Slaughterhouse-Five: Novel Summary: Chapter 10
Vonnegut begins this chapter with the observation that Robert Kennedy was shot two nights ago and that Martin Luther King was shot a month ago. The government publishes a count of soldiers killed in Vietnam. His father died many years ago and left him a gun collection which has rusted from neglect.
On Tralfamadore there is not much interest in Jesus Christ. The aliens find Charles Darwin to be the most interesting Earthling because he taught "those who die are meant to die, that corpses are improvements."
One of Trout's novels deals with aliens who kidnap an earthling so they can ask him about Darwin and golf.
Vonnegut describes the flight he and his friend O'Hare took from East Berlin. They were served rye bread and salami and butter and cheese and they drank white wine. Far below them were the lights of East Germany and Vonnegut tried to imagine dropping bombs on those lights. O'Hare reads him a few facts about the world which indicate that the world's population gains 191,000 people each day. Vonnegut speculates that all those people will probably want dignity.
Billy travels back in time to two days after the destruction of Dresden. He and the other prisoners, including Vonnegut and O'Hare, are marched into the ruined city with digging implements. They join prisoners from all nationalities and begin digging for bodies. Billy is paired with a Maori whose skin is chocolate brown and who has whorls tattooed on his forehead and cheeks. They discover a cavity in the wreckage and a German soldier finds dozens of unmarked bodies. This is the first of hundreds of corpse mines in the wreckage. Eventually the bodies begin to decompose. The Maori dies from the dry heaves after working in one of the mines. After some time the soldiers change strategies and begin to incinerate the bodies using flame-throwers. At some point Edgar Derby is shot for stealing a teapot. Eventually the soldiers leave to fight the approaching Russians and Billy and the others are locked in a stable. One morning the war is over. The prisoners wander into the pleasant suburban street. There is a green coffin-shaped wagon and two horses. There are birds talking in the trees. One bird says to Billy Pilgrim "Poo-tee-weet?"
In this final chapter Vonnegut demonstrates the Trafalmadorian view that death is something which happens to everyone, whether they are Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy or his own father. He juxtaposes this observation with the fact that the world is gaining in population and under such circumstances death is only a deterrent. His speculation that all the new souls in the world will want dignity draws upon the novel's central theme of importance in the universe. Namely, that respect and dignity are something that only living creatures expect and that death frees us from such expectations. The fact that Edgar Derby's execution, the event that Vonnegut had previously cited as the climax of the work, happens as a matter of course and as an aside also serves to highlight the novel's central message. Death comes to us all and we are fools before we get there. The climax of the novel is in fact the nap that Billy takes in the back of the cart. In true Tralfamadorian fashion this good moment in the midst of so much destruction illustrates the manner in which individual moments occur not for any specific reason but simply because the moment is structured that way.