Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five is written in a spare, declarative style. The sentences are simple—often blunt—and repetitive, and are arranged in short paragraphs within concise sections separated by asterisks. Vonnegut uses no transitions between sentences or paragraphs, so the overall feeling is one of abruptness or choppiness. For example, in Chapter 1, Vonnegut writes about his “old war buddy” Bernard V. O’Hare: “He is short and I am tall. We were Mutt and Jeff in the war. We were captured together in the war. I told him who I was on the telephone. He had trouble believing it. He was up. He was reading.” This passage exemplifies Vonnegut’s unadorned, factual style. He uses a simple sentence structure and unnecessarily repeats certain phrases, such as “in the war.”
Because Vonnegut’s sentences are usually short and to-the-point, unusual verbs and extraneous words stand out. In Chapter 3, shortly after Billy and his group have been captured, they pass German reserves rushing to fight at the front: “[The Germans] were festooned with machine-gun belts, smoked cigars and guzzled booze. They took wolfish bites from sausages, patted their horny palms with potato-masher grenades.” The cheery, silly-sounding words and phrases, like “festooned,” “guzzled booze,” “wolfish,” “horny,” and “potato-masher,” are at odds with the seriousness of the situation. The Germans are heading to the front in World War II, where many of them will surely die. However, Vonnegut’s word choices make it sound as if they are part of a celebratory parade. In this case, the stylistic choice emphasizes one of the main themes of the novel—the absurdity of war. It also serves as a reminder of the fact that these men are entirely unaware of the grim reality that awaits them at the front.