Explication of Slaughterhouse 5
By Matthew Cianciolo and Joseph Bailey
The first chapter of the novel Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut informs the reader of the many locations that the characters will be interacting with. In chapter 1, Vonnegut discusses in first person about the story and events that are going to occur in Slaughterhouse 5 and his experience of war (the focus of the book) that occurred 23 years prior to the publishing of the book. Vonnegut’s prose is able to connect with other post modernism writings because it is able to write a story that is narrated by the author, with an ultimate reason for telling the story. This style was chosen by him to interact more with the reader, and to create the feeling of insecurity and mystery within the reader.
Vonnegut tells the reader not only of what is to come in the novel, but how the rest of the novel is going to be structured as well. Vonnegut’s usage of asyndeton after asyndeton really shows the pain that Vonnegut endures while he writes this book, as his memories haunt him. These simple sentences, though manly factual, allow the reader to interpret the state of Vonnegut’s mind, a mind that easily accepts the death of others with “so it goes.” The current state of his mind is reason enough to encourage the avoidance of situations involving mass death. Parataxis and hypotaxis are also used to further establish his message by giving the reader more information than they need or just being frank and short which allows the reader to fill in the gaps. The way Vonnegut threads his words together makes him seem like he is almost making such tragic events such as death and war seem humorous; his text has this spin on it is a result of the state of his mind. Vonnegut is not solely arguing for the prevention of war, but also the preventing of traumatic events that causes a person to become as numb as he has become.
Vonnegut's Main Argument
Vonnegut spends much of the first chapter discussing the difficult of putting his experiences into words. His calls with distant war friends, his issues with overcoming the trauma of his experience, his problem putting words to describe Dresden all leave the reader to believe that Slaughterhouse Five is putting words to something that cannot be described: war. It seems that Vonnegut, in writing this book, has finally overcome the roadblock that was his past; this book is his way of getting these thoughts out of his head and moving past them and to continue living his life. Vonnegut is very anti- death probably due to the emotions associated with one leaving this world; war has stripped these sad, downtrodden emotions from him due to his constant exposure. “And even if wars didn’t keep coming like glaciers, there would still be plain old death” (Vonnegut 4). Vonnegut does not like death in any sense of the word. By mentioning the fact of “plain old death” he is foreshadowing that there is many sorts of death in this book and that all of the deaths he has experienced have scarred him.
Vonnegut's Rhetorical Usage of Motifs
One of the predominant motifs already in chapter 1 is “and so it goes.” Vonnegut uses this motif after each death that he describes. Death in Dresden, and so it goes; death in the bible, and so it goes; theft from the dead, and so it goes; death is frequent and using this motif makes the reader believe that Vonnegut experienced so much death that it no longer has an effect on him. This motif could be used later when reflecting over the deaths that he remembers; although he may have reacted dramatically when these deaths actually occurred, he has been numbed in his aging and they no longer haunt him as they used to. Mustard gas and roses also comes up often in the novel. The mustard gas could represent the cause of the death and the roses could represent the roses laid on the graves of the dead. This could be similar to the motif “and so it goes” in the fact that it is simplifying the complex topic of death. This motif could be used in place of and so it goes or it could even be used to describe the funerals of the soldiers that he knew; being buried with the scent of mustard gas and the roses on top of the body, tossed in before the shoveling of a layer of dirt on top of a friend. Both of these motifs are trying to simply state a topic that cannot be explained and Vonnegut uses these motifs effectively so far in telling of deaths.