.. re were no smells. There was no movement. Every step I took made a gravelly squeak in blue-white frost. And every squeak was echoed loudly. The season of locking was over.
The Earth was locked up tight (179).This description eerily resembles what many have said the Earth will look like during a nuclear winter (Stone, 62). In addition to Dr. Hoenikker and his doomsday games, Vonnegut provides an interesting analysis of atomic age society with the Bokonon religion. This religion, completely made up by Vonnegut and used in this novel, is the religion of every single inhabitant of San Lorenzo, the books imaginary banana republic. This is the island where Jonah eventually ends up, and where the ice-nine holocaust originates.
(It also, being a Caribbean nation, strangely resembles Cuba.) Bokonon is a strange religion. It was created by one of the leaders of San Lorenzo, a long time ago. Essentially, Bokonon is the only hope for all inhabitants of San Lorenzo. Their existence on the island is so horrible that they have to find harmony with something. Bokononism gives them that. It is based on untruths, to give San Lorenzans a sense of security, since the truth provides none.
This concept can be summed up in this Bokononist quotation: ÒLive by thefoma* that makes you brave and kind and healthy and happy. *Harmless untruths (4)Ó The inhabitants of San Lorenzo do not care what is going on in their real lives because they have the foma of Bokonon to keep them secure and happy. And Vonnegut is trying to say that is what is happening to the rest of us. Americans, and the rest of the world for that matter, have this false sense of security that we are safe and secure. That in our homes in Indiana with our dogs and Gioielli 7our lawnmowers, we think we are invincible. Everything will be okay because we are protected by are government.
This is the foma of real life, because we are trying to deny what is really going on. WeÕre in imminent danger of being annihilated at any second, but to deny this very real danger we are creating a false world so that we may live in peace, however false that sense of peace may be. Throughout the entire novel Vonnegut gives little snippets of ÒcalypsosÓ : Bokonon proverbs written by Bokonon. Verse like:I wanted all things To seem to make some sense,So we could all be happy, yes,Instead of tense.And I made up liesSo that they all fit niceAnd made this sad worldA par-a-dise (90).This calypso expresses the purpose of Bokonon and why it, with its harmless untruths, exists. The following one is about the outlawing of Bokonon.
To make the religion more appealing to the people, the leaders had it banned, with its practice punishable by death. They hoped that a renegade religion with a rebel leader would appeal to the people more.So I said good-bye to government,and I gave my reason:That a really good religionIs a form of treason (118)These calypsos, and the rest of the book, express the points Vonnegut in a more abstract , symbolic manner. They only add to the impact of the books message expressing it in a very short, satirical way. The black humor used when talking about the end of the worldÐthe nuclear endÐwas pioneered by Vonnegut. But what many consider to be the the climax of this pop culture phenomena is Stanley Kubrick’s movie, Dr. Strangelove(Stone 69). Subtitled Or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb , this movie was Kubrick’s viewpoint on how mad the entire Cold War and arms race had become.
Based a little known book by English science fiction writer Peter George, Red Alert, the movie is about how one maverick Air Force general, who is obviously suffering a severe mental illness, concocts a plan to save the world from the Gioielli 8Communists. He manages to order the strategic bombers under his command to proceed to their targets in the Soviet Union. They all believe it is World War Three, and the General, Jack Ripper, is the only one that can call the planes back. Kubrick’s characters: Dr. Strangelove, President Mertin Muffley, Premier Kissof and others, go through a series a misadventures to try and turn the planes around. But the one, plane piloted by Major ÒKingÓ Kong, does get through, and it drops its bombload. This is where Kubrick tries to show the futility of everything.
The governments of both the worlds superpowers have thousands of safeguards and security precautions for their nuclear weapons. But one man manages to get a nuclear warhead to be hit its target. And this warhead hits the ÒDoomsday DeviceÓ. The Doomsday device is the ultimate deterrent, because if you try to disarm it it will go off. It has the capability to destroy every living human and animal on Earth, and it does So it is all pointless. We have these weapons, and no matter how hard we try to control them everyone still dies.
And so to make ourselves feel better about all this impending doom, Kubrick, like Vonnegut, satirizes the entire system. By making such moronic characters, like the wimpish President Mertin Muffley, Kubrick is saying, similar to Vonnegut with Dr. Hoenikker, that we are even worse off because these weapons are controlled by people that are almost buffoonish and childish. General Ripper, the man who causes the end of the world, is a portrait of a McCarthy era paranoid gone mad. He thinks the communists are infiltrating and trying to destroy are country. And he says the most heinous communist plot against democracy is fluoridation of water:Like I was saying, Group Captain, fluoridation of water is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot we have ever had to face . .
. They pollute our precious bodily fluids! (George 97)And General Rippers personal prevention of the contamination of his bodily fluids is equally perplexing. He drinks only Ò . . .
distilled water, or rain water, and only grain alcohol . . .Ó Kubrick uses this kind of absurd reasoning in his movie to show the absurd reasoning behind nuclear weapons. Both him and Vonnegut were part of the satirical side of the apocalyptic temper in the early Sixties. They laughed at our governments, our leaders, the Cold War and the arms race, and tried to show how stupid it all really was. But as time moved on, the writers, and the entire country, started to take a less narrow minded view of things.
The counterculture of the Gioielli 9sixties prompted people to take a closer look at themselves. As thinkers, teachers, lovers, parents, friends and human beings. And people concerned with nuclear weapons started to see things in a broader context as well. Nuclear weapons were something that affected our whole consciousness. The way we grew up, our relationships with others and what we did with our lives.
