Mustard Gas and Roses
An Explication of the First Chapter of Slaughterhouse Five
The First Chapter in Summary
Kurt Vonnegut opens his famous and witty novel, “Slaughterhouse Five”, from a perspective other than the main character, Billy Pilgrim – he opens from his own perspective. Vonnegut comes across as a straightforward and “no holds barred” individual, as he assures that audience numerous times that, He explains in length his connection with Dresden, how long it has been since World War II, where the novel will take place, and what it really took for him to complete the novel: he was a POW kept in a Slaughterhouse, 23 years, Germany during the war and “Ilium” which seems to be based off of Schenectady, New York, and, being human, he looked back. As Vonnegut assures, “All this happened, more or less. The war parts, anyway, are pretty much true,” he hits the Post Modernism nail on the head as this description is very much a prototype for the particularly time and prose (1). With a blunt and detached style, he gives the novel a unique introduction that is better explained by Vonnegut, himself, than Billy Pilgrim. By including this narrative chapter as part of his story as a whole, it is clear that Vonnegut feels that the journey he took to write the story is just as important as the story itself.
Vonnegut’s detached tone is created through the blend of polysyndeton sentences and sequences of short and choppy sentences. He openly confesses his struggles with revisiting the past, and references traumatic circumstances with a manner that nonchalantly understates the truth to protect his own sanity. The tone conveyed within the first paragraph is blunt to a degree where emotion does not seem to exist. His repetitive use of the phrases “so it goes” and “and so on” aid in the establishment of the lack of emotion. Vonnegut purposefully overuses the conjunction “and” when sharing an anecdote; the abundant use of the conjunction allows him to share large and effective amount of details without having to diverge from one main idea. Vonnegut chooses a creative approach to the introduction of his argument. His main argument is initialized by the promise he makes to a companion’s wife: a promise to use the book as means to make the readers lose support of war and display the fact that it is merely children who fight. The opening chapter provides the reader with clear insight to Vonnegut’s antiwar and emotionless beliefs.