Motifs in Slaughterhouse-Five
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In Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, the phrase "so it goes" is an important motif. A motif emphasizes a story's theme and this motif emphasizes the illusion of free will. This phrase accompanies every occurrence of death or mention of mortality. As a result, it appears within the novel over one hundred times. According to the aliens, every death has already occurred and cannot be prevented. The phrase serves a few different purposes. First, it acts as an interjection of ironic humor as a response to a gory death. Second, the phrase highlights the senseless nature of life and death. The phrase also serves as a transition, ending the death event and allowing the story to turn to a different topic.
Another motif is the call of the bird saying, "Poo-tee-weet." This motif reinforces the novel's central theme of the horror of war. This bird's cry is heard in the aftermath of the story's massacre. It also sings at the end of the novel. The phrase is punctuated by a question mark, suggesting that the bird is asking a question and that the question goes unanswered. Given the association of the bird's cry with violent, terrible events, the cry serves as a motif to emphasize the useless nature of war. The bird is asking why the firebombing had to occur and why so many had to die. The silence in response to the bird demonstrates that even those human beings involved in the atrocity have no answer or justification for their destructive behaviors.