Slaughterhouse Five

Margret Anne Turner, Kajal Patel, Andrea Coleman

Summary of Chapter 1:

Kurt Vonnegut, author of Slaughterhouse Five, was captured on December 14, 1944 during the Battle of Bulge and was held captive by the Germans in a slaughterhouse. Slaughterhouse Five, published in 1969, is a postmodernist novel that portrays the repercussions of the firebombing of Dresden, Germany during World War II. During the postmodernist era, America was just coming out of World War II and other natural disasters like the Haitian Earthquake and Japanese Tsunami, giving authors a topic to write about. Slaughterhouse Five is classified as a science fiction. Vonnegut employs a character into events that occurred during a historic time period and includes a twist with scientific elements. In the first chapter, Vonnegut tells the readers how he went back to Dresden after the war with his war buddy, Bernard V. O’Hare. They befriend the cab driver who takes them back to the slaughterhouse where they were both held captive. Vonnegut believed it would be easy to write about the destruction he saw, but he had difficulty writing the novel; he tells the readers it took him twenty-three years to write Slaughterhouse Five. Vonnegut reconnects with O’Hare through the Bell Telephone Company. He explains it as “disease” he has late at night, he gets drunk and calls the telephone company to connect them to his friends. When Vonnegut connects with O’Hare, he asks if he can come visit him to discuss the war so he can proceed writing his book. Vonnegut tries to get more information about the firebombing of Dresden by writing a letter to the Air Force, but they reply saying the details were still top secret. Later, Vonnegut travels to O’Hare’s house with his daughter and her best friend. He meets Mary O’Hare, Bernard’s wife, whom he will dedicate his novel to. At first Mary gives Vonnegut the vibe that she doesn’t like him that much. She explains to Vonnegut that he and Bernard were just “babies” during the war and yet Vonnegut is going to write about the war like they were men. She tells him that he is just going write a novel promoting war, just like all the other novels. In Chapter one, Vonnegut writes in first person to illustrate his personal thoughts and feelings towards combat, giving the readers insight into his life. Vonnegut writes this novel in a jumbled and jangled style to show the readers how there isn’t anything “intelligent” to say about a massacre and to represent the confused emotions many soldiers underwent during the war. Vonnegut not only sends an anti-war message, but argues against the idea of war being a heroic deed. In Slaughterhouse Five, Vonnegut displays exactly how he experienced war, a tragic soul destructing experience.

Analysis of Author's Tone

In chapter one of Slaughterhouse Five, Vonnegut employs an abundant use of asyndeton to develop a detached and lonely tone. By presenting asyndeton, Vonnegut expresses the hardship and painful experience he dealt with during war and after. Vonnegut describes his friendship with O’Hare by employing asyndeton. He states, “He is short and I am tall…”(5). By using asyndeton, Vonnegut shows the readers his hesitance of discussing details relating to war. Though he is trying to write a novel about the bombing of Dresden, Vonnegut includes asyndeton as an attempt to repress his memories. Vonnegut frequently utilizes polysyndeton to develop an everlasting tone. Many readers may depict Vonnegut’s frequent use of polysyndeton as laundry listing; however Vonnegut is trying to illustrate the never ending thoughts of war. For example, Vonnegut states, “As a trafficker and climaxes and thrills…” (6), this sentence could also be parataxis. Vonnegut employs parataxis frequently. He uses them to define relentless and blunt tone. By using these parallel structures, Vonnegut expresses the idea of time being lost and recapping the memories will only bring sorrow and pain.

Vonnegut's Argument and Prediction of Novel

In the novel Slaughterhouse Five, Vonnegut discusses his views on the invalid portrayal of war. Vonnegut has a consistent theme of time and links this to his lack of memory he is trying to regain in order to write his novel. Throughout the chapter, Vonnegut is looking to other sources, such as contacting the Air Force and reconnecting with old war buddies, in order to remember his experiences in the war. Vonnegut gives off an impression that the time he spent in the war quickly got away from him. After reading Chapter 1, it is easy to predict Vonnegut is emphasizing the importance of time throughout the novel. He is trying to accentuate the prominence of how fast time flies. Another main argument Vonnegut is trying to achieve is the promise he made to Mary O'Hare, that he will write war exactly the way he experienced it. In chapter 1, Vonnegut refers to the young soldiers in war as “babies” and addresses the “sugar coated” depiction of war in certain books and movies. Vonnegut uses flashbacks of his time in the war to emphasize the brutality he experienced. By reading chapter one, the readers could easily predict that Vonnegut will continue to use the aspect of time to portray his experience in war via flashbacks and the sources he goes to collect information on the war.

Analysis of Motifs

Vonnegut uses the motif, 'so it goes' after explaining how someone died. Vonnegut's abundant use of 'so it goes' illustrates the idea that death was a common occurrence during war and as a solider it was a lifestyle that he had to become accustomed too. After Vonnegut incorporates numerous deaths followed by 'so it goes,' the readers will grow accustomed to reading about the deaths that the author witnessed. As the book progresses, Vonnegut uses 'so it goes' to make it easier for him to discuss the deaths he observed and it reminds him that life goes on. Another motif Vonnegut incorporates is 'mustard gas and roses.' Mustard gas refers to the chemicals used during WWII and the gas chambers prisoner were placed in. In chapter 1, Vonnegut uses 'mustard gas and roses' when alcohol is present. When Vonnegut is intoxicated he tells the readers that others do not like the smell of 'mustard gas and roses.' For example, Vonnegut states, "...I drive my wife away with a breath like mustard gas and roses" (5). Mustard gas represents a gas masks and other chemicals used during the war and the roses symbolize the flowers placed on one's deathbed. Vonnegut utilizes 'mustard gas and roses' to show how prominent death was through chemicals and not natural causes.

Bonus Illustration

The illustration shows Vonnegut at the table with his telephone and alcohol. In chapter one, Vonnegut frequently makes calls while intoxicated to reconnect with old friends and sometimes old girlfriends. The clock symbolizes the aspect and abundant use of time in chapter one. Also, Vonnegut consistently refers to "mustard gas and roses" when talking to his wife or dog.