Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan: Page by Page, Chapter by Chapter Review: Chapter 1, Between Timid and Timbuktu

Sirens of Titan was published in 1959.

The Sirens of Titan Plot Summary for Chapter 1:

  • Malachi Constant is a billionaire playboy who visits Beatrice Rumfoord at her estate in Newport, Rhode Island in the future of the now past 1950s.
  • Beatrice’s husband is a wealthy explorer, who encountered a chronosynclastic infundibulum (“CSI”) in his space ship, which causes him to appear as an apparition every 59 days at his wife’s estate along with his dog, Kazak.
  • In his first apparition to his wife, he told her that she would have a son, Chrono, with Malachi Constant, while they were living on Mars – he has now asked her to invite Constant to the estate, where he tells this news to Constant.
  • Constant absorbs the news and departs in his limousine through the crowd, which has gathered because of the famous nature of these regular apparitions and the implications they bring to spirituality in then modern society.

12 Chapters, and an Epilogue.

The Sirens of Titan; Best Sentences, Phrases and Writing – Pages 1 – 40

“Everyone now knows how to find the meaning of life within himself.” Page 1

“Mankind, ignorant of the truths that lie within every human being, looked outward – pushed ever outward. What mankind hoped to learn in its outward push was who was actually in charge of all creation, and what all creation was about.” Page 1

“The bounties of space, of infinite outwardness were three: empty heroics, low comedy, and pointless death.” Page 2

Break 1, Page 2: ***

Setting: Newport, Rhode Island, USA, Earth, Solar System, Milky Way.

“The crowd was crazy about miracles.” Page 3

“‘Wanda June,” she said, “if you don’t start acting right, I’m never going to take you to a materialization again.'” Page 3

Break 2, Page 3: ***

“The materializations had been happening for nine years, once every fifty-nine days.” Page 3

“Her report never exceeded one hundred words.” Page 4

“The reports implied that Mrs. Rumfoord’s husband could see the past and the future clearly, but they neglected to give examples of sights in either direction.” Page 5

Break 3, Page 5: ***

“He had been thrown out of the University of Virginia in the middle of his freshmen year. He was Malachi Constant, of Hollywood, California, the richest American – and a notorious rakehell.” Page 5

“The skeleton was symbolic – a prop, a conversation piece installed by a woman who spoke to almost no one. No dog had died at its post there by the wall…. The skeleton was one of Mrs. Rumfoord’s many bitter and obscure comments on the nasty tricks time and her husband played on her.” Page 6

“She had published anonymously a slim volume of poems called Between Timid and Timbuktu.” Page 6

“The moral: Money, position, health, handsomeness, and talent are everything.” Page 7

“To be punctual meant to exist as a point, meant that as well as to arrive somewhere on time. Constant existed as a point – could not imagine what it would be like to exist in any other way.” Page 7

“Winston Niles Rumfoord had run his private space ship right into the heart of an uncharted chrono-synclastic infundibulum two days out to Mars. … Now WNR and his dog Kazak existed as wave phenomena – …”

Break 4, Page 8: ***

“There is room enough for an awful lot of people to be right about things and still not agree.” Page 8

“The reason both Daddies can be right and still get into terrible fights is because there are so many different ways of being right. There are places in the Universe, though, where ech Daddy could finally catch on to what the other Daddy was talking about. These places are where all the different kinds of truths fit together as nicely as the parts in your Daddy’s solar watch. We call these places chronosynclastic infundibula.” Page 9

“These places are where all the different kinds of truths fit together as nicely as the parts in your Daddy’s solar watch. We call these places chronosynclastic infundibula.”

Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan, Page 9

“She [Mrs. WNR] plainly detested Constant, whom she had never met.” Page 10

“There was hardly a sentence in the invitation that did not contain the word insist.” Page 10

“Malachi Constant had never …. He had never, so far as he knew…. Apparently, he was about to learn otherwise.” Page 10

Break 5, Page 10: ***

“The turns in the path were many and the visibility was short.” Page 10

“He held up his watch to sunlight, letting it drink in the wherewithal that was to solar watches what money was to Earth men.” Page 11

“He was worth three billion dollars, much of it inherited.
His name meant faithful messenger.” Page 11

“The motto under the coat of arms that Constant had designed for himself said simply, The Messenger Awaits.”

“The mansion, like most of the really grand ones in Newport, was a collateral relative of post offices and Federal court buildings throughout the land.” Page 12

“He was much taller and heavier than Malachi Constant – and he was the first person who had ever made Constant think that there might actually be a person superior to himself.” Page 14

“They tell me you are possibly the luckiest man who ever lived.” Page 15

Break 6, Page 16: ***

“Constant ransacked his memory for past proofs of his own greatness.” Page 16

“You’re not a bad sort, you know – ” he said, “particularly when you forget who you are.” Page 17 Rumfoord to Constant

“If it’s really so important to you, at this stage of our relationship, to feel superior to me in some way,” he said to Constant pleasantly, “think of this: You can reproduce and I cannot.” Page 17

“Wouldn’t it be too bad, if she fell into a mud puddle?” said Rumfoord.

