Book Notes Chapter 1 Notes from Slaughterhouse-Five

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Slaughterhouse-Five Chapter 1

The narrator assures that the story to follow is real, at least the war parts. He went back to Dresden, where he had been kept prisoner years ago. It looked like Dayton, Ohio and he thinks there must be lots of human bone meal in the ground. He went with his war buddy Bernard V. O'Hare to the slaughterhouse where they were kept as prisoners of war. They talked with the cab driver, Gerhard Muller, who had been a prisoner of the Americans, who said it was hard to live under Communism, but things were better now. His mother was killed in the bombing of Dresden. The narrator writes, "So it goes." He wanted to write about Dresden, and make a lot of money off it, but instead he has become an old fart. He thinks of a lewd limerick about a young man and his non-functional penis, then a playful song.

Topic Tracking: Humor 2
Topic Tracking: Death 1

A filmmaker once told him he should write an anti-glacier book instead of an anti-war book. He understands this to mean that wars are as easy to stop as glaciers. "And even if the wars didn't keep coming like glaciers, there would still be plain old death." Chapter 1, pg. 4

Topic Tracking: Anti-War 1

To research the Dresden book, he looked up Bernard O'Hare's phone number. He jokes that he has a disease involving alcohol and the telephone, in which he gets drunk and tracks down old friends. O'Hare is awake when he calls, and although he does not remember much, he encourages him to come talk. The narrator asks if he thinks the climax should come at the execution of Edgar Derby for stealing a teapot. O'Hare mumbles that writing is not his trade. The narrator says:

"As a trafficker in climaxes and thrills and characterization and wonderful dialogue and suspense and confrontations, I had outlined the Dresden story many times." Chapter 1, pg. 5

The best outline of the story he ever made was with his daughter's crayons. His description lapses from the simple drawing into complicated recollections. He remembers being freed with other soldiers, the saber he has as a souvenir, and the diamonds and rubies that another soldier got from the dead. So it goes. They went to France, where they ate rich food, got covered in baby fat, then went home, got married, and had babies who are all grown up and he and the others are old farts.

He went to college briefly. He studied Anthropology. "At that time, they were teaching that there was absolutely no difference between anybody. They may be teaching that still." Chapter 1, pg. 8 As a result, his stories never have villains.

He was a police reporter for the Chicago City News Bureau during college. He covered courts and police stations and the Fire Department. Reporters called in stories to writers wearing headphones. The toughest reporters were women who had taken over for men who had gone to war. His first story was about a veteran who had been crushed to death by an elevator because his wedding ring got caught. So it goes. He called in the story and, despite his gory description of the body, the woman at the Chicago City News Bureau said she'd seen worse in the war.

Topic Tracking: Anti-War 2
Topic Tracking: Death 2

He was writing about Dresden even then. He told a professor about it and the professor told him about how the Germans has made soap and candles out of the fat of Jews killed in the concentration camps. All the narrator could say is, "I know, I know, I know."

He says World War II made people tough. When he became a public relations man his boss was very tough. He joined a tough church, too. He and his wife lost their baby fat and got scrawny and had scrawny veteran friends. "The nicest veterans in Schenectady, I thought, the kindest and funniest ones, the ones who hated war the most, were the ones who'd really fought." Chapter 1, pg. 11 When he asked the Air Force about details about Dresden, a man who, he notes snidely, is in public relations just like him, said it is top secret information. The narrator wonders from whom it is secret.

Topic Tracking: Anti-War 3

He went to see Bernard V. O'Hare. He cannot remember the date. Frustrated, he lapses into repeating limerick fragments. He took his daughter Nancy and her best friend Allison Mitchell with him because they had never seen big bodies of water. He says they saw carp as big as atomic submarines. The girls are well-behaved and dressed nicely in party shoes.

He remembers meeting Mary, Bernard's wife. He dedicates the book to her and to Gerhard Muller. He sent the girls off to play. He sensed Mary did not like him, so he complimented her house. He imagined a nostalgic setting, but she brought him to the sterile kitchen. O'Hare said her behavior had nothing to do with him, but he knew he was lying. They tried to reminisce about the war but could think of only anecdotes, like a friend who got so drunk they had to carry him home in a wheelbarrow, or two Russians, drunk after raiding a clock factory. Mary came in and burst out that they were just babies then. She accused him of planning to write a heroic war book, making babies look like men, making war look like a wonderful thing we should have more of, causing more babies to be sent into war. Suddenly he understood: she did not want her babies fighting in wars. He told her his book probably would never be finished, but that if it was, he promised no big Hollywood stars would be in the movie, and that he would call it "The Children's Crusade." She was his friend after that.

Topic Tracking: Anti-War 4

They looked up the real Children's Crusade. One said that the crusaders were ignorant and savage with a path of blood and tears. In 1213, two monks tricked 30,000 children, telling them they were going to Palestine, but they planned to sell them as slaves. Mary applauded the people of Genoa, who rescued a boatful of children.

The narrator read a history of Dresden, describing its glory and then its devastation in 1760. The next day he took the two girls out:

"We went to the New York World's Fair, saw what the past had been like, according to the Ford Motor Car Company and Walt Disney, saw what the future would be like, according to General Motors. And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep." Chapter 1, pg. 18

He has a three-book contract. He addresses the publisher, Sam, saying that the book is short and jambled because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everything is dead and quiet except for the birds, who say, "Poo-tee-weet?"

Topic Tracking: Death 3

He has told his sons not to take place in massacres, nor is the news of massacres to fill them with glee, nor are they to make massacre machinery, but to express contempt for people who think we need such machinery.

Topic Tracking: Anti-War 5

He went back to Dresden with O'Hare. They had fun in other European cities. He says he saw a lot of authentic backgrounds that he will use in later fictional stories.

He missed his plane to Germany. He says the night passed slowly because someone was playing with the clocks so that a year would pass each time the second hand moved. He could do nothing, since as an Earthling he had to believe in clocks and calendars. On the plane, he read a novel about a soldier who gets his head cracked in the war, who then becomes a doctor and writes grotesque novels at night when he cannot sleep.

Topic Tracking: Humor 3

He looked through the Bible in the motel, reading the story of the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. So it goes. He loves Lot's wife for turning back, because this is so human. She was turned into a pillar of salt. So it goes.

Topic Tracking: Death 4

He writes that people aren't supposed to look back, not anymore. He announces the completion of his war book; the next one is going to be fun. This one was bad because it was written by a pillar of salt. He announces that it will begin: "Listen: Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time," and will end, "Poo-tee-weet?"

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