Vonnegut opens the last chapter by saying that Robert Kennedy was shot two nights ago (in 1968) and Martin Luther King was shot one month ago. The Vietnam War is still raging. Vonnegut does not use the guns his father left him in his will. On Tralfamadore, Billy says the aliens care more about Darwin than Christ, since Darwin taught the necessity of death in life’s procession.
Vonnegut brings the story back to the present and points to instance of violence current in the United States. Vonnegut against references Jesus and implies that Jesus is of more use to humans than to the Tralfamadorians, who prefer Darwin’s science of the interaction of life and death.
Vonnegut says that, if Billy’s ideas about time are true, he is happy that he has some nice moments to go back to, like his visit to East Germany with his friend Bernard O’Hare. Vonnegut remarks that he and his friend are now “well-to-do,” and repeats, “If you’re ever in Cody, Wyoming, just ask for Wild Bob.”
Vonnegut again references the material comfort he has achieved in his post-war years. At the time of the novel’s writing, he had just begun to be acknowledged for his literary abilities.
O’Hare reads something in his notebook which states that 7 billion people will live on earth in the year 2000. Vonnegut says he supposes all those people “will want dignity.” Pilgrim is back in 1945, being marched into Dresden’s rubble, and Vonnegut says again that he, Vonnegut, was there also. They have “picks and shovels” and are to dig for bodies.
Vonnegut begins the final scene of the novel, a deeply moving portrait of the disposal of bodies following the destruction of Dresden. He, O’Hare, and Billy are all present at this event, which blends the novel’s fact and fiction.
Billy and a Maori prisoner dig and find numerous bodies; the hole is widened and a “corpse mine” is created, the first of many. The mines begin to stink of “mustard gas and roses.” The Maori dies of the dry heaves because of the stench. The POWs begin using flamethrowers to incinerate the corpses and prevent the smell. One of the corpses burnt is Derby’s; he was buried there after his execution.
Derby returns, a symbol of the cruelty of fate and the apparent indifference of war to one’s goodness or badness—some good soldiers are killed, and some bad soldiers are spared. “Mustard gas and roses” has come unstuck in time and entered its way into this scene in 1945. It is a scent that Vonnegut carries with him always, a memory he can never escape.
Later the Germans are called away to fight the Russians, the corpse mines are closed, and the end of the war is announced. Billy walks out onto a street and sees the horse-cart and horses he will use to rummage for supplies. “Birds were talking,” writes Vonnegut, and “one bird said to Billy Pilgrim, ‘Poo-tee-weet?’”
After the corpse-disposal scene, one of the novel’s most gruesome, we now understand that Billy enters the horse-cart and proceeds to have one of the happiest days of his life. The birds above sing regardless, not concerned about Billy’s plight, whether good or bad. They are an indicator of the indifference of nature to man’s fate—a symbol of there being “no why.”