Slaughterhouse Five

Summary of Chapter 1

In chapter one of Slaughterhouse 5, Kurt Vonnegut introduces us to the novel by detailing events occurring after his time serving in World War 2. He explains his difficulty in writing the novel, as “there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre” (24). Vonnegut writes the novel during the postmodernism era, which took place in the time following the war. During this time, American citizens were shaken by the incredible loss and terror they had experienced throughout the war, and were attempting to regain a sense of normalcy. This historical context provides support to the fact that Vonnegut essentially wrote an anti-war novel, as that was the sentiment of many Americans at the time due to the struggle and pain they had experienced. The first chapter actually functions more as a prologue rather than a piece of the actual novel, as it introduces the reader to the story which is about to be told. Also adding to the detached feel of the first chapter is the fact that Vonnegut uses first person while speaking during the chapter, while throughout the majority of the novel, he speaks in third person. Vonnegut describes personal experiences through the first chapter, and tells a story with the rest of the novel. Vonnegut embodies the idea of organized chaos in his writing. It feels as though he is lacking cohesiveness, which is the very thing which makes it cohesive. The style of writing simulates the feel of war, which makes no sense in any way, but is somehow made to be sensible. Through this technique, he is able to capture a feeling which is nearly impossible to capture. As a whole, the first chapter mainly serves to introduce readers to the concept of the novel, and to inform them of what they are about to read.

Analysis of Language

In chapter 1 Vonnegut expresses the illogic of war through his personal memories which have left him lonely and traumatized. His syntax is characterized by an excessive use of asyndetons and polysyndetons. Through the use of these syntactical strategies, Vonnegut connects his past-time with his present time displaying the effects of war on a person both mentally and physically. The audience can further infer that Vonnegut's mind has strayed from what many call normal, but it is in this transformation that Vonnegut is able to write the anti- war novel Slaughterhouse five. For example, Vonnegut explains his thought process in trying to recall why his war buddy's wife may have distrust or hate towards him, “I couldn't imagine what it was about me that could burn up Mary so. I was a family man. I'd been married only once. I wasn't a drunk. I hadn't done her husband any dirt in the war” (13). The reader can easily distinguish the irrational thought process of Billy Pilgrim as Vonnegut writes short and choppy sentences, jumbling the sentences together to reveal how Billy's thoughts run one right after another. The seperation between being a soldier and being a friend, husband, and father has diminished. War-life has now become a living nightmare in his personal life.

Expectations of the Reader

In Chapter one, Vonnegut introduces his unique style of writing to the readers by jumping from time period to time period requiring the readers to make connections to the main argument and between the characters and their fate. By the end of Chapter one, readers can infer that Vonnegut's main purpose in writing this 1969 anti-war novel was not to retell the bombing of Dresden and what he experienced in Slaughterhouse Five, but, with a focus on fate and time, to emphasize the concrete characterization of time, that it cannot be changed, and what happens to a person cannot be stopped. He explains that time is confusing and ongoing; time does not stop for anyone or anything. Vonnegut using chapter one to thouroughly discuss the process of writing this novel and how his attempt to outline the bombing of Dresden led to the lack of explanation for the tragic events that occurred that night and how his perception of time was changed as he travels back through his life. He introduces a main motif, “So it Goes” (2), which readers will see many times as the novel progresses, to keep consistency with his feelings towards each death he encounters throughout life and war. Vonnegut concludes chapter one by telling us, “I've finished my war book now. The next one I write is going to be fun. This one is a failure, and had to be, since it wa written by a pilar of salt. It begins like this: Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time. It ends like this: Poo-tee-weet?” (28). Chapter one seems to serve as an ending chapter, a prologue, versus a first chapter, an introduction. Vonnegut proceeds to tell the readers what the story will start with, how it will end, but nothing about the in-between. In doing this, he allows readers to create their own image about what is going to happen to his fictional character, Billy Pilgrim, and on what adventures they will be taken on through this character's point of view.

Recurring Motifs

In chapter one, Vonnegut introduces two of many motifs that will recur throughout the novel. “So it Goes” is developed as the primary and most dominant motif. This phrase is repeated after each report of a death. The author’s constant utilization of this mantra creates a tone of acceptance, thus allowing Vonnegut to establish the facts from his experience in war. An additional motif introduced in this “prologue-like” chapter is the pattern of silence with time. Vonnegut writes, “Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre…” (19). Silence is the sound of grief and despair, reflecting and listening, and it takes time to move on from traumatizing destruction. It can be inferred that time is silent. To support this claim, Vonnegut exemplifies one of his characters named Céline. This character is carried by time, for “Time obsessed him” (21). Céline possesses a lavish desire to stop time. By configuring the motives of silence and time early on in the novel, their rhetorical impact on the main character, Billy Pilgrim, only amplifies. We can predict that Billy will be consumed by time as well, either accepting that it will never change, or a desire to stop it.

McKenzie Rutan, Kelly Quinn, Jordan Bogigian