Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sirens of Titan

Now, I know that most people go into English and dread having to read anything by Kurt Vonnegut, which is perfectly understandable, but I have found that I actually appreciate his books very much.  When assigned an honors paper on Slaughterhouse Five, I chose to read another book by Vonnegut, rather than avoiding him.  I'm not sure if blogs are supposed to have a common theme, but my view is that they can be about whatever the heck I want to write about, especially since I'm pretty sure that no one else will ever be reading this unless I happen to become famous.  If that happens, people will be able to write biographies about me and put in that I once had a poorly organized, spontaneous blog when I was sixteen.  That being said, here is my view of how Sirens of Titan showed Kurt Vonnegut's internal struggle to find meaning in life.

Kurt Vonnegut is one of the fascinating, controversial writers of modern history.  His works strike poignantly at many of the questions that every person asks themselves at one point or another.  As one can see by looking at Kurt Vonnegut’s life, he struggled with the basic questions of life, such as why he should continue to go on living.  In Sirens of Titan, Vonnegut shows several characters who struggle with the same questions, and through them shows what he believed to be the ways that people deal with them.
The character of Boaz has the closest thing to a redemption story as anyone in the book.  When the reader first meets Boaz, he is a commander of the Martian army, torturing his fellow soldiers through the antennae in their heads.  Once he crash lands on Mercury, however, he has a change of heart.  While on Mercury, he befriends small creatures called harmoniums that live on sounds.  He finds great joy in playing music for them and making them happy.  One of the saddest passages is from Boaz’s point of view when he forgets to keep watch on the harmoniums, and hundreds of them die because they absorb too much music.

Boaz finds that life needs some sort of purpose, and this purpose he finds through the harmoniums.  When Unk, who is actually Malachi Constant, tries to convince Boaz to come back to Earth with him, Boaz refuses saying, “I found me a place where I can do good without doing any harm, and I can see I'm doing good, and them I'm doing good for know I'm doing it, and they love me, Unk, as best they can. I found me a home.”  The sense of belonging is enough to keep Boaz on Mercury for the rest of his life.
A recurring item in Vonnegut’s books is the planet Tralfamadore.  In Siren’s of Titan, one is introduced to the character of Salo, a robot from Tralfamadore with a mission.  He was sent from Tralfamadore with a message to another civilization on the other side of the universe, but his ship broke down on the journey, stranding him on the moon Titan.  He was sworn never to open the message, and he waits patiently for thousands of years as a replacement part for his ship is sent all the way from Tralfamadore.
A consequence of these Tralfamadorians is the manipulation of Earth.  Vonnegut states that almost all of the great events or feats in Earth’s history were manipulated by the Tralfamadorians to send brief, encouraging messages to Salo on Titan.  The time-traveler Rumford asks Salo to open the message for him just before he disappears into space.  Salo, against his programming, decides to open the message and read it.  The message contains only a single dot, which, in his language, means “greetings”.
Salo, angry that his entire life has now proved to be seemingly pointless, decides to disassemble himself.  The quote, “When you get right down to it, everybody's having a perfectly lousy time of it, and I mean everyone. And the hell of it is, nothing seems to help much” shows that Vonnegut doesn’t think very highly of how life ends up working out.  Having seen a war, Vonnegut has seen the very worst side of humanity.  Ending up old and alone, Vonnegut even tried and failed to take his own life, obviously ascribing to the thought that nothing could help anyone.
Malachi Constant is the main character of Siren’s of Titan.  Much like Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse Five, Malachi has very little choice of what is to happen throughout his life.  “I was a victim of a series of accidents, as are we all.”  These accidents lead Malachi to Mars, where he fathers a child, is brainwashed into an army, unknowingly kill his best and only friend, and is sent away to Mercury by Rumford.  Malachi has almost no choice in any of these matters, though he tries his hardest to avoid every prophecy spoken to him.
After he is sent off of Earth as a scapegoat for Rumford’s religion, Malachi ends up on Titan with his son and the woman who he was mated with on Mars.  There, they all struggle with how to continue living without the usual motivations of a society.  Their son, Chrono, decides to live with the giant blue birds that live on Titan.  Though Malachi and Beatrice, the mother of his child, initially cannot stand each other, they gradually grow to cherish each other.  Once Beatrice dies, Malachi puts the disassembled Salo back together to take him to Earth.
Unfortunately, once on Earth, Malachi dies of hypothermia.  Salo, trying to ease Malachi’s passing, hypnotizes him and makes him believe that he has been reunited at last with his best friend that he killed on Mars.  The quote “A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.” sums up the way Malachi chose to keep living.  Even though his life had been manipulated by others, he chose to love until his dying day.
The choices of these three characters shows the struggle that Vonnegut had within himself.  As mentioned previously, Vonnegut had at one time chosen to end his own life, but that is not the only way that he chose.  When he was a younger man, he raised his nieces after his sister died, an act of selfless love.  Perhaps the thought that kept Vonnegut alive to die a natural death was one of love and home, the same things that sustained Malachi and Boaz.  For, if there is one thing that could help someone while they’re “having a perfectly lousy time of it”, it would be love.

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