The Sirens of Titan

by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

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Critical Evaluation

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The book’s disclaimer is a superbly creative and tongue-in-cheek way to begin. It reads: “All persons, places, and events in this book are real. . . . No names have been changed to protect the innocent since God Almighty protects the innocent as a matter of heavenly routine.” The Sirens of Titan, Kurt Vonnegut’s second novel, was originally published as pulp science fiction. There was no respectable hardcover edition. The book’s satire and depth was not perceived until many years later, after Vonnegut had achieved fame through Slaughterhouse-Five (1969). The Sirens of Titan was written in less than two months; the plot line was determined over cocktails at a party. Vonnegut took the job writing it because the magazine market was not as good as the science fiction novel market, and he could make more money in two months on a novel. In The Sirens of Titan, Vonnegut fashioned several characters and scenes that were employed in his later novels. The invention of the planet Tralfamador is one of these. The Martian recruiters were characters he had used in a story for the Saturday Evening Post.

The theme of The Sirens of Titan is whether or not human history is meaningful. The answer and the moral, as often found in Vonnegut’s books, are to love whoever is around to be loved, to abandon expectations, and to live fully in the moment at hand. In the caves of Mercury, Boaz states, “I don’t know what’s going on and I’m probably not smart enough to understand if somebody was to explain it to me. All I know is we’re being tested somehow, by somebody or some thing a whole lot smarter than us, and all I can do is be friendly and keep calm and try to have a nice time till it’s over.”

Rumfoord is the most intricate character in this novel. Vonnegut said that Rumfoord is based on Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Rumfoord’s personal dilemma is that he is used by the Tralfamadorians, just as everyone else is used. Because he seems to have so much power and control, he thinks he should be allowed to determine his own fate and destiny. He is not, and his position is particularly obscure because he arranges the great suicide of the Martian army in order to do what he perceives to be a good thing, setting up a religion on Earth in which everyone is equal.

In this religion, people wear handicaps to limit whatever gifts or talents with which they are born. Strong people wear weights, beautiful women wear ugly makeup, people with good eyesight wear glasses to hamper their vision. All the people of Earth participate in this, under Rumfoord’s supervision. Rumfoord thinks that, in causing a war and then presenting the world with a new and unified religion, he accomplishes a noble and decent act. He wants to think it is his own idea, that he is operating of his own free will.

In the end, Rumfoord is found to be no more in control of his destiny than any of the people he controls. He is made to stage the war and do everything he does by the Tralfamadorians. Vonnegut shows with Rumfoord that even those who appear to have the most power are just as baffled as to the meaning of life as everyone else is. Rumfoord is the only character who seems to be disgruntled with his lack of free will. Everyone else more or less accepts it.

Biblical references abound in the book. Constant adopts the name Jonah and owns a spaceship called

(This entire section contains 792 words.)

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Biblical references abound in the book. Constant adopts the name Jonah and owns a spaceship calledThe Whale. The fortune obtained by Noel Constant is accomplished by breaking the sentences of the book of Genesis into two-letter acronym combinations and finding company names that start with the two letters. The religion Rumfoord founds adopts the same God as is in the Bible, only this religion’s God does not care about the plight of humans or the plight of anything else. Though Vonnegut claimed to be an atheist, he makes considerable use of the Bible in this and in many of his works.

With The Sirens of Titan, Vonnegut not only presents characters that he uses in later novels but also uses many themes that will later become Vonnegut hallmarks: middle-class virtues, decency, friendliness, respect, neighborliness, spiritual success through kindness and generosity. He asserts his theory of space and time through Rumfoord. Rumfoord says, “When I ran my spaceship into the chrono-synclastic infundibulum, it came to me in a flash that everything that ever has been always will be, and everything that ever will be always has been.” This is as clear an explanation of Vonnegut’s sense of fate as can be found.