Chapter One Explication


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Throughout the first chapter of Slaughterhouse- Five, Kurt Vonnegut narrates both the mental processes he used and the physical experiences he endured in order to write his “famous book about Dresden” (Vonnegut 23). The majority of the first chapter takes place in Dresden, Germany; however, throughout the chapter, Vonnegut switches time periods to when he is writing the novel (a twenty- three year period) and once he has finished writing the novel. Slaughterhouse-Five was a piece of historical fiction written during the Post- Modernism time period. This was the time after World War Two when Americans had great pride in their country and knew they were in the strongest country on Earth. One is able to tell that the book was written during this time period because it was after the bombing of Dresden, which occurred in World War Two; people were also protesting war efforts, which is another major topic Slaughterhouse - Five hits. While in Dresden, Vonnegut sees his life flash before his eyes, and he uses the first chapter to show the reader how those traumatic experiences are still impacting his life. Vonnegut begins by sharing his story of being held prisoner in Dresden during and after the bombing and also the mental blocks and processes, the resources, and the struggles that were involved in writing his novel. Even after reaching out to his old friend from the war, Bernard V. O’Hare, Vonnegut is still struggling to find the strength to accept the bombing and the lives lost in the bombing and the lack of attention given to the disaster. “That was about it for the memories…” (17).Vonnegut had trouble recalling memories because he was trapped in a slaughterhouse; he was underground, in the dark, without knowing when the debris would clear when it would be safe to walk around the city of Dresden. Many people are not aware of the bombing of Dresden and they especially are not aware that it was as severe as the catastrophic bombing of Hiroshima in Japan. Kurt Vonnegut uses a first person point of view throughout the first chapter so that the reader can be informed of what happened during the bombing in a way that is not sugar-coated and reveals the truths, hardships, and pain and struggles that the bombing caused. Due to his stylistic decision to break away from his usual disconnected narrator, readers easily infer that Kurt Vonnegut yearned to open the eyes of readers to the accurate and precise details of a terrible “Children’s Crusade”, a terrible world war, and a terrible hatred that fills the hearts of millions.

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Speaking in a straightforward and frank tone, implementing unique and powerful syntactical choices, and referencing numerous outside allusions, Kurt Vonnegut introduces chapter one of his novel, Slaughterhouse-Five in hopes of vividly portraying the real, accurate attributes of children being thrust into the vicious world of violence, murder, and hatred. When he creates a relaxed, comfortable tone, Vonnegut aides in the simplicity of the idea that thousands of young boys and girls so feverishly involved in the war is morally inhumane. Through his candid and blunt tone, Vonnegut easily paints the illusion of children exhibiting broken clocks, forever damaged, forever scarred by the catastrophes of World War Two. While Vonnegut’s powerful yet simple tone establishes his main agreements such as the importance of anti-war and the destruction of transforming babies into blood thirsty savages, he also applies an abundant amount of parataxis and hypotaxis in order to differentiate between the simple nature and the complex nature of a war-hungry world. “One end of the wallpaper was the beginning of the story, and the other end was the end, and then there was all that middle part, which was the middle…The destruction of Dresden was represented by a vertical band of orange cross-hatching, and all the lines that were still alive passed through it, came out the other side” (Vonnegut 5). Within these paratactic sentences, Vonnegut validates the extreme complexity of the horrific World War Two, yet at the same time, he uses it as a metaphor to portray the wallpaper as war itself and each orange cross-hatching as a war veteran innocently robbed of his precious childhood and time on earth. Through his dark, comical, and open tone, his captivating metaphors, and his creative usage of hypotaxis and parataxis, readers easily assume that Vonnegut will not only argue for the abolishment of vicious wars but the abolishment of hate itself.

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In the first chapter of his book, Slaughterhouse-Five, the author, Kurt Vonnegut, introduces the idea and purpose of the book. By explaining a brief abbreviated version of his book writing journey, Vonnegut allows the reader to go on the journey with him from start to finish. The writer familiarizes his audience with his argument, and what to expect throughout this “famous book about Dresden,” (Vonnegut 23). Vonnegut writes with a detached and almost opinionated tone when describing his argument to his audience. The author makes it clear early on that he is opposed to the idea of war. He believes that wars can be easily stopped. Vonnegut considers Slaughterhouse-Five to be an anti-war book. Another main point that the author argues and introduces in the first chapter is the usage of children in wars, and how wrong and awful that concept is. Due to the fact that Vonnegut speaks in a blunt, straight-forward tone and applies numerous paratactic and hypotatic sentences, readers infer that he will strongly argue for not only the abolishment of wars but the abolishment of thrusting innocent children into the destruction of wars.

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Throughout chapter one of his dark yet comical novel, Slaughterhouse -Five, Kurt Vonnegut introduces the idea of death being this simple incident that no individual can escape from whether it be through a fierce fire-storm, a defective elevator, or a concentration camp. Vonnegut enforces his belief through continuously stating, “So it goes” each time a tragic death is mentioned. (Vonnegut 9). This motif ultimately allows readers to accept Vonnegut’s proposal that death is nothing more than an appearance rather it is simply a moment in time that will always exist within the memories of others. Reducing the intensity of death itself, Vonnegut constantly uses the saying “So it goes” in order to emphasize his argument that death is simply a factor of life that robs thousands of individuals of their ability to accept their time on earth and of their ability to value time as an irreplaceable treasure. Time itself then becomes a major aspect throughout his novel because Vonnegut continuously applies moments where the character, Billy Pilgrim is able to constantly overcome time and travel through any period of his life. Vonnegut also provides a unique perspective on the way time is viewed; he portrays it as an occurrence that does not simply disappear rather it exists in the memories of others. Through time and “So it goes”, Kurt Vonnegut illustrates the true atrocities of world wars and the extreme impacts they have on the smallest child to the oldest man.