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Free Study Guide Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

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FREE ONLINE SYNOPSIS: SLAUGHTERHOUSE - FIVE

CHAPTER 10

Summary


In this chapter, Vonnegut details some contemporary events and explains Billy’s trip back to Dresden with O’Hare, his friend from the war; Billy feels that the visit was “one of the nicest ones in recent times,” for the city has been rebuilt and has returned to a normal existence.

Billy also time travels to Dresden, two days after the city was destroyed. All the American prisoners, including Billy, O’Hare, and Vonnegut, are marched into the ruins of Dresden and made to dig out the dead bodies. When one of the soldiers dies of dry heaves caused by the smell of the decomposing bodies, the other soldiers are relieved of the task of digging through the rubble. Instead, they are instructed to use flame-throwers to burn the piles of ruin, cremating the bodies in the process. During the clean-up activities, Edgar Derby is shot dead for taking a teapot from the ruins.

During their captivity in Dresden after the bombing, the American prisoners are locked in a suburban stable. One day they wake up and find the stable door is open; they realize that the war is finally over.

Notes

Vonnegut explains how Billy goes back to visit Dresden with his war buddy, O’Hare. Since it is a very pleasant trip for him, it serves as a happy finish to his traumatic war memories. Since the city is rebuilt, alive, and prosperous, he is finally able to bury the old ghosts.

In juxtaposition to the description of the pleasant return trip to Dresden is the horrible explanation of the Americans digging in the rubble for dead bodies. One soldier dies from the dry heaves resulting from the terrible stench. In the end, the Americans are ordered to burn the rubble, cremating the dead civilians in the process. It is also reveled that Edgar Derby is killed for stealing a teapot from the ruins.

Earlier in the book, Vonnegut had asked O’Hare if Derby’s execution should be the climax of the book because of the great irony involved in his death. He has managed to survive the war and the bombing of Dresden and is then needlessly shot for a minor offense. After the destruction of an entire city and the deaths of thousands of people, Derby is murdered for stealing a teapot, while the American government that inflicted the tragedy on Dresden simply ignores the needless destruction and death, keeping it a secret from its own people.

It is obvious that in this last chapter Vonnegut wants to drive home the fact that during wartime issues of right and wrong become totally confused. Everything seems to be turned upside down, and people lose sight of the value of human life. That is the real tragedy of the novel.


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