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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
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.