Throughout the novel ‘Slaughterhouse Five’, Kurt Vonnegut uses the phrase “so it goes”. At times used tragically, at other times absurdly, this phrase, repeated more than 100 times, comes to represent the occurrence of death in the novel. As the phrase follows every mention of death, it conveys a sense of fatalism during wartime. The idea of death is strongly connected to this statement and the constant repetition of the phrase makes readers question the meaning of death and the costs of war. The phrase also keeps a tally of the increasing number of deaths throughout the novel, thus pointing out the tragic inevitability of it. The phrase not only refers to the occurrence of death but the acceptance of it and coming to terms with it. It is used in a way to say “whatever will be will be”. The technique of repetition of the phrase emphasises the harsh reality of death as a result of war which connects to the theme of the destructiveness of war.
In the novel, the phrase originates from the Tralfamadorians. They would use the phrase whenever they saw a corpse. This was because to them, death is just a bad condition at a particular moment in one's existence, however that same person is fine in many other moments. Billy Pilgrim began to view death in the same way after the time he spent with the Tralfamadorians, as if it's just one bad moment among many other good moments, therefore making it nothing to worry about. This is shown when Billy Pilgrim says “When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in bad condition in that particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is ‘So it goes’”. This shows how Billys approach to the topic of death in terms of his mindset and way of coping changed after the time spent with the Tralfamadorians.
Billy’s strong acceptance of death can be interpreted as a concealment his inner turmoil of never ever being able to accept another’s death, and links to the theme of acceptance and inevitability. Although he has experiences a very high number of deaths in his life, he may not necessarily be “numb” to the idea of death but rather just uses the phrase a sort of defence mechanism to secure himself. This is a way for him to accept the harsh reality of death as he comes to terms with its inevitability. “So It Goes” not only reveals Billy’s acceptance of death, but basically the acceptance of losing control in everything. Billy has quite literally been unstuck in time as he has been abducted by aliens. This on its own shows how he has no control of his life whatsoever. Billy’s life is portrayed to be something uncontrollable, and something that he does not have the power to change. And in this way, Kurt Vonnegut’s “So It Goes” can be viewed as a philosophical observation. A belief that one ultimately lacks free will in life, death, events, and everything that occurs in life. Whatever happens must be simply accepted and one must just go on with life. There is no such thing as free will, Vonnegut explains; humankind has no control over its destiny. So it goes, he announces. Whatever will be, will be. Vonnegut’s philosophical observation allows readers to enter the mind of the author and understand his opinions and viewpoints.
Repetition consists of repeating a word, phrase, or sentence, and is commonly used by authors to emphasise an idea to the readers. The repetition of the phrase “so it goes” comes after the occurrence of death, therefore it is a reminder of the constant horrors of war which links to the theme of the destructiveness of war. The destructiveness of war is the major theme of ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’. Billy Pilgrim and other characters like Paul Lazzaro, Bernard O’ Harry and including the writer suffer from physical as well as psychological devastation as a result of the war. Most of the novel revolves around the Dresden Bombing during World War II. The characters, being prisoners in ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ witness death and destruction caused by the bombing. This experience becomes the reason for Billy’s permanent sufferings. Even after the war, he remains emotionally and psychologically unstable. The repetition of the phrase highlights a key result of war to the readers, which is death.
In conclusion, the phrase “So it goes” recurs throughout the novel, and is repeated after each occurrence of a death. It becomes a mantra of resignation and acceptance, and is used as a defence mechanism to cope with the harsh reality of the wartime and the deaths in brings. Kurt Vonnegut shows is views on free will and how things are inevitable in life so it is important that people learn to deal with hardships. The technique of repetition is used with the phrase to link to various themes such as the destructiveness of war and reminds the reader of the harsh reality of war as readers are constantly reminded of new incidents of death.