The Sirens of Titan
Originally published: New York: Delacorte Press, c1959.
The curriculet is being added to your library
This is quite a strong opening line. What do you think this means and how might this line set the tone for what to expect in this novel?
What clues suggest that this novel is not, as the author states, a "true story"?
Did you know that you can look up any word in the text of the book or the text of the questions and answers? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Since it's so easy to look up words, make sure you use this feature frequently. Is there a word on this page you need to look up?
Re-read this page... What clues suggest that this novel takes place sometime in the future? (Note: Vonnegut first published this book in 1959)
Notice the reference to Titan, which also appears in the title. Look for the significance of this as you continue to read...
What does Constant mean by the line, "I guess somebody up there likes me"?
Why does Constant want to find "something of value" in his memory?
Interesting... Rumfoord claims he can read minds. How do we know he is telling the truth? Look for evidence that "proves" this is true.
Mrs. Rumfoord doesn't like her husband's "fortune telling." How would you react if someone close to you could read your mind and tell you about the future? What would be some of the negative aspects to this "gift"?
Take a moment to review the information provided thus far on the "chrono-synclastic infundibulum" (refer back several pages to read the longer explanation / definition). Based on its description, summarize your understanding of the "chrono-synclastic infundibulum" in your own words. How do you think this will connect or tie in to the novel?
The description here suggests that Constant, understandably, feels quite uncomfortable. How do you think he feels about Rumfoord at this moment?
The content in the highlighted passage suggests that
These lines from the “countdown” are all from The Ten Commandments, which are a set of ethical and moral principles outlined in The Bible. (This annotation contains an image)
Examine the dialogue and details in the highlighted lines. Based on the evidence provided, what can you likely infer about Constant?
Watch the following video on point of view and then take a moment to consider from what point of view this novel is told. How might the point of view influence your understanding of the text? (This annotation contains a video)
Refer to the previous annotation to watch the video on point of view. What is the point of view of this novel?
Re-read the highlighted paragraph and consider how the concept of fate vs. free will may emerge as an important theme in the text. For example, if Rumfoord has already told his wife what will happen in her future, then does she ever really have the "free will" to control her actions, or is her destiny already predetermined and unchangeable?
Why do you think the author chooses to close the first chapter with these words and details? What does this tell you about some of the potential themes that may appear throughout the novel?
Watch the following video on symbolism... These details from Chapter One seem to have some deeper significance. The fact that the author brings them to our attention once again may be a hint to examine these features for their symbolic meanings. (This annotation contains a video)
What is "The Whale"?
Based on Beatrice and Malachi's conversation here, the reader can infer that
It is interesting that both Beatrice and Constant are broke... Perhaps these complications are what ultimately lead them to their fate on Mars. What do you think?
What does Rumfoord mean by this? Do you think he could have warned Beatrice about the crash and have prevented certain events from taking place, or do you think that--in this novel--all of these events are pre-determined? These are important concepts to consider as the topic of fate vs. free will is clearly emerging as a central theme.
How does Rumfoord try to clarify the complicated issue of fate to Beatrice?
Watch the following video on literal and figurative language. The highlighted line is an example of figurative language (as well as simile). This stylistic device is frequently employed by Vonnegut, so continue to look for figurative language as you read. (This annotation contains a video)
What is the purpose of Beatrice telling Rumfoord about this story of the roller coaster?
Summarize, in your own words, what happens at the end of this chapter. What is your interpretation and reaction to Rumfoord's words to his wife regarding how he has been "ruthlessly...used"?
The term "Magnum Opus" is Latin for "great work." This phrase generally refers to the largest, best, greatest, or most renowned / popular achievement of an artist.
What do you think this line means? How has the author characterized Fern thus far?
What is the purpose of the highlighted text?
Note how the author, once again, subtly references religion. It is likely that religion may emerge as a central theme or topic in this novel... At what other points do you recall the author mentioning religion thus far?
Summarize how Noel Constant acquired his wealth. Does this connect with any of the emerging themes in the novel? Why or why not? Provide at least one specific example to support your response.
Evaluate these highlighted lines... How can one do "violence" to the "spirit" of laws without actually doing anything illegal? Can you think of an example from everyday life where this could occur?
