Written By a Pillar of Salt

"People aren't supposed to look back."

Slaughterhouse Five begins as a personal narrative of Vonnegut’s life after the bombing of Dresden then continues to tell the story through the life of a fictional character, Billy Pilgrim. Throughout the first chapter not only does Vonnegut discuss the life he lived during this time of war, but he explains how he began to write this novel. Vonnegut explains how his old war buddy O’Hare’s wife suggested that war was more of a Children’s Crusade. In chapter one, the narrator travels from Dresden and Cape Cod and New York during the time of WWII and his life after. Vonnegut breaks away from using Billy Pilgrim to speak to the audience in the first chapter, and writes in a personal perspective instead. By doing this, he establishes his credibility and expresses his syntactically complex style. Vonnegut’s first chapter relates to the time period of Post Modernism because this was a time full of strong nationalism and of much scientific advancement, which had a positive impact on literature, including fiction. He uses fiction by speaking to his audience through Billy Pilgrim and explaining Billy's partial life in Tralfamadore, while also having non fiction aspects when describing the war.

Hollow and lonely, Vonnegut sets his tone. His introduction of the novel through parataxis, polysyndeton, and asyndeton sets his predicted argument of un-glorification of war. The paratacital structure brings to light Vonnegut's rambling mind and lonely heart. Asyndeton’s help introduce the loneliness Vonnegut feels because he has not yet come to terms with what he experienced through the sentences lack of coordination. The implication of polysyndetons show his detached and rambling mind as he is stuck looking back at the events that transpired in the war through the overuse of coordination.
The hype surrounding war and its glorification of massacres is what Vonnegut chooses to argue against. He says that he raised his sons to never physically or emotionally take part in the mass murder of enemies. He also shares the story of Mary O’Hare and her fear of babies being raised to go to war, which in the re-telling shows readers his dread for babies to participate in massacres because they could not see past the unnecessary glorification. The purpose of the first chapter is to introduce the readers to Vonnegut’s belief in taking the glorification out of war and killing and machinery and massacres. The first chapter of Slaughterhouse Five helps readers prepare themselves for an “anti-war” book that is not quite so “anti-war." Instead this book is much more focused on the how war is less alluring than anyone ever thinks it is and how it has turned him into a pillar of salt.

In chapter one, Vonnegut introduces two motifs: time and “so it goes.” Typically time represents the hours, seconds, minutes of a day but Vonnegut begins to look at time in a different way. Vonnegut’s detached narrator Billy Pilgrim becomes “unstuck in time” (Vonnegut 22), and has no sense of control over where or when he goes throughout time. Vonnegut’s concept of time alludes to finding meaning in life over many years, and because he is a pillar of salt he looks back in time to his life in Dresden. Along with time, Vonnegut also begins to reflect on how time ends for everyone yet time does not stop leading Vonnegut to simply say, “so it goes” whenever someone or something’s time ends. Everyone inevitability dies, but Vonnegut isn’t using “so it goes” to say life goes on, but rather people will never be able to change death or time. Throughout life people experience multiple deaths, but the death of others does not stop life. Life just eventually becomes lost in time. People can’t change time or death, and Vonnegut emphasizes this through “so it goes."

By Caroline Minter, Shelby Gowdy, and Emily Starling