Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan: Page by Page, Chapter by Chapter Review: Chapter 12 – The Gentleman from Tralfamadore

On Titan, Salo and Winston Niles Rumfoord await the arrival of Unk/Malachi, Bee and Chrono; Chrono carries the needed part in the form of his good luck piece. Humanity’s history was secretly guided to deliver the spare part, Salo is worried that WNR will find this out and be upset. WNR dies before Salo is able to divulge the secret message he is to carry for another 17 million years, his death drives Salo mad and he destroys himself.

Big Issues:

  • What is the impact of others on the lives of humans?
    • Would aliens even realize they had impacted Earth?
    • Roadside Picnic (link) was written in 1971 by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky (link).
  • Friendship.
  • The role of a machine, the ability of a machine to have friends.

Summary of Chapter 12

  • WNR’s home on Titan is a replica of the Taj Mahal that was built by the Army of Mars.
  • Salo, the Tralfamadorean, was chosen to deliver a message because of his worthiness, in 500,000 BC to celebrate the 360 million year anniversary of his gov’t – his ship broke down in the galaxy in 260,000 BC.
  • Tralfamadore has been helping Salo get a part for repairs and has communicated via massive construction projects done on Earth, which Salo is glad that WNR does not know about, because it would show great interference with human culture.
  • Unk, Bee and Chrono land on Titan after their seventeen month journey – they see WNR before he ‘dies’ who explains to them that Tralfamadore has driven every aspect of humanity for the purpose of delivering the spare part that is Chrono’s good luck piece.
  • Salo shows up to tell WNR the secret message but is too late; WNR has already died. The message is a dot, “.” – which translates to ‘Greetings’. Salo goes mad and commits suicide because he has missed fulfilling his friend’s wish, and because of the basic nature of the message that he is to spend another 17 million years delivering.
  • Chrono leaves the spare part on the beach amidst Salo’s bodyparts – Chrono does not go mad.

Begin – Page 270

“The atmosphere of Titan is like the atmosphere outside the door of an Earthling bakery on a spring morning.” – Page 270

“For reasons as yet mysterious, the spirals of Rumfoord, Kazak and Titan coincided exactly.” Page 271

“It was built by Martian labor.” Page 272 – Rumfoord’s home, a reproduction of the Taj Mahal named Dun Roamin.

Break 1 – Page 272

“Salo was eleven million Earthling years old.” Page 272

“Salo was punctual – that is, he lived one moment at a time – and he liked to tell Rumfoord that he would rather see the wonderful colors at the far ends of the spectrum than either the past or the future.” – Page 273

“The name of his home planet was Tralfamadore, which old Salo once translated for Rumfoord as meaning both all of us and the number 541.” – Page 273

“Salo once described this durable form of government to Ruumford as hypnotic anarchy, but declined to explain its workings.” Page 274

“Salo would simply take the message and go as fast and as far as the technology of Tralfamadore could send him.” Page 274 – Salo chosen on merit to deliver the message prepared by their ‘cloud’ university

“His instructions were to find creatures in it somewhere, to master their language, to open the message, and to translate it for them.” Page 275

“The meaning of Stonehenge in Tralfamadorian, when viewed from above, is: “Replacement part being rushed with all possible speed.” Page 276

“And they were able to focus and modulate these impulses so as to influence creatures far, far away, and inspire them to serve Tralfamadorian ends.” Page 277 – Able to communicate at 3x lightspeed, but ‘it is not cheap’

“Civilizations would start to bloom on Earth, and the participants would start to build tremendous structures that were obviously to be messages in Tralfamadorian – and then the civilizations would poop out without having finished the messages.” Page 278

“There was nothing offensive in this love.” Page 279 – Salo’s affection for WNR

“The machines reported in all honesty that the creatures couldn’t really be said to have any purpose at all.” – Page 280

“The big eye was the only audience that Earthlings really cared about.” – Page 281

“Then Salo began to breed them selectively.” Page 282, the Titanic daisies went from tiny star-like wonders to lavendar blooms with a mass over a ton.

Break 2 – Page 282

“He had never seen, never even heard of friendship before he hit the Solar System.” – Page 283

“They were statues made by Salo of Titanic peat.” – Page 283 – the Sirens of Titan are painted statues made by an alien.

“A band of dematerialization, a band of nothingness about a foot wide, passed over Rumfoord from foot to head.” – Page 284

“Is there anything I an do, Skip? said Salo.
Rumfoord groaned. “Will people never stop asking that dreadful question?” he said. – Page 285

“Graw,” said one Titanic bluebird sociably. – Page 286

“Shall we just drop this guise of friendship?” said Rumfoord curtly. – Page 287

“You didn’t have to ask for a thing. All you had to do was sit back and wait for it to be dropped in your lap.” – Page 288

“Constant’s boy has it – calls it his good-luck piece – as though you didn’t know.” – Page 288, the good luck piece is the needed spare part.

