As mentioned in the title, the main idea I grasped from Vonnegut’s brilliant, deadpan-humor novel Cat’s Cradle, was that our entire world is based on a foundation of deception and bogus theories, whose existence we humans don’t question because these ideas help us sleep at night.
While Vonnegut’s work takes the comical, contradictory angle rather than one of a conspiracy theorist, we recognize while reading his “fiction” that our current world is still a mystery to us, and probably always will be.
The focus of this novel, released by the author in 1963, is on the fictionalized Bokononist religion, which only the people of San Lorenzo have adopted. This religion is based on “foma,” or harmless untruths. One of the many key terms of this religion is “karass,” which describes the untraceable circuit of everyone we encounter in life that somehow effects our future destiny and the predetermined plan of God’s will. (Appropriately, many of Vonnegut’s characters overlap within his novels.)
The narrator who calls himself Jonah, (no last name given,) is writing material for a book on the end of the world; his focus being the creation of the atom bomb. His research eventually leads him to meet the children of the atom bomb’s creator; Angela, Newt and Frank. He then travels with them to San Lorenzo where the world ends due to an accident involving “ice-nine,” which the children’s father also created. It is on this island, with only four other people alive, that he writes the book we’re holding in our hands, presumably before killing himself in a sardonic manner atop a mountain.
Only once is the narrator’s name mentioned, and it’s mentioned by the narrator himself. Although his name seems to be John, he says it appropriately should and would have been Jonah, probably after Jonah in the Bible, who ran from a mission from God only to inevitably end up in the same place God intended him to be.
Vonnegut cleverly satirizes many ideas and perspectives of modern man, such as bringing up the debate of science vs. superstition, referring to protein as the secret of life, how mirages often hold nations together, how people tend to identify with false symbols and patriotism, how ironic the opposition of Felix and his wife’s memorials are, and how no matter how much of the world man sees, he will never unlock the answers to the universe. He points out the irony of how a man like Dr. Breed could comment on the conscience of a man who killed 36 people, when he himself contributed to the making of the atomic bomb. He also makes us wonder how Felix, seemingly so innocent, non-materialistic and full of wonder, could invent a weapon of mass destruction. (This also brings up the point, as mentioned in the novel, that it was rumored that Dr. Breed was the father of the Hoenikker children, which could also mean he was the real inventor of the atom bomb; especially considering that Felix never intended for his children to divide the ice-nine that would eventually end the world.)
Also mentioned is Francine Pefko, and a Pontiac car, which both would later make an appearance in Breakfast of Champions.
Of course, one should also keep in mind the particular shapes which are often found within a Cat’s Cradle.
Here are some quotes I particularly enjoyed:
“I remember other bug fights we staged later on: one stag beetle against a hundred red ants, one centipede against three spiders, red ants against black ants. They won’t fight unless you keep shaking the jar.” This quote, describing Frank “experimenting” with bugs, could easily be a metaphor for how the “powers that be” stage unnecessary wars between nations, using their simple differences as a guise for a threat.
“Man is vile, and man makes nothing worth making, knows nothing worth knowing.”
I simply liked the way he worded this, describing Angela:
“She improvised around the music of the Pullman porter’s son; went from liquid lyricism to rasping lechery to the shrill skittishness of a frightened child, to a heroin nightmare. Her glissandi spoke of heaven and hell and all that lay between. Such music from such a woman could only be a case of schizophrenic or demonic possession.”
“Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.”
“Americans are forever searching for love in forms it never takes, in places it can never be. It must have something to do with the vanished frontier.”
“Tiger got to hunt.
Bird got to fly;
Man got to sit and wonder, ‘Why, why, why?’
Tiger got to sleep,
Bird got to land;
Man got to tell himself he understand.”