Slaughterhouse-Five

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Main Ideas

Foreshadowing

Main Ideas Foreshadowing

Vonnegut dispenses with many traditional narrative techniques in Slaughterhouse-Five , including foreshadowing. Foreshadowing is used in literature to hint at and prepare the reader for future, as-yet-unknown events. In Slaughterhouse-Five , there are extremely few unknown events. In the first few pages of Chapter 2, Vonnegut outlines all the major events in Billy’s life: his service in the war, his time as a POW and subsequent treatment in a veteran’s hospital, the plane crash, his wife’s death, and his days on Tralfamadore. This lack of foreshadowing occurs on a micro-level as well. When Edgar Derby is introduced in Chapter 4, the reader immediately learns that he will be shot “by a firing squad in Dresden in sixty-eight days.” We just met Derby, and already we know how he will die. Vonnegut’s insistence on eliminating foreshadowing and suspense occasionally becomes comical. For instance, in Chapter 5, he writes that Billy had to wear a dog tag “[i]n case [he] died, which he didn’t.” We know Billy doesn’t die in the war, because Vonnegut has outlined his life for us.

Vonnegut’s dedication to dispelling any trace of foreshadowing indicates that foreshadowing is at odds with the novel’s concept of time. Recall that one of Vonnegut’s apparent goals is to write a book modeled on the Tralfamadorian novel, in which “[t]here is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects.” Foreshadowing helps create suspense. Therefore, there can be no foreshadowing in this novel, so the outcome of all important events is immediately explained. As a result, the reader’s experience of life through the book is identical to Billy’s experience; the reader, like Billy, knows what has happened, is happening, and will happen in his life and the lives of those around him.