Thursday, September 20, 2007
Kurt Vonnegut: Galápagos (1985)
This entire summer I’ve been entranced by the words of Kurt Vonnegut reading several of his books including: the greatest anti-war novel Slaughterhouse-Five, the tender tale of a man’s discovery of the meaning of life across the universe in The Sirens of Titan, and the blackest tale of how we are all what we pretend to be in Mother Night and then to the great novel on evolution, Galápagos.
Galápagos is (in its most simple terms) about the redemption of mankind. Due in part to luck, fate and Natural Selection mankind is spared from complete oblivion caused by our big brains. The “Nature Cruise of The Century” is set to sail to the Galápagos Islands in 1986; little did its passengers know that they would become the new cradle of a new civilization. To understate our fate one million years in the future, we basically become seals. How Kurt Vonnegut gets us to that point it is told humorously and matter-of-factly by the ghost of Leon Trout, the son of Vonnegut’s favorite character, sci-fi writer Kilgore Trout. The passengers that aid in the creation of a new humankind include a female high school biology teacher, an inept captain, a pregnant Japanese women with problems from the fallout of Hiroshima, the blind daughter of a wealthy businessman and six girls of the kaka-bono tribe from Ecuador. However, there are various other characters who aid (most of them inadvertently) these passengers into their million year long journey. This tale mostly focuses on how the characters get to their fateful cruise and up to the point when all the processes are set in place for our eventual evolution into the ocean and fish-catching. Through out the novel however Leon Trout makes comments about how we end up to a humorous and poignant effect. This tale isn’t absurd insomuch as it is the absurdity of the world that causes our near and almost complete destruction. The ghosts of the Vietnam War rear their heads throughout the novel and Vonnegut uses that great catastrophe and other events in human history to show that it is our big brains fault for all of it, mankind’s greatest evolutionary flaw. It is a telling novel and does not jump out as immediately as some of his other classics, but it is subtle and proves the deep humanism that weaves through all of Kurt Vonnegut’s works. Perhaps it is the epigraph of the novel that says the most about Galápagos and why we humans will survive,
“In spite of everything, I still believe people are really good at heart.”-Anne Frank