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Closing Time Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Through the carefully chosen title of his sixth novel, the punning references to the bus terminal, the allusions to such works as Wagner's Gotterdammerung (1874), the last drama of The Ring of the Nibelung (1852-1897), Mann's Death in Venice (1912), and Leverkuhn's oratorio Apocalypse, Heller underscores his principal thematic concerns. Closing Time is about the aging process and death of individuals, the passing away of the World War II generation, and, ultimately, the demise of the world.

In Closing Time, Heller bravely confronts through the monologues of Sammy Singer and Lew Rabinowitz what it is to grow old: the fears and realities of cancer and strokes; the losses of sexual vitality, memory, bladder control, hearing; the death of one's spouse; loneliness. He also confronts the inescapability of death. Although John Yossarian is still the affirmer of life, in this novel he completes his recognition of human mortality initiated by the Snowden incident in Catch-22 (1961). Through philosophical discussions with Dr. Dennis Teemer about the naturalness of death, through speculation "That's the only way to live, by preparing to die," and through a nightmarish epiphany in which he sees "the Angel of Death double and the gunner Snowden too" sixty-eight-year-old John Yossarian finally knows without a doubt that his life span is limited.

Not only does Heller open his readers' eyes to the deterioration of the body, but he also provides an elegy to the World War II generation. In fact, the novel opens with Sammy Singer's lament that soon there will be no World War II veterans — only mementos and perhaps memories passed on from parents to their children. The world of buildings without elevators; of George C. Tilyou's Coney Island...

(The entire section is 421 words.)