This first chapter, a preface, is insistent on the fact that the book is based on real events. Vonnegut, like our narrator, is a veteran of World War II, a former prisoner of war, and a witness to a great massacre, and that fact lends a certain authority to what follows.
Vonnegut shares with us his enduring inability to render in writing the horror of Dresden. There is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre, yet he feels the need to say something. The book unabashedly charts the author’s struggle to find a way to write about what he saw in a way that neither belittles nor glorifies it. This struggle we keep in the back of our minds as we proceed to read of Billy Pilgrim’s life.
The author also irrevocably creates himself as a character in the narrative. It is Kurt Vonnegut, the writer, the former POW, who speaks of the many times he has tried and failed to write this book. It is Kurt Vonnegut, too, who utters the first “So it goes” after relating that the mother of his taxi driver during his visit to Dresden in 1967 was incinerated in the Dresden attack. “So it goes” is repeated after every report of every death. It becomes a mantra of resignation, of acceptance, of a supremely Tralfamadorian philosophy (something we will be introduced to later). But because the phrase is first uttered by Vonnegut writing as Vonnegut, each “So it goes” seems to come directly from the author and from the world outside the fiction of the text.
Chapter One also hints that time will be an important part of the fiction to follow. The author was going around and around in circles trying to create a linear narrative. He felt like he was stuck inside a children’s song that continued indefinitely, its last line maddeningly serving as also as its first. Only when he begins to think about static time, about returning endlessly to the events of one’s life, about moments existing for eternity in no particular order, is he able to break through twenty years of frustration and write Slaughterhouse Five.