Explication of Chapter One

Slaughterhouse Five

Chapter One

In Chapter One of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, Vonnegut goes into detail about his experience in Dresden and the difficulty he had writing about it for 23 years. He writes about meeting with O'Hare, a friend from World War II, in order to help himself recall events from the bombing. He also writes about a meeting with Harrison Starr, who told Vonnegut that writing an anti-war book seems about as worthwhile as an anti-glacier book. Vonnegut writes during the period of post-modernism, which is evident because the novel is historical fiction and Vonnegut doesn't reveal the message of the novel at the beginning. He also writes in a post-modern style by incorporating his trademarked black humor and abstract style of writing. With such an eccentric novel, Vonnegut decides to narrate directly to the audience at the start of the novel in order to establish an early personal connection with his readers. Because the novel is as exotic as it is, Vonnegut felt the need to ease the reader into Billy Pilgrim's bizarre world. Vonnegut has a very specific style of writing that he carries out through the entire novel. Because he couldn't find ways to directly tell the story of Dresden, he had to work around the story and tell it in his own style, which allows the reader to truly see how his brain functions. Vonnegut's writing is very scattered, like a stream of consciousness. He relies heavily on paratactical structure, and he forces himself to find humor in some of the most bleak situations in order to make sense of them.

Chapter Two

​In Chapter One, Vonnegut composes a nostalgic yet melancholy record of an influential moment in his planning of this novel. The use of apathetic paratactical syntax defines his style to be similar to the diction of a wise elder bursting with counsel to share. Because parataxis gives everything equal value and importance, nothing that the audience reads of seems important to Vonnegut, which causes him to appear indifferent. We are introduced to O’Hare (Vonnegut’s friend from the war) and his wife during this chapter; they were instrumental in the planning of the book. Vonnegut’s controlling argument is drawn from O’Hare’s wife’s criticism that he was only a baby when the war was fought. He debates that those who participate directly in war are negatively affected to the point where they are robbed of gradually maturing into adulthood. The men arrive as babies and leave a short time later as scarred old men. In Vonnegut’s case, he was changed to have trouble truly caring about anything, as shown in his abundant use of parataxis.

Chapter Three

Vonnegut's character, Billy Pilgrim, undergoes various traumatic experiences. Knowing this, it can be inferred that much of the novel will be a mental war between he and himself, rather than a battle between Billy and society; however, it is possible that Billy's civil war may be initiated by society. Vonnegut will likely use Billy's mental instability to define his argument. Although Slaughterhouse Five is definitely an anti-war novel, Vonnegut tackles a specific aspect of the affects of war. The psychological side-effects that go into war are so damaging to the human brain that even Kurt Vonnegut was unable to put his experience into words until 23 years of recovery. Vonnegut's argument isn't simply that war is bad, it is that the psychological agony that comes out of war is not be worth the war itself, and he can only demonstrate that through the outlandish life of Billy Pilgrim.

Chapter Four

​Two motifs that seem highly significant in the first chapter are “so it goes” and “poo-tee-weet.” Each time death is mentioned in some way, it is followed by the sentence fragment “so it goes,” as if to say that death is inevitable and unexpected and there is nothing else to say about it. Because the book is about World War II, death will be a prominent aspect—this specific phrase will be numerous and frequent. At the end of this chapter, Vonnegut tells us that the novel will end with the word “poo-tee-weet,” and, earlier in the chapter, the word is introduced as the sound one hears after a massacre. He says this is what you hear because there is nothing else to say about such a terrible thing as a massacre. The two motifs will be related because, when death occurs as it always will, one must acknowledge its inevitability in order to accept it and then there is nothing more to say at all, save the birds mindless chattering.