The prologue begins with an epigraph from Carl von Clausewitz’s Von Kriege. The epigraph states that no one in his right mind starts a war unless they are absolutely clear on two things: what he wants to achieve, and how he plans to achieve it. An unidentified person narrates the second part of the prologue from a first-person point of view. This narrator recalls the time she was three years old and attempted to kill her sister. Her father stopped her and implied she pretend the incident never happened. The narrator confesses that as she grew older she didn’t seem to exist except in relation to her sister. She thought of many different ways she could kill her, but ultimately the narrator says she didn’t do anything after all, because her sister did it on her own.
The opening epigraph immediately sets a dark and dramatic tone for the novel by using lofty language to speak of war and the aims of war. The choice of epigraph implies that a battle of some sort will ensue in the novel, in at least a figurative sense, and the stakes will be life and death. It also implies that one person alone will be responsible for initiating and conducting that battle, and that there will be no room for that person to be indecisive. In the context of the novel, the quotation suggests that anyone making a large and life-altering decision had better be prepared to follow through on that decision and to deal with the consequences.
The narrator of the prologue’s second section gives very little information about herself. She reveals a few facts—that she has a sister, that they slept in the same room together—but nothing that makes her identity clear. The biggest hint comes at the end of the section, where we learn that the sister died, though at this point it remains unclear which sister narrates and which has passed away. Perhaps most importantly, the narrator discloses that she once tried to kill her sister. In a very matter-of-fact tone, she describes the event in detail, remarking on the feel of the pillow and the sharpness of her sister’s nose. This level of detail gives the event a disquieting realism and shows that the narrator has held onto this memory in vivid detail. The narrator’s father catches her in the act, but he displays no anger. Instead he suggests they pretend the incident never happened, perhaps because they are children and he doesn’t believe the narrator really meant to kill her sister, or perhaps because he does not want to confront the meaning of the narrator’s actions. All together, these facts reveal a person simmering with turbulent emotions, and the prologue as a whole establishes a tone for the story, which will deal largely with death and the uncomfortable emotions family members sometimes feel toward one another.