Slaughterhouse Five

An explication on Chapter One

Summary of Chapter One

Kurt Vonnegut, a young private in the US armed forces, was captured and held in a slaughterhouse deep within Dresden Germany. On the evening of February 13th 1945, a series of Allied firebombing campaigns ripped through Dresden, destroying the city and slaughtering nearly 135000 civilians and POWS. Vonnegut was one of those few survivors. Because of the traumatic experience in Dresden 23 years prior, Vonnegut wrote a novel detailing his endeavors to survive during and after World War II. In the first chapter of this novel, famously known as Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut explores and reconciles his past experiences in a painful manner. He depicts how his emotions via various syntactical styles: such as asyndeton, polysyndeton, parataxis, hypotaxis, periodic, and cumulative sentences. His style is unique compared to most postmodern writers because he uses stream of consciousness, The first chapter chronicles the difficulties he experienced in recollecting his memories and the lengths he went to in order to complete this literary work of art. The novel is an example of post modernism as it exemplifies the use of his account of the Dresden firebombings. This piece of art is significant because his message is so much deeper than simply telling a story, or talking about how bad war is and how we should not get involved. His message of war and love and loss and triumph over the great forces that shaped his life to be the way it is makes Slaughterhouse Five a piece of significant literary history.

Rhetorical Analysis of Vonnegut

In chapter one of Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut conveys a painful and melancholy tone through asyndeton, polysyndeton, and periodic syntactical structures. He portrays a melancholy tone via the asyndeton syntactical structure with simple, choppy sentences. The brief sentences illustrate his inability to express the anguish of the bombings in Dresden. For example, Kurt Vonnegut expresses “In the mornings I wrote. I was not to be disturbed. I was working on my famous book about Dresden.” (18).Vonnegut does not initiate writing the novel, Slaughterhouse Five, until 23 years after the bombing of Dresden because he is incapable of enduring the agonizing memories of World War II. His accounts profess the internal struggles to write full and complete sentences about his experience in the slaughterhouse.Vonnegut expresses the need to recollect the tragedies he experienced through the war, and by scribing out the novel, he recollected the memories and fought the internal struggles that plagued him. Vonnegut employs a polysyndetonal structure in the novel to denote his afflictions. Polysyndeton intensifies writing by piling each phrase or word on top of the other to create an overwhelming feeling of pain that Vonnegut has endured in the Second World War. Vonnegut describes his hardships writing a book about the bombings in Dresden, “I would hate to tell you what this lousy little book cost me in money and anxiety and time” (2). Here, author Kurt Vonnegut is in his basement sitting at his desk with blue and ivory feet and he recollects the agonizing accounts from the slaughterhouse in Dresden. Next, Vonnegut expresses a detached and lonely tone through a periodic structure, which permits his audience, everyone, to live through his experiences of the slaughterhouse in Dresden, Germany. “And the blue line met the red line and then the yellow line, and the yellow line, and the yellow line stopped because the character represented by the yellow line was dead. And so on”(5). Vonnegut weaves his emotions through Slaughterhouse Five in order to let the reader to understand who he is. To find himself, to understand the traumatic experiences following the war, is the reason he writes the novel. The past is one of his greatest conflicts that he defies in the novel in order to move on. This piece of literature is significant because it exposes the damaging effects of war.

Inferences and thoughts about "Slaughterhouse Five"

Throughout chapter one of Slaughterhouse Five, Vonnegut uses vast amounts of specific details that don’t seem to be necessary, but could be subtle hints to futuristic events that could have a probable outcome. The relevance in most of the details does partake in the situation at hand; however, these details do not exactly fit, or just look as if they are vast amounts of excess. One can believe these hinted details can help predict what is to happen later in the book, for example: “…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” (11). One could ask if this is a display of an account of death that would relate to somewhere later in the book. This death is direct. It has no significance at that moment. It does not relate. Another example could be the parataxis phrasing of “He is short and I am tall. We were Mutt and Jeff in the war. We were captured together in the war...” (5). Through all these deaths portrayed, and the jumping through time, and the trailing off, and the “so it goes fragments”, the audience would most likely take away the argument that there will always be wars, and “even if wars didn’t keep coming like glaciers, there would still be plain old death” (4).


Throughout chapter one of Kurt Vonnegut’s, Slaughterhouse Five, two very Important motifs were introduced, time and “So it Goes” (Vonnegut 28). As Vonnegut introduces his novel to the reader, a very important idea pops in and out as he mentions death, “So it goes”. So it goes gives the impression of death being inevitable, and that both the audience (all living beings) and characters resign to it. They live. They learn. They die. So it goes is one of the many ideas about death mentioned in the novel, and it blossoms to be more than just a mentioning of a death, but it becomes a fantasy, and the idea that time is not only inevitable, but ever flowing. Time is also introduced to us in Chapter one with the idea that “Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time”(28). Vonnegut uses this quote as a statement of the abstract ideas to come in the novel, to establish the idea that his mind is “unstuck” or dawdling around in the past, and to immediately immerse the audience in thought.The mentioning of the idea forces the reader to contemplate what he means by the phrase and how that connects to the message of living in the present and not dwelling on the past that Vonnegut sends throughout the novel. The notions of time as an inevitability makes the story seem more coherent, and provides a good starting point for the piece.