Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan: Page by Page, Chapter by Chapter Review: Chapter 6, A Deserter in Time of War

Summary of the Summary

Unk deserts the army, and finds his son, Chrono – who has no connection to him – Chrono goes back to his game of German Batball. Next Unk finds Bee, who has a job teaching soldiers how to breathe in a vacuum, she hides Unk with a new group of trainees as his pursuers find them. Unk comes to in a spaceship with Winston Niles Rumfoord, who tells him that Bee is Beatrice Rumfoord, and that Unk – as Malachi Constant before his memory wipes – had raped her, fathering Chrono, during his trip to Mars. After his assault, he fell in love with her, and they spent their time on Mars getting their memories wiped in attempts to connect.

Chapter Summary

  • Boaz and Unk carry a siege mortar as their weapon as they march to the invasion fleet, where Boaz has arranged an easy assignment aboard the mother ship.
  • Unk creates a diversion with a grenade, which allows him to search for his wife and son.
  • Unk finds Chrono at the school playing German batball, which he excels in because of his good luck piece – a strap of metal with two holes in it.
  • The good luck piece, like the time travel is used to introduce the concept of pre-destination and free will.
  • Unk finds Bee as Unk’s pursuers find him – he gives her a grenade and then joins the class of new soldiers learning the Schliemann breathing method used to breathe in vacuum – where he passes out.
  • Unk comes to on board a spaceship with Winston Niles Rumfoord who is telling him the story of who he is, how he is Malachi Constant, and how he raped Beatrice on their voyage to Mars.
  • Boaz joins them in the space ship, which has a simple ‘On’ button, and before they leave, Rumfoord says that Beatrice was a virgin before her rape, closing the chapter with, “Pretty good joke on her husband, eh, Unk?”

Page 134, Begin

“The population of Phoebe at its height, according to Winston Niles Rumfoord’s Pocket History of Mars, was eighty-seven thousand,” Page 134 – WNR is not only the secret Martian commander, he is also the historian.

“Windows winked as dazzling torches inside went off and on.” Page 135 – describing the still booming factories of Mars.

Break 1, Page 135

Terror, grief and desolation – ” chanted the troops.

“It was meant to carry only two men, the rest of the space being taken up for candy, sporting goods, recorded music, canned hamburgers, board games, goofballs, soft drinks, Bibles, note paper, barber kits, ironing boards, and other morale-builders.” Page 136 – Describing the content of the ‘Company Mother Ship’ that Boaz has arranged him and Unk to travel in.

“There was a spout and roar from the throat of the sewer.” Page 137 – Unk creates a distraction to go find his wife and son.

Break 2, Page 137

“The Martian year was divided into twenty-one months, twelve with thirty days, and nine with thirty-one.” Page 137 – 8.

“Salo, Rumfoord’s crony on Titan, was a messenger from another galaxy who was forced down on Titan by the failure of a part in his space ship’s power plant.” Page 138 – Salo has a Martian month named after him, he has been waiting for 200,000 years for the part.

“UWTB is what makes universes out of nothingness – that makes nothingness insist on becoming somethingness.” Page 138, describing Universal Will to Become, which is also what powers their spaceships.

“The game of German batball is played with a flabby ball the size of a big honeydew melon.” Page 139

“The person responsible for the heavy emphasis on German batball on Mars was, of course, Winston Niles Rumfoord, who was responsible for everything on Mars.” Page 140

Break 3, Page 140

“His dream was to gather together his wife, his son and his best friend, to steal a spaceship, and to fly away to some place where they could all live happily ever after.” Page 141

Break 4, Page 141

“Those rage filled eyes flicked this way, then that.” Page 141 describing Chrono’s eyes.

“Clearly, the point of their efforts was not to hit Chrono with the ball, was not to put him out.” Page 142 – The German batball players don’t try to play with Chrono.

“He believed firmly that all his powers came from the good-luck piece, and so did his schoolmates, and so, secretly, did Miss Fenstermaker.” Page 143

“The history of the good-luck piece was this:” Page 143

“The piece he picked up differed from all the rest in having two holes drilled in it.” Page 144 Vonnegut uses contrast to describe the article.

“This was Chrono’s good-luck piece. It became as much a part of him as his right hand. His nervous system, so to speak, extend itself into the metal strap. Touch and you touched Chrono.” Page 144

Break 5, Page 144

“Being the boy’s father entitled him to nothing. Being an official investigator entitled him to anything he might care to ask for.” Page 144

“She was far behind in her work – so far behind that she had declared a moratorium on school work until she could catch up on her grading.” Page 145

“Everything anybody says is baloney,” said Chrono. “What you care what I think anyway? When I’m fourteen, you put a thing in my head and I do whatever you want anyway.” Page 145

“Before the child was wheeled into the operating room he was asked to name his favorite kind of ice cream. When the child awoke after the operation, a big dish of that kind of ice cream was waiting for him – maple walnut, buttercrunch, chocolate chip, anything.” Page 146, on the administration of Martian Brain control radios.

