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[669] Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut


” Well, when it became evident that no governmental or economic reform was going to make the people much less miserable, the religion became the one instrument of hope. Truth was the enemy of the people, because the truth was so terrible, so Bokonon made it his business to provide the people with better and better lies. ” (Ch.78 – Ring of Steel, p.172)

Cat’s Cradle is a satirical commentary on modern man and his madness. Vonnegut’s view is one that is pessimistic and grim. The book affords a vision of future that is at once bleak, fatalistic, and hilariously funny. The core message evoked in between the lines is futility of life: problems in life are inherent to the point where nothing can solve them. Therefore the search for truth is futile.

No wonder kids grow up crazy. A cat’s cradle is nothing but a bunch of X’s between somebody’s hands, and kids look and look and look at those X’s . . . No damn cat, and no damn cradle. (Ch.74 – Cat’s Cradle, p.165)

The story is very simple, it’s made up of many small chapters like vignettes. John (or Jonah, with Biblical connotation), the narrator, purports to write a book titled The Day the World Ended, which delves with what Americans were doing on the day the atomic bomb was dropped onto Hiroshima. The research leads him into correspondence with the sons and daughter of Dr. Felix Hoenikker, one of the chief creators of the atomic bomb. At the same time, John has been hired to write an article profiling Julian Castle, a wealthy philanthropist residing on the remote island of San Lorenzo. It is where Frank Hoenikker, the oldest of the three siblings, appointed a general. It is on this Caribbean island where John meets all the Hoenikkers and comes to learn about the outlawed religion of Bokononism.

I agree with one Bokononist idea. I agree that all religions, including Bokononism, are nothing but lies. (Ch.98 – Last Rites, p.219)

The Hoenikkers, upon their father’s death, are granted portions of some super-water molecule known as Ice-9, which can freeze up any moisture it comes to contact with, from the lips to the ocean. It’s equally as powerful and destructive as the atomic bomb. Irony has it that something could have benefited the human race has instead ended up causing the end of the world and destroyed humanity. As the novel takes a nose-dive into chaos and absurdity, underlying Vonnegut’s playful humor is a sobering exploration of dangers inherent in the combination of human stupidity and indifference with mankind’s technological capacity for massive destruction.

Religion, in Vonnegut’s opinion, is just as detrimental to humanity. The narrator’s conversion to Bokononism is the turning point of the novel. Bokononism is no more absurd than any other religion—except the characters follow a religion that they know to consist of lies. The founder of Bokononism deliberately had the religion outlawed so he could be escalated to a holy figure. The Cat’s Cradle underscores the futility of human condition. Vonnegut invites reader to appreciate the fact that most of the truths to which we hold fast are really rather silly and invalid when examined closely. It implies when our belief is empty, nothing really is meaningful.

287 pp. Dial Press. Paper. (2010) [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]


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