How can I write a well-developed paragraph in which I analyze Edgar Derby's speech after his election as "Head American"?

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cloudhidden eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To write a well-developed paragraph, you need to have some sort of central idea. So let’s take a look at Derby’s speech and come up with a couple of ideas, and then develop them. The main idea of each paragraph will be italicized.

Somewhere in there, old Edgar Derby was elected head American. The Englishman called for nominations from the floor, and there weren’t any. So he nominated Derby, praising him for his maturity and long experience in dealing with people. There were no further nominations, so the nominations were closed.

“All in favor?”

Two or three people said, “Aye.”

Then poor old Derby made a speech. He thanked the Englishman for his good advice, said he meant to follow it exactly. He said he was sure that all the other Americans would do the same. He said that his primary responsibility now was to make damn well sure that everybody got home safely. (146-147)

First off, this isn’t much of a speech, which is understandable considering the bleak circumstances of the American prisoners. The very idea that there would be a ‘head American’ was actually proposed by the Englishman, as the Americans were too demoralized and defeated by the whole experience to even consider getting organized. The war in general and the Battle of the Bulge in particular were harrowing enough, but being captured by the Germans, transported in boxcars, and stripped of their uniforms drained them of whatever energy and soldierly discipline they might have had left.

In this context, Derby’s speech is morbidly ironic. He himself is destined to be executed for ‘stealing’ a teapot after the firebombing. He has no real control over anything, so to claim responsibility for making sure everyone gets home is a sad and futile pronouncement. This kind of jaded appraisal of authority and custom is typical Vonnegut, and Slaughterhouse-Five is filled to the brim with sad ironies like this one.

So, as you can see, these two related ideas, “this isn’t much of a speech,” and, “Derby’s speech is morbidly ironic,” are both relatively simple impressions of the text. To develop them into paragraphs, we need to offer evidence, examples, and textual or historical context to support them. In this case, the first paragraph explains the context the speech is given in, and the second explains the literary and emotional effect of this moment in the novel. In an essay, we could develop these ideas further into a thesis about the use of irony in Slaughterhouse-Five, for instance.



Vonnegut, Kurt. 8. Slaughterhouse-five: Or, The Children's Crusade, a Duty-dance with Death. New York: Delacorte, 1969. 178-79. Print.

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