs survive in an airtight meat locker. They emerge to find a moonscape of destruction. Several days’ later Russian forces capture the city and the war is over. Billy returns to Ilium and finishes optometry school. He gets engaged to the daughter of the founder of the school. His wealthy father-in-law sets him up in the optometry business. Billy and his wife raise two children and become wealthy.
One day in 1967, as he claims on a radio talk show and in a letter to the editor, Billy is kidnapped by two-foot high aliens whose body shape is reminiscent of an upside down toilet plunger. These are the Tralfamadorians. They take him to Tralfamadore where they mate him with the actress Montana Wildhack and keep both earthlings in a zoo. They also explain to him their perception of time, how all of it exists for them simultaneously in the fourth dimension. When someone dies he is simply dead at a particular time. Somewhere else and at a different time he is alive and well. Tralfamadorians prefer to look at the nice moments.
When he is returned to earth, Billy initially says nothing. However, after he suffers a head injury in a plane crash and after his wife dies on her way to see him in the hospital, Billy tells the world what he has learned. He goes on a radio talk show and writes a letter to the newspaper. His daughter is at her wit's end and doesn't know what to do with him. Billy makes a tape recording of his account of his death, which will occur in 1976 after Chicago has been hydrogen bombed by the Chinese. He knows exactly how it will happen: a man he knew in the war will hire someone to shoot him. Billy will experience the violet hum of death, then will skip back to some other point in his life. He's seen it all many times.
There are three main settings in Slaughterhouse-Five. One is War-ravaged Europe, through which Billy travels as a POW and ends up in Dresden. Another is peacetime America, where Billy prospers as an optometrist and pillar of society in Ilium, New York. The last is the planet Tralfamadore, where Billy and his fantasy lover Montana Wildhack are exhibited in a zoo. Each setting corresponds to a different period in Billy Pilgrim’s life, and the story jumps from one setting to another as Billy travels back and forth in time.
The main characters are: Billy Pilgrim is a World War...