There’s nothing like a six-and-a-half hour flight to get some reading done. I’d made good progress on Kurt Vonnegut’s Galápagos before leaving for England, but the plane ride gave me time to finish it. While nobody, I think, can really claim to understand Vonnegut, there are clearly some trends in this novel that demonstrate his struggle with religion. There may be some spoilers here, so if you’ve been saving this book for later you might want to wait before reading the rest of this.
As the title suggests, it’s a story about evolution. Charles Darwin had his first divine epiphanies about evolution while visiting the Galapagos during his voyage on the Beagle. Land creatures isolated from others of their species adapted to the environment in which they found themselves, and over eons passed on useful traits to their progeny. If humans only had as much foresight!
With his trademark cast of quirky characters about to set out on a cruise from Equador to the Galapagos, Vonnegut has war break out. Riots and pillaging take place. Vonnegut takes broad aims at capitalism and business-oriented thinking, and how these represent the devolution of our species. Of course, being Vonnegut, he does it with wit and verve. Vonnegut was a writer not afraid to use the Bible in many ways, including what experts would call misuse. As the surviving passengers make their way onto the stripped, but functional ship, he notes that they are like a new Noah’s ark. They end up populating Galapagos with humans that evolve a million years into the future.
A thought that caught me along the way was a line where he wrote that in the long history of David and Goliath conflicts, Goliaths never win. This kind of sentiment could do the world some real good right now. In fact, although the book was written decades ago, one of the characters, Andrew MacIntosh, reads very much like a foreshadowing of 2016, down to the descriptions of how he regularly mistreats others. In Galápagos MacIntosh gets killed during a rebellion, showing that grime doesn’t pay. The cruise goes on without him. Galápagos is a book that points out the evils that our system encourages, or even necessitates. There can be another way. The survivors land on the barren islands and set about adapting because they have no other choice. A more egalitarian scenario evolves largely because females are in mostly charge. While not intended as an actual solution to social ills, Galápagos is nevertheless not a bad guide, especially when shipwreck seems inevitable.