“There is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want anything ever again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds.
And what do the birds say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like ‘Poo-tee-weet?'”Pg. 19
For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what the last part of this quote meant. I thought I was missing a deeper meaning, something hidden between the very fabric of the words. Many English teachers have wracked my brain with the notion that there is almost always a hidden message in a work that seems meaningless, senseless. But what could possibly be the hidden picture behind a bird saying “Poo-tee-weet” among a war scene? I wrestled with this for a long, long time before I finally realized I had gotten the message loud and clear.
I kept thinking this part of the quote was useless because there was no meaning. However, the meaninglessness is exactly what Vonnegut is trying to convey. The bird could not produce anything meaningful to say about a massacre because there is absolutely nothing meaningful about war. (Ironically, I guess that means the bird does have a secret meaning, huh?)
That is the point where I fell in love with this novel.
Beginning the first chapter in first person point-of-view, Vonnegut is speaking directly to the audience, though that part was unbeknownst to me at first. Vonnegut shares a series of flashbacks that center around the tragic bombing at Dresden, Germany, that resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of people. The chapter also focuses on Vonnegut’s trauma following WWII. Vonnegut cannot even seem to describe the events that happened in Dresden as he says, “I thought it would be easy for me to write about the destruction of Dresden…But not many words about Dresden came from my mind then– not enough of them to make a book, anyway. And not many words come now, either”(2).
To put yourself in someone’s shoes is easy, yet it’s also one of the most difficult things to do. It’s easy to imagine why so many veterans, including Vonnegut, suffer from PTSD following wars, but it’s not so simple to genuinely visualize thousands of people being incinerated in an instant, their lives wiped away in the time it takes for you to take a quarter of a breath. A situation so unfathomable, we’re left with only the tiniest fraction of the pain and trauma that comes from witnessing such an event. It’s heart-shattering to even think about, let alone experience it, just as Vonnegut had to. It’s no wonder he describes Slaughterhouse-Five as an anti-war novel. If any of us knew the true nightmares of war, we would spend our days writing novels against it as well.
I am ecstatic to read the next part of this novel. Considering how intricately the first chapter is written, and considering how easily it moved me, I can only dream what the rest will do. A person only imagine how articulately one crafts their work to make it one of America’s greatest literary novels, and I’m ready to find out.