“The imagined strength he got from the good-luck piece made him strong enough to trust nobody, to go on as he had for so long, angry and alone.” Page 147

“I don’t think you know what you’re talking about. You’d just get a lot of people killed.” Page 148 – Chrono to his father when Unk attempts to get him to run away.

Break 6, Page 148

“Schliemann breathing, of course, is a technique that enables human beings to survive in a vacuum or in an inhospitable atmosphere without the use of helmets or other cumbersome respiratory gear.” Page 149, where we learn where Chrono’s mother works – and Vonnegut easily introduces a clever science fiction concept.

“This involves not only pill-taking, but plugging one’s ears and nostrils, and keeping one’s mouth shut as well.” Page 149 – more on breathing, but as a great wink to censorship.

“It was called, “God is Our Interior Decorator.” – Page 150, a joke about an Earthling broadcast of music.

“The recruits eyes were as empty as the windows of abandoned textile mills. So were the eyes of the instructress, since she, too, had recently had her memory cleaned out.” Page 150 – 151.

“There was a rebus of her name on her sweatshirt.” Page 151, wouldn’t a rebus of her name – Bee – simply be a bee? Vonnegut wrote a joke for me.

Definition of Rebus, per Google: a puzzle in which words are represented by combinations of pictures and individual letters; for instance, apex might be represented by a picture of an ape followed by a letter X.

“When the twenty minute ordeal was over, every recruit would know how unnecessary lung-breathing was.” Page 152, after Bee puts tape over their mouths, and they are to then voyage through color changing and a stopping of lung use. Is this Vonnegut also saying to stop using your brain? To use stop breathing as an example of stop thinking, which the Martian Army also avoids?

The first refrain of Bee’s Sonnet, for which she was sent to the mind-erase hospital:

Break every link with air and mist,
Seal every open vent;
Make through as tight as miser’s fist,
Keep life within you pent.

– Page 153

“In the deserted corridor stood a read and sweating man in uniform.” Page 154 – Unk has found Bee.

“What – what’s the message?” whispered Bee.
“The message is this,” whispered the messenger. – Page 155

“He’s a deserter in a time of war!” – Page 155 as troops come looking for Unk.

“The whole awareness of each man was concentrated in the region of a small, white life-giving pill dissolving in the duodenum.” Page 156

“He had been such a terrible soldier that the doctors had opened his head up at the hospital to see if he might not be suffering from malfunctioning antenna.” Page 156

Break 7, Page 156

“Bee surveyed the room with enchanted calm.” Page 156

“As they told her at the hospital: she had been very, very sick, and she would be very, very sick again if she didn’t keep her mind strictly on her work and let other people do the thinking and worrying. At all costs, she was to keep calm.” Page 157

“To have him keel over would certainly be the most peaceful solution to the problem he presented, and Bee wanted peace above all else.” Page 157 – the absurdity of wanting her husband to die, to maintain peace. To use death of a loved one to create peace.

Break 8, Page 158

“He thought at first he had been launched into space eternal.” Page 158

“Oh, God – ” he said, “many’s the time I’ve wished I was Stony, and many’s the time I’ll wish it again.” Page 159, Winston to Unk.

“What do names matter in wartime?” said the man. – Page 160, after Unk asks WNR for his name.

“Mars is a very bad place for love, a very bad place for a family man, Unk,” said the man.

Break 9, Page 160

“The recruiters have a saying about a male recruit like that – that he has named his balls Deimos and Phobus,” said Rumfoord, “Deimos and Phobus being the two moons of Mars.” Page 161

“The lieutenant-colonel in his gaudy uniform was made to feel like what he really was, after all – a strutting clown.” Page 162

“The lieutenant-colonel realized for the first time what most people never realize about themselves – that he was not only a victim of outrageous fortune, but one of outrageous fortune’s cruelest agents as well.” Page 163 – Unk / Malachi Constant is the Lt Cl, and he realizes this after raping Beatrice.

“Each time the man wobbled his mate, utterly humorless psychiatry straightenedher out – made her an efficient citizen again.” Page 164

“… And it is perhaps food for thought,” said Rumfoord, “that this supremely frustrated man was the only Martian to write a philosophy, and that this supremely self-frustrating woman was the only Martian to write a poem.” Page 164

Break 10, Page 164

“Them boys ain’t going to attack, if they don’t have a mother ship along. What they going to fight for?” Boaz to Unk, Page 165

“For the privilege of being the first army ever died in a good cause,” said Rumfoord. Page 165 – Why would the Martian Army fight and die?

“You boys just get on board, close the airlock, push the on button.” Page 165 – The simplest space ship ever made

“She’d been married for several years before she got to Mars,” said Rumfoord. “But when the hot-shot lieutenant got to her there in the space ship bound for Mars, she was still a virgin.”

“Pretty good joke on her husband, eh, Unk?” he said. – Page 166

End – Page 166

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