One of the authors who put this new perspective on things was the activist, social thinker and poet Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg first made a name for himself in the 1950Õs as one of the foremost of the Beat writers. The Beats in the Fifties were a forerunner of the more widespread counterculture of the late Sixties and early Seventies. And Ginsberg evolved into this. He became a devoted leader in the counterculture, who set many precedents for the Hippie generation. He lived in various communes, delved deeply into eastern religions and experimented with numerous hallucinogenic drugs. In the earlier part of his life Ginsberg had been a rebel against society.
He was still a rebel but now he was taking the form of activist. By the Seventies he was involved in many causes that promoted peace and world harmony. What separated Ginsberg from other activists is that he was one of the first and original members of many of these movements. Now he was the father figure to many in the non-mainstream world. While teaching at his school of poetry in Naropa, Colorado, Ginsberg became involved in protests against the nearby Rock Flats Nuclear Weapons Factory. During the Summer of 1978 he was arrested for preventing a shipment nuclear waste from reaching its destination and for numerous other protests against the facility (Miles 474).
From these experiences came two poems ÒNagasaki DaysÓ and Ò Plutonium OdeÓ. Both these poems exhibit Ginsberg’s more mature style of writing (Miles 475). The poems are more scholarly, containing many mythological and religious allusions. But both these characteristics show how post war apocalyptic literature had evolved. By the Seventies many writers, instead of taking the defeatist, satirical view like Vonnegut, were beginning to take a make activist standpoint, like Ginsberg. Apocalyptic literature also took on a more mature, scholarly tone, and was more worldly and had a broader viewpoint.
This stanza from ÒNagasaki DaysÓ shows how Ginsberg is putting nuclear weapons into the context of the universal:2,000,000 killed in Vietnam13,000,000 refugees in Indochina 200,000,000 years for the Galaxy to revolve on its core 24,000 the Babylonian great year24,000 half life of plutoniumGioielli 102,000 the most I ever got for a poetry reading80,000 dolphins killed in the dragnet4,000,000,000 years earth been born (701)The half life of plutonium is brought together with dolphins and Indochinese refugees. Also, Ginsberg makes a reference to the Babylonian great year, which coincides with the half life of plutonium. This cosmic link intrigued Ginsberg immensely. That fact alone inspired him to right ÒPlutonium OdeÓ. The whole poem expands on this connection to plutonium as a living part of our universe, albeit a very dangerous one. Here he mentions the Great Year:Before the Year began turning its twelve signs, ere constellations wheeled for twenty-four thousand sunny yearsslowly round their axis in Sagittarius, one hundred sixty-seven thousand times returning to this night.
(702) Ginsberg is also relating the great year, and the half life of plutonium, to the life of the Earth. The life of the Earth is approximately four billion years, which is 24,000 times 167,000 (Ginsberg 796) In ÒPlutonium OdeÓ, Ginsberg talks to plutonium. By establishing a dialogue he gives the plutonium almost human characteristics. It is something, and is near us every day, and is deadly. In this passage he is asking how long before it kills us all:I enter your secret places with my mind, I speak with your presence, I roam your lion roar with mortal mouth.One microgram inspired to one lung, ten pounds of heavy metal dust, adrift slowly motion over gray Alpsthe breadth of the planet, how long before your radiance speeds blight and death to sentient beings.
(703) In putting his nuclear fears and worries on the table, and saying that these things have pertinence to us because they affect how we live our lives and the entire the universe, Ginsberg is showing how intrigued he is with plutonium in this poem. By the time Ginsberg was publishing these poems in late 1978, post war literature had evolved immensely. At first people had no idea about the bomb and its capabilities. Then, as more information came out about what the bomb could do, they began to began to start to live in real fear of nuclear weapons. The power of it, a creation by man that could destroy the world, that was terrifying. Then some artists and writers began to see the absurdity of it all.
They saw that we were under control by people we did not, or should not, trust, and were a constant state of nuclear Gioielli 11fear. So they satirized the system unmercifully, and were very apocalyptic in their tone. But then things evolved from these narrow minded viewpoints, and people began to envision nuclear weapons in the context of our world and our lives. The atomic bomb and nuclear proliferation affected all facets of our lifestyle, including what we read. Literature is a reflection of a countryÕs culture and feelings.
And literature affected Americans curiosity, horror, anxiety, cynicism and hope concerning nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons raised questions that no one had dare ever asked before, and had given them answers that they were afraid to hear. They have made us think about our place in the universe, and what it all means. Bibliography Bartter, Martha A. The Way to Ground Zero. New York: Greenwood Press, 1988.
Dewey, Joseph. In a Dark Time. West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 1990.Dr. Strangelove. Dir. Stanley Kubrick.
With Peter Sellers, George C. Scott and Slim Pickens. Highland Films Ltd., 1966.(This is a novelization of the movie. All qoutations from the movie were transribed form this book) Einstein, Albert. ÒSirÓ (a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt) Einstein: The Life and Times.
Ronald W. Clark. New York: World Publishing, 1971. 556-557.George, Peter. Dr.
Strangelove. Boston: Gregg Press, 1979.Ginsberg, Allen. ÒNagasaki DaysÓ and ÒPlutonium Ode.Ó Collected Poems: 1947Ð1980. Ed. Allen Ginsberg.
New York: Harper and Row, 1984. 699-705. Gleick, James. Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman. New York :Vintage Books, 1992.Hersey, John. Hiroshima. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985.Miles, Barry.
Ginsberg: A Biography. New York: Harper Perennial, 1989.Stone, Albert E. Literary Aftershocks: American Writers, Readers and the Bomb. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1994.Vonnegut, Kurt. CatÕs Cradle.
New York:Dell, 1963.