We know the name Malachi Constant means "faithful messenger," so what do you think of the meaning behind the name "Prudence"? Use the dictionary and consider if there is any significance to these two distinct names.
What is the purpose behind the author's mentioning that Noel met his son, Malachi, for the first time "by invitation"?
Examine the highlighted passage... What is the purpose and affect of these details?
The lines that Noel reads at the end of his life are from the Holy Bible's text on "The Creation of the World" (Genesis). Read the full excerpt from which these lines are derived and consider why the author chose to include this reference. (This annotation contains a link)
The highlighted passage contains examples of
Did the line "they were waiting for him" give you a sense of surprise? Watch the following video on tension... How does this the author effectively create tension with his diction and structure here?
The Mojave Desert is located in the United States and spans across parts of California, southern Nevada, southwestern Utah, and northwestern Arizona. (This annotation contains an image)
Why does Beatrice feel "marvelous" here?
A zodiac is an imaginary band in the sky that shows the path that the sun, the moon, and the planets appear to follow. View an example of a zodiac symbol / image below and consider why the author includes this specific detail. Could the zodiac serve as symbol in the novel? What do you think? (This annotation contains an image)
How does the author build tension and suspense towards the close of Chapter Three? Evaluate aspects such as the use of detail, dialogue, and diction while providing at least two specific examples to support your analysis.
Re-read this description of Unk... Does he sound familiar? Pay attention to how Unk is characterized and consider whether or not he connects with another character(s) from the first three chapters in the novel.
Based on the information provided in Chapter Three, what can you infer has happened to Unk?
Observe, once again, how the author creates tension and suspense. Also, what do you think the lines "Rented a tent, a tent, a tent" mean?
What do you think the lines "Rented a tent" mean? What purpose do these words serve and how does the ambiguity of their meaning serve to add to the tension in this chapter?
This description should sound familiar... What does this image remind you of?
Based on the details provided thus far, what might be Unk's "true" identity?
Watch the following video on denotations and connotations and examine the diction in the highlighted line. What do the connotations suggest about Boaz? Do you trust him? Why or why not? (This annotation contains a video)
Why did Unk suddenly feel the intense pain in his head?
What an interesting way to revisit this notion of free will versus fate... What might the author imply about the power of free will here?
Summarize how control and power is maintained in the Army of Mars. What message or greater theme might the author be trying to address with this description of power, distrust, and violence?
What do you think of the connotations associated with the word "withered"? Why does Vonnegut choose this specific word here?
What deeper criticism (about society or life in general) might Vonnegut be suggesting with this description of Boaz?
What was your initial perception of Boaz? Does this statement confirm your suspicion of him, or are you surprised to learn that Unk should "watch out" for Boaz?
Visit the following page to learn about the meaning behind the name "Phoebe." How does the meaning of Phoebe connect to the greater themes or issues in the novel? (This annotation contains a link)
Evaluate the details in the highlighted paragraph. Based on the author's description, who can you infer is perceived as the "man who was in actual command of everything on Mars"?
Take a moment to read some background information on the author by visiting The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library website (just click the link provided below). How might Vonnegut's personal life, particularly his experiences in World War II, influence his writing and point of view? (This annotation contains a link)
Read the following letter that Vonnegut himself wrote when he was a prisoner of war during World War II. How do you think Vonnegut's experiences as a prisoner of war connect with the experience of Unk? (This annotation contains a link)
Refer to the two previous annotations to read about Vonnegut's personal background as well as a letter he wrote when he was a prisoner of war. In what way(s) might Vonnegut's personal experiences with war and power shape his writing and point of view? Compare Vonnegut's letter as a prisoner in Dresden to Unk's letter as a "prisoner" on Mars... What similarities and differences do you see between the two texts?
Evaluate the connotations in the highlighted line. Notice how Vonnegut juxtaposes negative and positive diction, placing words such as "dinner music" and "hell" in close proximity. What is the effect of this stylistic choice?
Which of the following literary techniques does Vonnegut employ in the highlighted paragraphs?
Why would Rumfoord want "heavy emphasis" on this seemingly silly sport?
What does the detail about Unk's desire to "gather" his "best friend" and "fly away" suggest about his understanding of events?
