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
senseless death and stolen time
Significant motifs in chapter One
"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.