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The effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the writing in Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse Five is, of course, a matter of opinion. Many people love the book and rate the writing very highly. For me it is definitely an acquired taste – one I have not yet quite acquired. In any case, here is a sample passage from the book, and below it are some comments about the literary devices used in the passage:
An unseen hand turned a master valve. Out of the showerheads gushed scalding rain. The rain was a blowtorch that did not warm. It jazzed and jangled Billy’s skin without thawing the ice in the marrow of his long bones.
The Americans’ clothes were meanwhile passing through poison gas. Body lice and bacteria and fleas were dying by the billions. So it goes.
And Billy zoomed back in time to his infancy. He was a baby who had just been bathed by his mother. Now his mother wrapped him in a towel, carried him into a rosy room that was filled with sunshine. She unwrapped him, laid him on the tickling towel, powdered him between his legs, joked with him, patted his little jelly belly. Her palm on his little jelly belly made potching sounds.
Billy gurgled and cooed.
Assonance. Example: “hand turned a master . . . .”
Paradox. Example: “scalding rain” [rain is not normally, if ever, scalding; usually it is just the opposite].
Metaphor. Example: “scalding rain” [water coming from a showerhead is not literally rain].
Paradox. Example: “a blowtorch that did not warm.”
Metaphor. Example: “The rain was a blowtorch.”
Alliteration. Example: “jazzed and jangled.”
Vivid, detailed phrasing. Example: “thawing the ice in the marrow of his long bones.”
Alliteration and assonance combined. Example: “passing through poison gas.”
Repeated refrain. Example: “So it goes.”
Discontinuous narrative. Example: “And Billy zoomed back in time to his infancy.”
Series of parallel verb phrases. Example: “She unwrapped him, laid him on the tickling towel, powdered him between his legs, joked with him, patted his little jelly belly.”
Internal rhyme. Example: “jelly belly.”
Onomatopoeia. Example: “potching.”
Inventive language; neologism. Example: “potching.”
Many readers consider Vonnegut a highly talented writer and might point to passages such as this one to make that case.
See also the link below.
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