For my final research paper I have analyzing Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Galápagos. This novel, set in 1986, tells the story of ten misfits whose cruise ship crashes on the island of Santa Rosalia in the Galápagos. While a bacterial infection stops the rest of humanity from reproducing, the ten survivors become the foundation for the next (and only future) generation of the human race. While looking through scholarly articles, I found an article regarding Vonnegut’s portrayal of the end of humanity, as we know it today. Since the article focuses on how various authors portray the end of humanity, Vonnegut in particular is only briefly mentioned. The specific pages that I will be referring to are pages 168 to 171.
Freese claims that Vonnegut implies that the universe is “based on pure luck” and that “it is not the fit that survive for good reasons but only the lucky that survive for no reason at all”. I took this claim to mean that it’s fate that let some humans survive and reproduce while the rest of the species was eliminated. Do you believe in fate? What if the cruise ship hadn’t taken off before the infection? Or what if it got lost at sea and the passengers died before it reached Santa Rosalia? Would that have been the end of the human race or would fate have stepped in to save it? Also, what does that say about human exceptionalism if our whole species can be wiped out by a bacterial infection so easily?
Later, Freese comments on the fact that the third party narrator is the only person who can feel the satisfaction at the end. The narrator, a man named Leon Trout, is a ghost of a man who was decapitated while building the cruise ship. He follows the characters around and narrators their story from a million years in the future (from 1986). Freese’s analysis reminds me of the question we were asked in class. Is what actually happens at the end of the story the same as what the audience thinks ought to have happened? Since at the conclusion of the novel the human race has evolved into little more than sea lions, the audience’s instinctive reaction is to think that this is not what ought to have happened.
Since the story is told from the point of view of someone who was not affected by the drastic change in physical form of the human species, Freese feels that the audience is left confused as to whether or not the outcome is truly a benefit over the old way of human life (in 1986).
Another point that Freese makes is that the downfall of the human race, in the novel, is shown as a result of human’s “big brains” and their selfish characteristics. Vonnegut implies that natural selection eliminated these selfish characters by ending the human race, but Freese points out the irony since Darwin’s pointing out natural selection is what caused humans to behave this way. Freese feels that Darwin encouraged humans to act with “greed and heartlessness”. Do you agree with Freese? Did the publication of natural selection cause the dramatic change in the human mindset? Are our selfish actions justified, and are they even causing a problem in today’s society?
Finally, Freese states that Vonnegut is offering an alternative for “man’s eventual perfection” since he points out the major flaws in today’s society and shows how inept we are to survive without our technological innovations. Do you think the path that we’re on is leading us to “perfection”? Why or why not?
Freese, Peter. “Surviving the End: Apocalypse, Evolution, and Entropy in Bernard Malamud, Kurt Vonnegut, and Thomas Pynchon.” Heldref Publications XXXVI (1995): n. pag. Print.