“There was also the empty suit of armor of an armadillo, a stuffed dodo, and the long spiral tusk of a narwhal, playfully labeled by Skip, Unicorn Horn.” Describing Skip’s Museum on Page 19

“She didn’t like my fortunetelling,” said Rumfoord. “She found it very upsetting, what little I told her about her future. She doesn’t care to hear more.” Page 20

“You might keep that in mind: the only way to get her to do anything is to tell her she hasn’t got the courage to do it.” Page 20

“Yes,” said Rumfoord genially, “I told her that you and she were to be married on Mars.” He shrugged. “Not married exactly -” he said, “but bred by the Martians – like farm animals.” Page 21

Break 7, Page 21: ***

“It was a class singularly free of quacks, with the notable exception of political quacks.” Page 21

“Rumfoord and his wife, for instance, were third cousins, and detested each other.” Page 22

“Like the college professor he was, Kittredge groped only for big words, and finding no apt ones, he coined a lot of untranslatable new ones.” Page 22

“Of all Kittredge’s jargon, only one term has ever found its way into conversation. The term is un-neurotic courage.” Page 23

“There are, incdentally, two strong, common words that would have served handsomely, one or the other, in place of all of Kittredge’s jargon. The words are style and gallantry.” Page 23

“… Rumfoord announced that he was taking a perfectly tremendous dog along, as thou a space ship was nothing more than a sophisticated sports car… that was style.” Page 23

“When it was unknown what would happen if a space ship went into a chrono-synclastic infundibulum, and Rumfoord steered a course straight for the middle of one – that was gallantry indeed.” Page 23

Break 8, Page 23: ***

This entire short section is worth reproducing.

“Everything Rumfoord di he did with style, making all mankind look good.”

“Everything Constant did he did in style – aggressively, loudly, childishly, wastefully – making himself and mankind look bad.”

“Every courageous thing he had ever done had been motivated by spitefulness and by goads from childhood that made fear seem puny indeed.”

Break 9, Page 24: ***

“Constant cleared his throat several times.” Page 24 – the entire paragraph shows how Vonnegut shows the reader Constant’s nervousness at the bold prediction without writing about it explicitly.

“”Loo dee doo, Mr. Rumfoord,” he said softly.” Page 24

“Your destination is Titan,” said Rumfoord, “but you visit Mars, Mercury adn Earth again before you get there.”

Break 10, Page 25: ***

“In short, on the basis of horse sense and the best scientific information, ther ewa snothing good ot be said for the exploration of space.” Page 25

“The ship was called simply The Whale, and was fitted with living quarters for five passengers.” Page 25

“The discovery of the chrono-synclastic infundibula said to mankind in effect: “What makes you think you’re going anywhere?” Page 26

“Don’t look to rockets for salvation – look to your homes and churches!” Reverend Bobby Denton to the masses on Page 27

“You what the checklist is on God’s round, green space ship? Do I have to tell you? You want to hear God’s countdown?” RBD page 29. He counts down the 10 commandments.

Transition from the RBD discussion – in the past, at the discovery of CSI, back to Malachi Constant sitting with Rumfoord’s instantiation in Newport, RI. Page 30

“Somebody said something to you about a message?” – Rumfoord to Constant, Page 30

“Nothing,” said Rumfoord. “I’m only sorry for you. You’ll really be missing something.” Page 31

“The purpose of the collection had been to prove how generous and useful and sensitive billionaires could be. The collection had turned out to be a perfectly gorgeous investment, as well.” Page 32 – 33

“They looked up at Constant, begging him to come to them, to make them whole with love.” Page 33 – the sirens, on the photo Rumfoord had slipped to Constant.

“Chrono will pick up a little strip of metal on Mars – ” said Rumfoord, “and he will call it his ‘good-luck piece.'” Page 35

Break 11, Page 35: ***

“It was her tall, straight figure that mattered most in the display. The details of her face were insignificant. A cannonball, substituted for her head, would have suited the grand composition as well.” Page 35, description of Beatrice Rumfoord as an invalid.

“Her face, like that of Malachi Constant, was a one-of-a-kind, a surprising variation on a familiar theme – a variation that made observers think, Yes – that would be another very nice way for people to look. What Beatrice had done with her face, actually, was what any plain girl could do. She had overlaid it with dignity, suffering, intelligence, and a piquant dash of bitchiness.” Page 36

“The insane, on occasion, are not without their charms,” said Beatrice. Page 37

“It startled her so much that she took a step back from the head of the staircase, separated herself from the rising spiral.” Page 37

“Since it was foreordained that he and Beatrice were to come together again, to produce a child named Chrono, Constant was under no compunction to seek and woo her, to send her so much as a get-well card. He could go about his business, he thought, and the haughty Beatrice would have to damn well come to him – like any other bimbo.” The cruelty of Constant in light of Rumfoord’s prophecy.

“A bald man made an attempt on Constant’s life with a hot dog, stabbed at the window glass with it, splayed the bun, broke the frankfurter – left a sickly sunburst of mustard and relish.” Page 39 The crowd assaults Malachi’s limousine.

“The riot, then, was an exercise in science and theology – a seeking after clues by the living as to what life was all about.” Page 39

“A huge billboard flashed by. LET’S TAKE A FRIEND TO THE CHURCH OF OUR CHOICE ON SUNDAY! it said.” Page 40

End of Chapter, Page 40

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