Summary

Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Galápagos is narrated from a future one million years hence by the ghost of Leon Trout, son of Vonnegut’s frequently used character, science-fiction writer Kilgore Trout. Leon was beheaded while working as a shipbuilder, and his ghost inhabits a cruise ship bound for Guayaquil, Ecuador, to carry tourists to the Galápagos Islands.

While the ship is awaiting its maiden voyage, the world economic system breaks down under the burben of global debt, and World War III is triggered. Those events, however, which contain typical Vonnegut warnings about contemporary conditions, do not end the human race; what does is a corkscrew-like microorganism that destroys ovaries.

As order breaks down in the port of Guayaquil, ten people escape in the cruise ship. They reach Santa Rosalia, one of the Galápagos Islands. At this point there is only one male, the ship’s captain, and the women include an Indianapolis schoolteacher who eventually becomes the mother of the new human race. She transmits the captain’s sperm to six Indian girls and impregnates them. The male line survives in the baby of a Japanese woman. He is born furry as the result of a genetic mutation caused when his grandparents were caught in the atom bombing of Hiroshima.

Over the succeeding million years, as the descendants of these original survivors reproduce, they adapt to their largely marine life by developing flippers, instead of hands and feet, and smaller, streamlined heads. They also inherit the fur of the Japanese mutant ancestor. Thus they evolve as seal-like “fisherfolk.”

Charles Darwin and evolutionary theory are major themes in this book, and evolution is even reflected in the form of Galápagos. The novel has fifty-two chapters, as the year has weeks. The first part of the book is called “The Thing Was,” capturing the colloquial way to refer to complications in a narrative as well as alluding to the original form of the human animal. The second part’s title is “And the Thing Became,” recounting the adaptation to aquatic life. Having Galápagos...

(The entire section is 859 words.)