My Famous Book About Dresden
An explication of Slaughterhouse-Five
Vonnegut’s use of parataxis disconnects him from the audience emotionally. The short, dry clauses create a tone that conveys the mental toll of taking part in a massacre and how years of attempting to get his memories on paper have left him drained. Vonnegut uses anecdotes and metaphors to help the audience to visualize his arguments. He also alludes to other texts he has read that he feels apply to him or can be seen as a metaphor for what he’s gone through. He uses both anecdotes and allusions to demonstrate parallels between the draft and the two monks who “got the idea of raising armies of children in Germany and France, and selling them in North Africa as slaves” (16). This allusion to the actual Children’s Crusade in medieval Europe shows the reader how innocent and naïve Vonnegut and his brothers-in-arms were when they went into the war. This sets up his novel to explore how the men fighting in Europe were not “glamorous, war-loving, dirty old men” (14) but instead children who had left home to discover that they were in over their heads and who would have incredible difficulties coping with the trauma of war.
Vonnegut makes no point in trying to keep the plot a secret. He will be in the military and take part in the massacre that is the firebombing of Dresden and then, after the city is incinerated, along with its inhabitants, Edgar Derby will be caught taking a teapot, be “given a regular trial, and then [be] shot by a firing squad” (5). The absurdity of the events in the book will allow Vonnegut to unfold the morals of his novel. What Vonnegut will be trying to convey with this twisted story of being an executioner, soldier and prisoner will be that more than any of those things, he and his comrades were innocents. Not innocent in the sense that they had done nothing wrong, because many of them will have killed and looted by the end of the tale, but innocent in the way they fail to understand what they are doing. They were just confused boys thrown into the worst of situations. Vonnegut wants the audience to see that war is something terrible, and being a soldier is not like what they have been lead to believe by patriotic films and glorified legends.
Motifs are repeated on nearly every page of Vonnegut’s novel. The motifs add to the dark, dry tone by seeming indifferent to the human condition. A man will die and the audience wants to empathize and mourn, but Vonnegut simply states “so it goes” (2) and moves on. A massacre will happen and the audience wants the world to stop and recognize the tragedy that has happened, but the birds pay no mind and go on singing “poo-tee-weet” (19). These motifs do not necessarily mean that the death is not a tragedy, but they do mean that existence continues; life moves on; there is nothing that can be done about the past and so it goes. As the story progresses and more and more people die, the men will either accept that life moves on and that they must not let death around stop them from living, otherwise the mental weight will not just numb them, but it will incapacitate them. From Vonnegut’s hollow tone it has become obvious that he learned to push through and keep moving through life. Some of his friends may not have been so fortunate as to have both lived through the war and kept some of their wits about them after the war.