Summary and Analysis
The final chapter begins in 1968, with the narrator providing a series of death reports: Robert Kennedy was shot two nights before, and Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot a month before. From Vietnam, the government provides daily body counts "created by military science." Billy reports that on Tralfamadore, there is little interest in Jesus Christ, but Tralfamadorians hold Charles Darwin in high regard. Darwin taught that "those who die are meant to die, and that corpses are improvements." From the Tralfamadorians, Billy learns that everyone lives forever, spending time reliving events over and over. The narrator is not overjoyed with Billy's epiphany, but, if it is true, then he is grateful that so many of his moments have been positive.
One of these positive experiences concerns his 1967 trip to Dresden with Bernard V. O'Hare. As they fly over East Germany, the narrator imagines dropping bombs on the villages and towns below. In a small notebook, O'Hare tries to find information on the population of Dresden, and he discovers statistics about a world population explosion and worldwide deaths due to malnutrition. The final sentence of the article in the notebook asserts that the world's population will be seven billion before the year 2000.
While the narrator and O'Hare fly to Dresden, Billy travels back to Dresden, two days after the city has been destroyed. Assigned to dig for bodies among the rubble, he is teamed with a Maori captured in Tobruk. Although many holes are dug in the rubble, most end when pavement is struck or large boulders are encountered. At last the diggers come to a structure of timbers that contains dozens of bodies. The opening is enlarged so that the corpses can be carried out.
Hundreds of corpse-yielding excavations are dug. The bodies begin to rot, and the stench becomes unbearable. The Maori gets sick and dies, vomiting in convulsions after he is ordered to work in one of the excavation caves. The Germans finally decide to stop bringing bodies to the surface; instead, they cremate them with flamethrowers where they lie. While working in the excavations, Edgar Derby is discovered with a teapot in his possession. He is arrested for plundering, court-martialed, and executed.
Cremations stop when the German soldiers are called to fight the Russians. Billy and the other prisoners are locked up in a stable in the suburbs. One morning the prisoners awake to discover that the doors are unlocked: In Europe, World War II is over. The prisoners exit from their confinement and wander in the streets. The birds are talking, and one asks Billy Pilgrim, "Pootee-weet?"
The final chapter concludes with a myriad of contrasts. The specter of murder in the beginning paragraphs is juxtaposed with a hint of renewed life in the final lines. The assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., and the inhumanity of the body count from Vietnam are contrasted with Billy's wandering in the shady streets in springtime, with trees leafing out and birds singing. In addition, the assassinations remind us that Billy, like Kennedy and King, Jr., will also be killed by a bullet from a sniper's gun.
Chapter Ten also renders a final allusion to the theory of natural selection. With the death of the Maori, Vonnegut makes the same point he does with Edgar Derby: While both men are sound biological specimens, both fail to survive. Modern warfare does not reject the unsuitable and select the fittest for survival. Both Derby and the Maori, as well as those killed in the firestorm, are collectively eliminated without allowance for individual characteristics or distinctions, and those who survive do so without exhibiting any superior capabilities.
Robert Kennedy (1925–68) American politician who served as U.S. Attorney General (1961–64) under his brother, President John F. Kennedy, and, after Kennedy's death, under President Lyndon B. Johnson; assassinated in Los Angeles by Sirhan Sirhan while campaigning for the presidency.
Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–68) American cleric and civil rights leader in the 1950s and 1960s; winner of the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, four years before he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.
Charles Darwin (1809–82) British naturalist who developed a theory of evolution referred to today as Darwinism; Darwinism states that all species develop through natural selection based on the ability to survive and reproduce.
Adolphe Menjou (1890–1963) twentieth-century film actor known for his character roles; among his films are I Married a Woman (1958) and Step Lively (19441).
Maori a Polynesian people living in New Zealand, an island country in the South Pacific, southeast of Australia.
Tobruk a city in northeast Libya on the southern shore of the Mediterranean Sea.