“The worst possible thing had happened. Not only had Rumfoord found out, seemingly, about the influence of Tralfamadore on Earthling affairs, which would have offended him quite enough – but Rumfoord had also regarded himself, seemingly, as one of the principal victims of that influence.” – Page 289

“Tralfamadore,” said Rumfoord bitterly, “reached into the Solar System, picked me up, and used me like a handy-dandy potato peeler!” – Page 290

“Nobody likes to think he’s being used,” said Rumfoord. “He’ll put off admitting it to himself until the last possible instant.” – Page 290

“Salo wished he were a Titanic bluebird.” – Page 291

“Tell me what you’ve been used for – please? ” said Salo. Page 291

“One gets tired, you know, being caught up in the monotonous clockwork of the Solar System.” – Page 292

“Everything that ever was always will be, and everything that ever will be always was.” – Page 292

“The Pocket History of Mars,” said Rumfoord, “makes no mention of the fact that I have been powerfully influenced by forces emanating from the planet Tralfamadore.” – Page 293

“Against all orders from Tralfamadore,” said Winston Niles Rumfoord, “against all your instincts as a machine, but in the name of our friendship, Salo, I want you to pen hte message and read it to me now.” – Page 293

Break 3 – Page 293

“St. Francis was trying to befriend two hostile terrifyingly huge birds, apparently bald eagles.” – Page 293

“He had arrived on Titan only an hour before.” – Page 294

“He gave frightful titles to all his statues, as though to proclaim desperately that he did not take himself seriously as an artist, not for an instant.” – Page 295 – Salo

One statue is about Discovery of Atomic Power and has a huge erection, one statue is about a neanderthal baby about to eat a human foot and titled This Little Piggy.

Break 4 – Page 295

“As far as I’m concerned,” said Constant, “the Universe is a junk yard, with everything in it overpriced.” – Page 295

“Constant’s brave speech was stale stuff. He had delivered it many times during the seventeen-month voyage from Earth to Titan – and it was, after all, a routine philosophy for a Martian veteran.” – Page 296

“She had been extremely decent to Constant, blaming him for nothing, expecting nothing from him.” – Page 296

“Young Chrono was the member of the family least in a position to think life was funny.” – Page 297

“Worry him again,” she said softly to Chrono. – Page 298, the mother and son are using the skills they had learned in the Amazon to play with Salo as he rows the boat.

“The statue was of a nude woman playing a slide trombone. It was entitled, enigmatically, Evelyn and Her Magic Violin.” – Page 299

Break 5 – Page 300

“The lips suddenly drew back, baring the perfect teeth of Winston Niles Rumfoord.” – Page 300

“Hail, oh German batball star – hail, him of the good-luck piece.” – Page 301

Everything that every Earthling has ever done has been warped by creatures on a planet one-hundred-and-fifty thousand light years away. The name of the planet is Tralfamadore.” – Page 302, Rumfoord’s admission

“They controlled us in such a way as to make us deliver a replacement part to a Tralfamadorian messenger who was grounded right here on Titan.” – Page 302

“All I can say,” said Rumfoord from the cocoon, “is that I have tried my best to do good for my native Earth while serving the irresistible wishes of Tralfamadore.” – Page 303

“Perhaps Earthlings will now be free to develop and follow their own inclinations, as they have not been free to do for thousands of years.” – Page 304

“The wonder is that Earthlings have been able to make as much sense as they have,” he said. – Page 304

Break 6 – Page 304

“I’ll tell you the message!” – Salo, Page 304

“A machine I am, and so are my people,” he said, “I was designed and manufactured, and no expense no skill was spared in making me dependable, efficient, predictable and durable. I was the best machine my people could make.” – Page 305

Salo’s monologue is Shakespearean in nature, focusing on four points of his being:

  • Dependable
  • Efficient
  • Predictable
  • Durable

“Would you like to know what the message is that I have been carrying for almost half a million Earthling years – the message I am supposed to carry for eighteen million more years?” – Page 306, Salo reads the message after Skip has died

“He killed himself out there. He took himself apart and threw his parts in all directions.” – Page 307

“Chrono did not have a sense of futility and disorder.” – Page 307

“Sooner or later, Chrono believed, the magical forces of the Universe would put everything back together again.
They always did.” – Page 307

End – Page 307

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