Take note of how Chrono is characterized. Do you think he shares any similarities with his father?
Evaluate how Vonnegut characterizes Chrono. What similarities does he share with Constant? Furthermore, what might be the significance of Chrono's "good-luck piece." Why does the author include this detail?
How does the author highlight Unk's feelings here?
What do you think Chrono means by this line?
Once again Vonnegut includes a religious reference... Take note of this and consider its significance. What larger concept or criticism is Vonnegut aiming to address?
Based on the clues provided, who can you infer is the true identity of Bee?
Why does the author want us to see how calmly Bee behaves despite the dangerous weapons and circumstances?
What does Bee's daydreaming of "that little girl who had kept so clean" suggest?
A man shouting "Kazak!" is a clue that we have met this man before... The author wants us to understand that the man here is Rumfoord. Do you think Rumfoord is here to help Unk? Why or why not?
The highlighted line demonstrates an example of which literary device?
Evaluate the significance of this paragraph... What, according to the author, inspires philosophy and poetry?
Evaluate the tragic "love story" between Bee and Unk. What is your reaction to learning of the painstaking efforts Unk has already endured in trying to unite his family? What is the author's purpose in providing this exposition of Bee and Unk's past?
What is your reaction to the consequences of the war? Consider this in contrast to some of the factual wars that have happened in our history. Specifically, read the following address from former president Franklin Delano Roosevelt following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Carefully evaluate his diction and purpose while considering how a president or leader might respond in this fictionalized war that Vonnegut presents in his novel. (This annotation contains a link)
Keep in mind that the author was a soldier in World War II, so he may likely be including analogies to WWII throughout the novel. If you need more background information or references on events that lead to the United States ultimately "joining" in the war, visit the following website to view brief video clips and / or read brief explanations of complications that lead to the global conflict. (This annotation contains a link)
Refer to the first annotation in the chapter to read President Roosevelt's speech following the attack on Pearl Harbor (and, if needed, visit the website provided in the preceding annotation to gain more insight into the background and context of events leading to WWII). Summarize Roosevelt's speech and purpose. Based on his speech, how might Roosevelt have responded (if he had been president at the time) during this attack from Mars? Provide at least two examples from his speech to support your response.
This motto is Latin for "Through hardships to the stars" or "A rough road leads to the stars."
Consider a potential analogy here... Do you think Vonnegut is trying to draw parallels between this Martian war and World War II? Why or why not?
Why does Vonnegut use the word "suicide" in the highlighted line?
This is an interesting point to consider... The narrator states that it was "Rumfoord's intention that Mars should lose the war." Since he can see the future, he would already know that this would happen. This, again, brings up the recurring themes of fate versus free will. Do you think Rumfoord really had the ability to control the fate of the war, or do you think that all of these events were already "pre-destined"?
A saint is someone who is acknowledged as holy or virtuous. The artistic rendering below of "The Last Supper" depicts the saints with golden halos above their heads. Why do you think Vonnegut chooses to use the word "saints" in the context of this paragraph? (This annotation contains an image)
How might Rumfoord use Unk to "stage for his new religion"?
What do you think of these two "chief teachings"? Why might Vonnegut have specifically mentioned these "teachings" in his novel?
Summarize the specific ways in which Rumfoord has set out to create a new religion. How does this concept connect with the greater theme(s) in the novel, and what is the author's purpose in establishing these details in his text? Provide at least three specific examples to support your analysis.
Mercury, shown below, is the smallest planet in our solar system (Pluto now being classified as a "dwarf planet"). It is the planet located closest to our sun. (This annotation contains an image)
Identify the literary device present in the highlighted line.
Evaluate the connotations in the highlighted paragraph, considering such words as "merry beams" and "playing" as well as "dark" and "passed." Are the connotations positive or negative? Do these connotations make you feel as though Unk and Boaz are safe here with the Harmoniums? Why or why not?
Onomatopoeia is a type of figurative language wherein a writer uses a word to describe a sound, such as "whoosh" or "crash." Can you identify the onomatopoeia in the highlighted paragraph?
Are you surprised Boaz says "Mama" here? What type of emotion or feeling might that specific word choice suggest?
What conclusion can you draw based on the details included in this highlighted paragraph?
