Explication of Chapter 1


The Dresden bombings happened on February 13th and 15th in 1945. More than 3,900 tons of bombs were dropped on the city by the United States Air Force and the Royal Air Force. Kurt Vonnegut starts off his book, Slaughterhouse Five, by telling us the story behind writing the book. He starts the story 23 years after the war while he is living in the United States. Post modernism started in 1946, after WW2, and post modernism is a style marked by the use of historical fiction; Vonnegut uses Historical fiction in his book when he gives us a false story based on true events, while his use of humor and his detached tone makes the events sound less horrifying, but still delivers his message against war. His style is direct, short, and flows like a train of thought. “He was up. He was reading. Everybody else in his house was asleep,” (Vonnegut 5). It is easy to see how his frequent use of asyndeton, which he uses to provide the reader with more details and images, makes it seem as if he is remembering this information while he was writing it, and that gives a natural flow as if it were his train of thought. His humor makes the book feel more personal and helps us come closer to the characters. He wants this book to feel natural, and he uses his personal perspective in the beginning to make the book feel like a story being told out loud instead of just a book being read.


Chapter one gives an overall sense of Vonnegut's style throughout the novel. In his writing he stylistically implements syntactical structures such as asyntedon, polysyndeton, parataxis, and hypotaxis to develop his tone. Vonnegut's tone in chapter one can be described as detached and dark. He writes the story in his own manner, and not necessarily a way that is convenient for the reader. Vonnegut employs polysyndeton in chapter one when he writes "As a trafficker in climates and thrills and characterization and wonderful dialogues and suspense and confrontations, I had outlined the Dresden story many times" (Vonnegut 6). He uses polysyndeton to express complex ideas. Vonnegut utilizes asyndeton when he says "I got O'Hare on the line in this way. He is short and I am tall. We were Mutt and Jeff in the war. We were captured together in the war. I told him who was on the telephone. He had no trouble believing it. He was up. He was reading. Everybody else in his house was asleep" (Vonnegut 5). The author uses asyndeton as a strategy to develop a list of ideas, usually to express the simplicity of something. Vonnegut uses all of these components to develop his tone throughout the novel. The author expresses a dark tone in a way that he mentions death, killing, and misery often. Vonnegut shows his obscurity when he says "So 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. So it goes" (Vonnegut 11). Vonnegut uses the darkness in his writing to express the terror that goes along with war. He argues that war is something to be avoided at all costs and that our way of life has made war look sensible and "stylish". He believes we should come to realize that war has no place on this planet.


Vonnegut has a strange way of organizing a series of events and this is shown through his seemingly random occurrences in chapter one. From these minor clues in chapter one, deductions about the events later on in the book can be made. He skips around. His skipping can be confusing. It will lead to the overall argument in the end. Of all the things he mentions in chapter one, there can only be a few that will define the events later on. Time is something that comes around often; “…wagon full of clocks,” (14); “It had a clock in it.” (6); “Time obsessed him.” (21). Time will obviously be a basis of the book’s structure even starting in the first chapter. Other specific events would obviously be the bombing of Dresden and his recruitment into the military first of all. He will have a wife and daughters and sons and he will find his wife after the war as mentioned. Also he will be a prisoner in the war and two people will make an appearance among this; Edgar Derby and Paul Lazzaro. Edgar Derby will make his conclusion or was supposed to at first by stealing a teapot and being shot by a firing squad, “And he’s given a regular trial, and then he’s shot by a firing squad.” There’s no clear place for Lazzaro yet as he is just mentioned as a character who “…had about a quart of diamonds and emeralds and rubies and so on.” He will go to his friend O’Hare’s house to visit at some point but it may be just in this case. When all of these events come together, they will form one coherent idea or theme. Because they all are connected, it will come easily and with more depth than a basic format. His argument so far would be considered to be antiwar to a certain degree. Not only should there not be war but there should be no weaponry being manufactured and no idea that anyone should be better off dead and that no one should get satisfaction after the death of thousands because in the end, and in the beginning, and in the middle, they are not just numbers, they are human beings.


Throughout his novel, Vonnegut uses motifs in order to demonstrate the hardship and terror that people experience during wartime. He repeatedly employs certain phrases in the text, which assist him in proving that death and killing are terrible and unhealthy for the human race. The most prominent motif that Vonnegut uses in chapter one is the phrase “So it goes”. He utilizes this phrase after every time death is mentioned. Vonnegut uses this motif when he writes “His mother was incinerated in the Dresden fire-storm. So it goes” (Vonnegut 2). The use of this phrase portrays the author’s disgust for war. The same three words are preceded by a negative situation that includes death. Vonnegut opposes war. He describes deathly situations. So it goes. The author also implements his ideas on war by employing the motif of “mustard gas and roses”. This phrase is used as antithesis to illustrate the bitter-sweetness of something. Vonnegut describes himself when he states “I get drunk and I drive my wife away with a breath like mustard gas and roses” (Vonnegut 5). He suggests that his breath reeks of both the cruelty that war entails, as well as the pleasantness of peace that follows it. Vonnegut uses this motif to represent the concept of war being both unpleasant and pleasant at the same time. Vonnegut’s utilization of these specific phrases allows him to embed the ideas into the minds of the readers. Bloodshed is a very unnecessary matter; corrupting humans by causing lives to be ended over petty ideas, can be avoided in many situations, avoiding war can lead to the unity of the world.