Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos is a dash of fantasy, part social experiment, and a touch of sea story, all within a narrative giant. This piece is meant to illustrate how humans are pure animals. It tells the bizarre tale of humanity nearing extinction, while one lone island’s inhabitants are becoming animalistic. The characters on the island are dehumanized, as they are purely survival focused. The narrator is a deep human character who is a product of the Vietnam War, a battle wrought with brutalizing warfare. If the piece serves to show how humans are mere animals, the conflict most proximate to it, the Vietnam War, is direct evidence of exactly that. As the narrator must have seen in combat during Vietnam, the reader sees characters in the story act like animals.

As the author presents the case for just how animalistic humans can become, he includes a non-human character, the “Mandarax”, a knowing computer, relied on by the humans. In fact, the end of the story has the last of the humans gripping the “Mandarax”, which represents the thinking mind—the thinking man or civilized one, seemingly lost in the chaos. In this way, Vonnegut reinforces his idea that civility ends as the characters in the book succumb to their environment.

At the present moment, with unimaginable tragedy and attacks haunting the globe, this piece reflects another expose on the human condition. It is ugly. Vonnegut, a WWII Veteran and once POW, elaborated on his experience as an Army soldier and a captive of German forces (Vonnegut Bio). The conflict exhibited a new side of human, animalistic type acts against its enemies and innocent civilians. Vonnegut used a Vietnam Veteran as the voice of his narrator because after the horrors of that War, he plunges into watching a deterioration of his species. I believe Vonnegut’s whole purpose was to bring to light that humans are animals and capable of savage behavior in order to survive, even in a “civilized” world with such advances as the “Mandarax”.

So disgusted was Vonnegut, he uses a gruesome vision of one character who makes a “customary announcement to one and all that he caught a female of some sort, and that they were about to copulate” (Vonnegut, 314). This same young man is written to be having intercourse with sea lions and fur seals (Vonnegut, 314). The story which spans millions of years, tells of a disease which causes the human kind to near extinction due to infertility. The few surviving humans evolve into seal like creatures with fur pelts. Like wartime in our history, the depicted scenes are chaotic, barbaric, and insidious.

Two main characters in the piece are civilized at the outset of the novel, but become mere animals in their final moments. The Captain and his once live-in mate, Mary, are estranged for some time when she attempts to come to his sick bed to aid with her trusty “Mandarax”. He is rude and brutal as she approaches and rages on her grabbing and throwing the precious “Mandarax” into the water. Mary then jumps in to retrieve her most valued possession, and is eaten by a shark in the process. The Captain then perishes in a gory attack by a shark. These two characters are representative of the once civilized ones, and they are living among Asian and other “non-whites,” who in the end, despite the way Mary and the Captain may have treated them, were caring for the Captain (313-316). The sea Captain dies at the hands of the deadliest of sea creatures, a shark, and as he was a Captain of this mighty sea, this seems poetic. Again, the author places the humans and animals on the same trophic level.

The book calls the reader to consider the hierarchy of humans as they relate to one another and to animals. The author presses this by creating a reality where the human species evolves into an animal. His intention to bridge the gap between human behavior and animal behavior makes great sense in light of his experience in WWII and witnessing the impacts on society after the Vietnam War. Vonnegut illustrates what humans are capable of doing and how animal behavior(s) are naturally part of the human make-up. Using a tale of civilized humans evolving into furry marine creatures, where all the characters in their own way become animals in their selfish and survival centered behavior. The very behavior likely felt by the narrator in the Vietnam War, where men, do in fact, animalistic beasts killing in the jungle.

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