The Children's Crusade

Jessica Scott, Sydney Wright, Maddie Moeck

Summary of Chapter 1

Chapter 1 of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five is set 23 years after the Dresden bombings; although Vonnegut describes many different settings in the novel he is ultimately preparing the setting through personal recounts of the bombing to take the reader back to Dresden. Through his description of events that took place in Dresden during his time there, the physical characteristics are depicted in the reader’s mind, as well the aura of devastation imposed upon the citizens of Dresden by war. Vonnegut adapts a first person narration style throughout the first chapter in order to convey his personal relation to the Dresden bombings to the audience. Chapter 1 of Slaughterhouse-Five includes elements such as: historical fiction, conveying meaning through story, and first person point of view that most clearly defines this text as a piece of postmodernism. “All of this happened, more or less. The war parts, anyway, are pretty much true” (Vonnegut 1). Throughout chapter one, Vonnegut blends historical fiction with personal experience, in order to persuade the audience to see how war steals innocence and decimates characteristics of humanity over situations that cannot be controlled. “You know what I say to people when I hear they’re writing an anti-war book…I say ‘why don’t you write an anti-glacier book instead’” (Vonnegut 3). In comparing anti-war efforts to trying to stop a glacier the inevitability of war is exposed and efforts to stop it are just as futile as trying to stop nature. Vonnegut expresses that not only are anti-war efforts futile but also useless in decreasing the death toll by stating “even if wars didn’t keep coming like glaciers, there would still be plain old death” (Vonnegut 4). Throughout the chapter Vonnegut includes the phrase ‘So it goes’ whenever describing a death; the phrase not only produces a nonchalant attitude towards death which illustrates the loss of humanity caused by war, but an urge to march on after tragedies as “people aren’t supposed to look back. I’m certainly not going to do it anymore” (Vonnegut 22).

Tone and Style

Throughout chapter 1, Vonnegut provides insight into his war experience through his blunt manner and melancholy attitude. Vonnegut illustrates the pain he is branded with through parataxis; he employs stacatto sentences in order to open the reader's eyes to the side effects of uncontrollable events. Within the chapter, Vonnegut describes two Russian soldiers that looted a clock factory: "They had a horse- drawn wagon full of clocks. They were happy and drunk. They were smoking huge cigarettes they had rolled in newspaper" (Vonnegut 17). Although each sentence holds the same weight, every sentence provides depth in his writing. These short sentences provide the simple truth- leaving the reader to decipher the parataxis for themselves. Every simple detail Vonnegut writes allows the reader to make new inferences while understanding the surroundings and characters within the chapter. In addition, Vonnegut also describes how Mary's attitude affected him while being at O'Hare's residence. Although O'Hare tries his best to make Vonnegut feel like his wife's irritated manner is not due to him, Vonnegut believes otherwise: "That was kind of him. He was lying. It had everything to do with me" (17). His melancholy tone within the parataxis makes a solid statement that causes the reader to accept everything the author is saying- there is no doubt, for Vonnegut makes a clear fact. Throughout the chapter, his bluntness captures the underlying argument Vonnegut presents throughout the novel- that humanity and innocence is constantly lost due to events that we cannot prevent or control. Vonnegut expresses that war has caused many individuals to be completely stripped of their early lives- only to find themselves stuck looking back upon the horrors they once faced.

senseless death and stolen time

As Vonnegut recalls his old war memories, he reveals a sense of humored bitterness in order to clearly prepare his readers for the brutality of the story he is about to unveil to them. He mentions, in an abrupt introductory paragraph, a man being shot in Dresden for stealing a teapot. This first-page mention is further investigated a mere four pages later. Vonnegut states "A whole city is burned down, and thousands and thousands of people are killed. And then this one American foot soldier is arrested in the ruins for taking a teapot. And he's given a regular trial, and then he's shot by a firing squad." Vonnegut accompanies this explanation further with a dark admiration of the irony of the situation- as placed as the climax of the tale- rather than the death of the individuals. Vonnegut finding himself allured to this use of ironic situation shows the easily placed search of a scapegoat to represent the senselessness of the deaths. Thousands and thousands of lives are lost for seemingly no purpose, and to place emphasis on the life of one man is to show the sadness of each individual life lost. Vonnegut also tells the reader that he once made a plotline with various crayon colors. Vonnegut states, "And the blue line met the red line and then the yellow line, and the yellow line stopped because the character represented by the yellow line was dead" (5). The colored lines represent the lives of his characters as they lived and died; they touched one another, and overlapped, revealing the relations of human beings. This idealogy of connecting lives brings to focus that each life lost of those thousands must have had similar relations, and will be mourned. No lifeline goes detatched, which is why it is also ironic that Vonnegut sweeps away each death, like one would sweep broken glass, with the phrase, "so it goes." The one man (named Edgar Derby) whose death following the massacre also reveals the relentlessness of life continually ending. Another revealing instance is the portion of the first chapter that mentions the Russian soldiers who looted a clock factory. Including in his account of spoilers this instance reveals a significant sense of value in time and keeping it. Furthermore, clocks, time keepers, being considered the spoils of looting, shows that time has been stolen. Thus, we are lead to believe that Vonnegut is expressing how time seems to escape us when we are not fully prepared.

Significant motifs in chapter One

So it goes is mentioned after every time a death of sorts is mentioned in Vonnegut's slaughterhouse five. "His mother was incinerated in the Dresden fire. So it goes" (2),

"He had taken these from dead people in the cellars of Dresden. So it goes," (6), "...the top of the car squashed him. So it goes," (8) are just some examples of this heavily frequented motif. This motif serves to relieve emphasis on death, so as to brush it off. The ironic effect, however, of reading this phrase so often creates a sad echo of death that the reader soon becomes capable of hearing. "So it goes," in the long run, shows Vonnegut's attempts to ail the pain he feels in writing this novel; all of which these efforts have begun to seem null and void. "Poo-tee-weet" is also a motif in Vonnegut's novel slaughterhouse five. The phrase "poo-tee-weet" is an onomatopoeia for the tweeting of birds. Vonnegut says "...there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want anything ever again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds," (19). When Vonnegut tells the reader blatantly that the event that occurred (the Dresden bombing) could be considered nothing but a massacre, and that because there was nothing worth saying about them, the reader may understand that this is because no-one is there to explain it. The tragedy in the loss of life, of humans, who had wishes and wills to live is revealed through the senseless "poo-tee-weet?" The reader is informed that the word "Poo-tee-weet?" will be the final words of the novel. The question mark suggests a sense of confusion from the birds, as well as their author's confusion.

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