Observe Vonnegut's famous use of figurative language, noting diction such as "whimpering" and "landing with a kiss." How does the author's use of language influence your understanding of the events in the text?
Consider the exposition on the Harmoniums provided at the beginning of this chapter. Based on what you understand of these creatures, what might they be doing here?
Why might Vonnegut want you to see the differences between Unk and Boaz here?
Vonnegut opens his novel with the line, "Everyone now knows how to find the meaning of life within himself." Consider this idea as you evaluate how Boaz has seemed to find "the meaning of life" or a sense of purpose to his life here on Mercury. Why does Vonnegut contrast Boaz's sudden happiness with Unk's misery? Furthermore, how do these examples connect with an emerging theme in the novel?
Identify the literary device present in the highlighted line.
There are a number of philosophical ideas presented throughout the novel... Consider this specific notion that it is "nice" to "withhold the truth." Do you agree or disagree with this concept?
In reflecting on Unk's thoughts and the narrator's description in the highlighted paragraph, what can you infer Unk most likely desires above all else?
Keep in mind that it is Rumfoord who is conveying these messages using the Harmoniums. Why would Rumfoord want Boaz to remain on Mercury?
Watch the following video on symbolism and consider how the author describes the Harmoniums. Do you think the Harmoniums may be a symbol of something greater? (This annotation contains a video)
Summarize Boaz's transformation on Mercury and decipher how Boaz's decision to remain on Mercury connects with one of the novel's central themes. Provide at least two specific examples to support your response.
As you read this chapter, pay attention to dramatic irony, which the author will incorporate in several instances. Watch the following video on dramatic irony to gain more insight into this rhetorical technique. (This annotation contains a video)
Identify the major change that seems to have taken place on Earth since the war against Mars.
Because Rumfoord provided the Earthlings with the "prophecy" that the "Space Wanderer" would arrive, the people are clearly anticipating this major event. As you continue to read, consider Vonnegut's attitude towards religion (as well as his purpose) in exploring this concept.
Summarize what the central mantra of this new religion seems to be, as stated in highlighted paragraph. Do you think Rumfoord planted this central idea and, if so, why might he want the followers to believe in this?
How does the author effectively utilize dramatic irony here?
Consider the author's use of water in this chapter... We first saw drops of water falling on Reverend Redwine before he saw Unk, and now we see it again in this highlighted paragraph. Do you think the water could be a symbol?
What do you think inspired Unk to declare these words? Furthermore, what message or idea does the author want us to consider with this statement?
The word "pelted" connotes a sense of violence, which is notable as the people are throwing flowers (something beautiful and delicate). This is an interesting contrast in diction. Why does the author want us to envision Unk being "pelted with flowers"?
What do the details "expert short-changer" and "clever with cards" suggest about Chrono's character?
The image below shows a the dense nature of the Amazon Rain Forest. Can you imagine being forced to wander "through the jungles for a year" like Chrono and Bee? (This annotation contains an image)
What details in this chapter suggest that the author wants the reader to question the nature of consumerism?
Why do you think Brackman responds in this manner here? How is he feeling?
What do you think Bee means by this line, and how might this concept connect with a larger theme in the novel? Provide at least one specific example to support your analysis.
Observe, once again, this reference to water. What, if anything, might this symbolize?
The highlighted dialogue connects to which central theme in the novel?
Once again the author employs dramatic irony here. As Unk envisions a perfect life on Earth, we as readers know that Rumfoord (back in the first part of the novel) foretold Constant that he would ultimately live on Titan. As such, we are aware that Unk will not ultimately spend the rest of his life here on Earth.
In what way does the author further utilize dramatic irony in the highlighted lines?
One of the central themes in the novel is religion. Consider the author's attitude towards religion, in addition to his purpose in exploring this subject matter, as you near the conclusion of the novel.
Anaphora occurs when author repeats a word or phrase in successive phrases or clauses, such as "He wallowed" in the highlighted lines. This is a common rhetorical technique that is often employed in speeches and sermons. For example, do you recall reading President Roosevelt's speech on Pearl Harbor earlier in this text? He also employed anaphora in stating, "Last night, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong. Last night, Japanese forces attacked Guam. Last night, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands. Last night, the Japanese attacked Wake Island."
