Explication on Chapter 1

Slaughterhouse Five


Kurt Vonnegut's settings in chapter one revolve arounf Dresden, Germany and Delaware in the United States. In Dresden, which he goes to visit it is 1967, Vonnegut is accompanied by his friend Bernard V. O’Hare. The two visit there and go places that they passed by in the war. Vonnegut narrates the whole chapter as himself. He jumps back in time to 1964 where he goes on a search for his war time friend. The way he describes war gives him credit for being a post modernism writer. He doesn’t follow the norm of writing. He breaks the rules. His writing is edgy and bare to the truth. Vonnegut talks to the readers in a personal tone to tell how the story will end. It starts with the end.


In chapter one of Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut, using a detatched and blunt tone, describes the proccess he went through in order to contuct his novel. His syntactical stye at first seems overly simplified by the compilation of multiple simple senteces, yet is truly marked by the usage of asyndeton and polysyndeton which help to illustrate the hollow man who witnessed the bombing of Dresden. The usage of asyndeton reflect the difficulties faced by Vonnegut when trying to recall the memories he had locked away for 23 years. The simple senteces create seemingly short, diconnected thoughts which develop his blunt tone. As Vonnegut describes his process of gathering the memories and information for his novel, he incorporates more uses of polysyndeton. These sentences reflect what seems like a flood of memories which he ties together in a rambling sentece. His bitterness towards the horrific massacre is mirrored in his style. He uses these devices in order to develop his argument that ones fate is out of his or her own control.

Expectations and Argument

Vonnegut utilizes the first chapter as a prelude to his actual story. Chapter one is a story within itself which dictates the process Vonnegut went through to aquire everything he needed to tell his story. Vonnegut often discusses the topic of innocence. Throughout the story one can expect to see the change of him entering the war a nothing but a child, a leaving as a man. This loss of innocence is what has shaped him into who he is, a hollow man. In the first chapter Vonnegut throws in short memories of events that took place in Dresden, many of which are expected to be elaborated on throughout the novel. His feelings towards war are obviously negative; however, his novel is more than just an antiwar book. Vonnegut argues that fate is out of ones control. This is something he will have discovered through his war experience and the years after. Fate and destiny are a part of life, and are things which people must accept for what they are.


One of the motifs tracked was “so it goes”. This motif is prevalent throughout the first chapter. This motif is consistently seen after someone dies. At first is seems as though Vonnegut is disregarding death, not actually caring. However, as the novel progrsses, it is clarified that the motif is a way of accepting that people die, and that it is part of fate. Vonnegut accepts that people will die, so it goes. Another important motif is "mustard gas and roses". Vonnegut uses this when he refers to himself or others when intoxicated. The two very contrasting ideas clash to give the readers a sense of unstableness. When one thinks of mustard gas they think of death, while the roses give a happy feeling. Together they make a odd combination that reflects the torn emotions associated with the situations that the motif is found in.

Created by Hannah Gillon and Mary Jane Merck