Slaughterhouse-Five: Part 1

Chapters 1 & 2 (1–51)

Slaughterhouse-Five opens with a detached Vonnegut reflecting on his past, describing in particular his life post-World War II. While Vonnegut doesn’t reveal a great deal about his war time endeavors at this early stage of the book, he does tease at some of the novel’s themes: he assures Mary O’hare that this will be an anti-war novel, that “there won’t be a part” for heroes like “Frank Sinatra or John Wayne” (15); he indicates that the novel’s climax won’t be when “thousands of people are killed” (5), but when Edgar Derby is executed; he warns his audience that the book will be a “failure” (22) “because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre” (19). Vonnegut also teases at some of these themes through his detached and almost defeated voice, as Vonnegut frequently strings together simple sentences to describe his thoughts. “He was lying. It had everything to do with me.” (13), Vonnegut writes as he describes Ed O’hare’s response to his wife’s attitude. This sequence of sentences creates a simple, matter-of-fact tone that reflects how confident Vonnegut is in his assertion that Mary is, in fact, mad at him. It also makes the situation seem inevitable; of course Mary is mad at Vonnegut. It still isn’t clear what she’s mad at him for, but it is obvious that she is mad at him, and given Vonnegut’s dry, matter-of-fact method of describing her anger, it almost seems as if Mary has to be upset with him. So it goes.

Vonnegut takes this inevitability to the next level throughout the rest of the chapters. There is an inevitability about the way in which many of the novel’s characters act. Take, for instance, Weary. Weary is an 18-year-old soldier whose entire life is described by Vonnegut as a simple cycle: Weary makes a friend. Weary “horse[s] around with that person…pretending to be friendly” (35). Weary “beats the shit” (35) out of that person for some reason or another, and is ditched. Weary makes a new friend, and the cycle repeats. So it goes.

There is also an inevitability about the way Vonnegut structures parts of the novel. For instance, Vonnegut follows nearly every death that occurs in the book (of which there have been many, especially given that I have only read 2 chapters) with the phrase “So it goes”(2, 6, 9,…). In addition to building on Vonnegut’s detached voice, this phrase is, in itself, inevitable: Vonnegut’s audience becomes almost conditioned to expect this callous sentence following the death of any character, no matter how insignificant they are. It also makes death itself seem inevitable — saying “So it goes” implies that this is the way in which all life must end, is the way in which all life has ended and is the way in which all life will end for the rest of time. With this simple phrase, Vonnegut reminds his audience of the cruel inevitability of death. People live, and people die. So it goes.

Words: 506