In William Shakespeare's famous play Julius Caesar, the character Cassius declares "Men at some time are masters of their fates:/ The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,/ But in ourselves, that we are underlings." Summarize the meaning of these lines in your own words and consider how Shakespeare's comment on fate compares or contrasts to the ideas of fate as they are presented in the novel. Include at least two examples from the novel to support your response.
Constant's highlighted statement connects to which of the following central themes in the novel?
The dramatic irony revolving around Stony Stevenson ends here. What is your reaction to Rumfoord telling Constant the truth about Stony's death?
Rumfoord uses Malachi constant as a scapegoat and / or metaphor in this chapter. What does Rumfoord suggest that Malachi represents?
An epigraph is a short quotation or saying at the beginning of a chapter or text. An epigraph often suggests a theme or central idea... What do you think of this final epigraph in Chapter Twelve?
Identify the author's purpose in providing the highlighted details and descriptions.
What might be the author's purpose in introducing a new character so close to the novel's conclusion? Pay attention to the details Vonnegut provides, as Salo shall likely play an important role in the novel's resolution.
What does Salo require in order to allow his ship to continue working properly?
Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument located in England. Archaeologists believe it was built around 3000 BC to 2000 BC. (This annotation contains an image)
Evaluate the author's purpose in telling this legend. How might this legend tie in to the major themes or concepts from the novel? Provide at least two specific examples to support your response.
Do you think the author wants us to take a critical look at our own human behavior here?
The author, once again, refers to these three figures. What might these figures symbolize?
With what literary technique does the author convey his ideas in the highlighted line?
Consider the implications of this statement. Do you think Rumfoord arranged for all of these intricate and complicated events to take place all so that a small replacement part (Chrono's good luck piece) would arrive here on Titan? What is the author's message or purpose behind this concept?
What is ironic about the way in which the Tralfamadorians have used Rumfoord?
How does the highlighted line connect to a central theme in the text?
St. Francis of Assisi, illustrated in the painting below, was an Italian Catholic Friar and preacher. He is known as the patron saint of the environment and animals. What might be Vonnegut's purpose in including this detail? (This annotation contains an image)
Why might the author include this scene with the echo? What is your interpretation of this?
Once again the author employs dramatic irony. What does the reader know about the good luck piece that Chrono does not know?
What does this line mean? Do you think this connects to any of the novel's themes?
What central thematic concept might the author want the reader to consider with these highlighted paragraphs?
Watch the video below of President John F. Kennedy's famous speech about going to the moon. (This annotation contains a video)
Read on to find out what happens after the action ends. The Epilogue begins on the next page.
The Sirens of Titan was published in 1959, the same year that the first human-made (un-manned) object landed on the moon. Vonnegut published his novel during a major global focus on space exploration, specifically as many leaders sought to send the first human to the moon. Read President Kennedy's "Moon Speech" delivered in 1962. How might the major political desire to explore space have influenced Vonnegut's writing? (This annotation contains a link)
Refer to the previous annotation of President Kennedy's speech. Although Kennedy delivered this address after Vonnegut published The Sirens of Titan, imagine how Vonnegut would respond to Kennedy. Based on what you have read in this text, do you think the author would be in favor of space exploration, or do you think he would oppose it? Lastly, why do you think Vonnegut chose to establish the vast planets and moons of the universe as the setting of his novel? Provide at least two examples to support your response.
EPILOGUE: REUNION WITH STONY
An epilogue is a section that appears at the end of text that serves to comment on and / or add to the conclusion of a novel. If you felt like the final chapter did not answer all of your questions, what do you hope this epilogue will clarify?
What central theme is the author revisiting with the mention of this line?
What is the purpose of the highlighted simile?
What do you think Constant means by this?
The Sirens of Titan is certainly a complex book that offers multiple interpretations for meaning. Read the following criticism of the book to gain insight into one reader's perceptions and interpretation of some of the major themes and concepts: (This annotation contains a link)
Refer to the previous annotation to read the literary criticism written by Ted Gioia. Respond to one of the central ideas in Gioia's evaluation of the novel. Do you agree or disagree with this claim and why? Provide at least one example from the novel to support your response.