Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five
Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, is set in a time period from World War II all the way to the late 1960's, while taking place in Dresden Germany, the Planet Tralfamadore, and Billy's own home in America. Chapter 1, in particular, is Vonnegut writing directly to the reader and explaining his reasons for writing the book, his arguments, and a vivid description of his accounts from his days as an American G.I. in Europe. Throughout the chapter Vonnegut voices his personal anecdotes, bluntly and humorously, concerning the war, such as his ride back from Dresden with the other POWs, and he includes several reasons as to why he wrote the book. For example, O'Hare's wife in New York wanted him to show war for what it was and not how Hollywood portrayed it. This chapter also allows Vonnegut to provide a prelude to most of the major motifs that reoccur in the novel such as, "So it goes", "And so on", and "Mustard gas and roses". Not to mention, Vonnegut discusses his reasons for many of his personal accounts, creating a historical background for the novel which is a key factor in Post-Modernism.
In chapter one of Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut somberly and contemplatively relives his experiences during World War II and specifically his survival during the overlooked bombing of Dresden. Vonnegut expresses his feelings of alienation and detachment through the words he implements and the utilization of simple syntax along with polysyndeton. In the beginning of chapter one, Vonnegut aims to convince the audience that the events he begins to explain truly occurred when he says, "One guy I knew really was shot in Dresden for taking a teapot that wasn't his. Another guy I knew really did threaten to have his personal enemies killed by hired gunmen after the war," (1). It almost seems as if Vonnegut has to convince himself that the atrocities he witnessed were not simply nightmares but actual experiences. Vonnegut also readily uses simple syntax to emphasize the severity and shortness of death. “So he was hoisted into the air and the floor of the car went down, dropped out from under him, and the top of the car squashed him. So it goes,” (9). Through these simple short sentences, Vonnegut allows the audience to understand his own acquired numbness to death and destruction. Along with simple structured syntax, Vonnegut also uses polysyndeton to emit that sense of exhaustion with the cyclic nature of war. “ ‘…and you’ll be played in the movies by Frank Sinatra and John Wayne or some of those other glamorous, war loving, dirty old men. And war will look just wonderful, do we’ll have a lot more of them. And they’ll be fought by babies like the babies upstairs,’” (14). Through the polysyndeton structure, Vonnegut expresses how he has become too well accustomed with the war and its continual and predictable outcomes.
In chapter one of Slaughterhouse Five, Vonnegut introduces several distinguishing motifs that are used throughout the text. Such motifs include “So it goes” and “Poo- tee- weet”. “So it goes” is often used after someone dies, describing that time goes on and the world still turns even though tragedy and setbacks occur and sever the delicate thread of life. It is often following a successful and meaningful event in Billy’s life that is altered significantly by a tragedy he experiences. I predict that this motif will be used when everyone is killed during the bombing of Dresden. “Poo-tee-weet” is often used when describing, as in the case of the birds, the catastrophic events as merely insignificant, applying to the concept of “So it goes”. I predict that this motif will be used at the end of the book, because Vonnegut said it would, and it will be used after the bombing of Dresden because of context clues Vonnegut gives us in chapter one.