Slaughterhouse Five Chapter One Explication


Twenty three years after his experience of the Bombing of Dresden, author, Kurt Vonnegut, discusses his rationale for writing his novel Slaughterhouse Five. He recounts the events that occurred in Germany during the bombing raid. The bombing was devastating and most citizens of the US found it unnecessary and cruel. Dresden had been an escape for Europeans threatened by Hitler; the city became a sort of hospital center for the refugees. At the time, Vonnegut was taken as a POW and was held in an abandoned slaughterhouse where he witnessed the Bombing of Dresden. In post-modernist writing, historical fiction and social commentary are key aspects. Vonnegut, as a post-modernist author, captures a grim and dark subject, and presents it in a somewhat humorous and detached manner. Vonnegut, in chapter one, puts a human face on the bombing, making it more realistic and tangible to the audience, by speaking from a personal perspective rather than third person narrative.


Vonnegut employs brief sentences rife with asyndeton to create a very disconnected and melancholic tone. For example, on page sixteen Vonnegut states, "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" (16). He evokes this bluntness that makes him seem numb and cold. He, with a deadened voice, speaks of his wartime and post-war experiences, slowly but surely building up to the reason behind writing his novel. He explains how he manifests himself into "Billy Pilgrim", a young American soldier, to portray an innocent mind being thrust into the horror and insanity of the war and the bombing. Vonnegut takes on a diary style to follow not only his journey, but that of Billy Pilgrim's.


Vonnegut reunites with his long-time friend, Brian O'hare, to request his assistance on remembering their experiences for his novel. As Vonnegut recounts the animosity he felt from his best friend's wife, it becomes clear that loss of innocence and reflection on maturity are the underlying argument in Slaughterhouse Five in order to offer a new perspective on what war is really like. He prepares his readers to experience gruesome details of war and the exploits of Billy Pilgrim. He explains how Billy is "unstuck in time" (28), which will represent the internal battle of youth and maturity, the normally straight-forward process that has been completely thrown into a tail spin because of the war.


The battle of holding on to innocence and desperately grasping for newfound maturity is present whenever Vonnegut proclaims, "So it goes" (2). The ability to better cope with death is acquired through maturity and age, but humans maintain enough innocence to wish it never had occurred, or to deny it completely. Vonnegut uses this short phrase to demonstrate his acceptance of death, no matter how cruel or despairing. Vonnegut discusses massacres and states that "there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre" and that "everything is supposed to be quiet and it always is, except for the birds" (24). According to Vonnegut, the birds always say, "Poo-tee-weet?" (24). The birds are innocent and do not understand the devastation that results from a massacre, which can say the same about children. He further explains how he taught his sons about massacres, and how, no matter the victims, whether friends or foes, they should "never take part" and "never feel satisfaction or glee" (24). He evokes ethical reflection in his readers.