Time Obsessed Him

"As an earthing I had to believe whatever clocks said.."

Chapter One

Kurt Vonnegut incorporates chapter one of his novel, Slaughterhouse 5, to assure the audience of the reality, “more or less”, of the events he describes. Unlike the rest of his novel, in the first chapter Vonnegut speaks from his personal perspective. Interestingly enough, he utilizes chapter one to serve as a preface to his remaining ideas for the rest of the novel. Vonnegut immediately slides into the reality of people getting killed in Dresden Germany during World War II. Vonnegut, along with “an old war buddy”, Bernard V. O’Hare, return to Dresden (post war) to the slaughterhouse which they were held prisoners in. He explains his attempts at writing his instances from the war many times. The audience becomes familiar with Vonnegut’s postwar life as he speaks of his studies as an anthropology student at the University of Chicago. Ultimately, Vonnegut discusses the cyclical nature of life and time alike. Chapter one of Slaughterhouse 5 and Postmodernism are directly related proven by the exploration of reality and truth, the criteria of time, and frame-breaking. Vonnegut’s style is dressed with dry, declarative sentences. His minimalistic tendencies may possibly be favored for the hope of a greater sense of realism.

Argumentative Expectations

Kurt Vonnegut utilizes chapter one to prepare his audience for the realistic, yet outlandish, stories of his past, present and future. It serves as a preamble to explain to his audience exactly what to expect, though it may not be written in black and white despite his paratactic, simplistic structures. He sets up the novel by explaining the beginning, middle, and end- a linear plot progression. He begins by his introduction with his many attempts to write this novel. He looks back to his past, to the midst of World War II, where he discovers himself a "pillar of salt" guilty of looking to his past and ultimately condemning his novel to failure. Conclusively, his attempt at this anti-war novel sits on the concept of time and the inability to let go of the past. Vonnegut's pseudo anti-war message ultimately leads to his argument that the cruelty of humanity is unchangeable, proved by his reoccurring motif, "so it goes".


Vonnegut introduces us to two very interesting motifs in the first chapter, time and death. Vonnegut's perspective on death is very unusual. He approaches it in a very matter of fact way. A description or news of someone dying is always followed by the phrase "so it goes." This phrase captures the authors thoughts that death is awful, and heart-jerking, and is no more than another part of life, no matter how awful or gruesome the circumstance is. The reason for this attitude about death is because of what the author experienced during WWII. Vonnegut's use of the motif death (so it goes) is most likely utilized to illustrate the cruelty of humanity throughout history. Time is another interesting motif that is prominent in chapter one. Vonnegut expresses that "earthlings" are bound by the constraints of time and we have no choice but to follow wherever it leads us, however our lack of control leaves us with a need to focus on the tragedies of our past - leaving us nothing more than "pillars of salt". The motif of time is also represented by the phrases "and so on" and occasionally "and so on to infinity" these phrases represent how time never stops. While people may die and wars may end time continues to move leaving us all in its wake. The motif of time is merely introduced in chapter one will inevitably change the way the main character, Billy Pilgrim, views not only time, but life in general.


In the opening chapter of his novel Kurt Vonnegut establishes a tone of melancholy hollowness. This tone allows the audience to better understand Vonnegut’s perspective on war and death. By utilizing this tone to develop his argument, the reader can begin to understand that Vonnegut is not merely developing an anti-war argument for this novel, but that he is exploring the deeper, more troubling aspects of the cruel nature of humanity. The tone develops in the audience an understanding that while the author is horrified by the senselessness of death he has come to realize that it is just another part of life. An underlying argument that is created throughout the novel is the inner struggle that comes from focusing on past experiences and the feelings that are rehashed from looking back on our lives. Vonnegut plays with paratactical structures such as poly and antesyndeton. These short and direct sentences mirror that of the harsh, matter of fact way of war. Vonnegut neglects to use long, flowery, beautiful, sentences that would imply that war is something glamorous and fun.