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Why is George Jean Nathan the only person in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five whose death does not merit a "So it goes"?
October 26, 2012 10:57 AM   Subscribe

Why is George Jean Nathan the only person in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five whose death does not merit a "So it goes"?

Every single death in Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five is commemorated by the phrase "So it goes" immediately after it is mentioned except for one:

"He by chance was given a room which had once been the home of George Jean Nathan, the critic and editor. Nathan, according to the Earthling concept of time, had died back in 1958. According to the Tralfamadorian concept, of course, Nathan was still alive somewhere and always would be."

I have several possible theories why, but none seems very convincing or satisfying. Was it because:

1. Vonnegut hated Nathan and was purposely disrespecting him?
2. Vonnegut loved Nathan and couldn't bring himself to admit he was dead?
3. Vonnegut made an error?
4. He's following the Tralfamadorian conception that Nathan isn't really dead? (Even though that concept is mentioned lots of places and doesn't cancel the "So it goes" for any other mention of death? And still, why Nathan?)
5. The "So it goes," three paragraphs later refers to Nathan rather than the just the "silliness and murder" on TV at 8:00?
posted by straight to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
Is George Jean Nathan anywhere else in the book?

(I have read it- I just can't remember shite- so pretend you're with an ex-english major stoned in a Starbucks)

If he's not, then he isn't a character/person- but a descriptor... so the question would be why would vonnegut use a person as a place descriptor... ?

Is it because people and places come together, is it because one person is the same as another?

Or...

Is Nathan a reference to Vonnegut. Picking up on the idea that we can speak and speak and nothing really matters- you're just a tiny mention in a book, a book in a huge library, our lives a drop in the ocean, except to those who come directly after us.
posted by misspony at 11:59 AM on October 26, 2012


Nathan, like Vonnegut, was from Indiana and went to Cornell, where, like Vonnegut, he was a member of the Quill and Dagger society, and an editor of The Cornell Daily Sun. He may have had a special place in Vonnegut's heart. In the other death references in S5, Vonnegut also does not mention that "according to the Tralfamadorian concept, of course, Nathan was still alive somewhere and always would be." So it seems like he doesn't say "so it goes" because GJN is not dead.
posted by ubiquity at 12:17 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


misspony, Vonnegut gives a "So it goes" nod of the head even when he mentions the death of an animal, the deaths of unspecified people, or even just the concept of death, so Nathan would get one based on the pattern in the rest of the book.

Ubiquity, that makes more sense to me than any of the other options, but there are several places where the Trafalmadorian concept of death is mentioned and yet death is still observed with a "So it goes." In fact Billy attributes the phrase "So it goes" to what the Trafalmadorians say about dead people.
posted by straight at 1:31 PM on October 26, 2012


Oh definitely, it's the Tralfamadorian expression. I'm just saying, the fact that he did underline here that the guy lives on, somewhen, is something special, even though he mentioned the living on in a few other places where he said "so it goes."

My favorite use of the phrase is when Billy opens a bottle of champagne. "The champagne was dead. So it goes."
posted by ubiquity at 5:33 PM on October 26, 2012


here is the paragraph for better context

Billy Pilgrim checked into the Royalton Hotel on Forty-fourth Street in New York. He
by chance was given a room which had once been the home of George Jean Nathan, the
critic and editor. Nathan, according to the Earthling concept of time, had died back in
1958. According to the Tralfamadorian concept, of course. Nathan was still alive
somewhere and always would be.

He does mention the Tralfamadorian right after the sentence however it was the home and death was in the past and not in the house itself. Is the concept of it goes only with present death in the book? i can't remember
posted by radsqd at 8:37 AM on October 27, 2012


There's a "So it goes" for every mention of death (even champagne going flat, as ubiquity says), and for even vague allusions to the concept of death. Not having one for Nathan is a stark contrast to the rest of the book.

And even if it's a moment for Vonnegut to take seriously the Tralfamadorian concept, it makes me wonder, why Nathan? I think it might be the only mention by name of the death of a real person that Vonnegut knew personally. Maybe that's it.
posted by straight at 3:06 PM on October 27, 2012


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