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Cat's Cradle

Kurt Vonnegut

Chapters 115-127

Chapters 106-114

Analysis

Summary

While firing on the effigies in the sea, one of the planes in San Lorenzo's air force caught fire and crashed into the cliff over Monzano's castle. One tower of the castle broke off into the sea, setting off a huge rockslide that swept over the Mintons, killing them. Shortly thereafter, the rockslide carried Monzano's bed and body into the sea. Within seconds, ice-nine covered the world, and tornadoes were raged over the frozen sea.

John and Mona took refuge in Monzano's underground bomb until the tornadoes died down, passing the time with a furious sexual orgy. Afterward, John occupied himself with reading a copy of The Books of Bokonon. On the first page, Bokonon warns that everything contained within is nothing but foma, or lies. The book states: When God fashioned His creations out of mud, one of which was humankind, the humans asked God what the purpose was of all His creations. God asked if everything had to have a purpose and the humans replied that it did. Before He left, He assigned them the task of discovering that purpose.

When the weather died down, Mona and John climbed to the peak of Mount McCabe and found thousands of frozen, dead citizens of San Lorenzo neatly assembled. On a boulder, they found a scribbled message from Bokonon. The people who had survived the storm brought him to the peak of the mountain and asked him to explain why God had done this. He replied that God was attempting to kill them all, so he advised them to die, which they did. John expressed anger and indignation at Bokonon's extreme cynicism. Mona laughed and asked if he would wish any of these dead people alive again. When John did not answer, she touched a piece of ice-nine to her lips and died.

Lowe and Hazel took John to the remains of Frank's house where Newt and Frank were waiting. Angela died when she tried to play a clarinet with a mouthpiece contaminated with ice-nine. Philip and Julian died while helping people at Julian's hospital. For six months, John, the Crosbys, and the Hoenikker brothers ate canned foods and melted ice-nine to create potable water. Hazel occupied her time by sewing an American flag while Lowe worked as the cook. Frank built a transmitter to send an S.O.S. signal day and night, and John busied himself with writing the story of events that is Cat's Cradle.

Frank found some surviving ants and built up an ant farm. He watched the ants day and night as they adapted to the new circumstances brought about by ice-nine. John offered flippant answers to Frank's questions about the ants. Frank replied that he had grown up a lot, so that he no longer took "silly answers seriously." John replied that he had grown up and dealt with his social anxieties by killing off almost every living thing on earth, but his criticism fell on deaf ears.

When Newt and John discussed the loss of their sexual urges, Newt pointed out that all the fuss about sex was really about reproduction. Now that the world was hopeless and they have no childbearing women around, they have lost the sexual drive. John later met Bokonon sitting on a rock writing the last installment of his religious books. The last sentence declared that if Bokonon were a younger man he would write a history of human stupidity before lying on the ground to commit suicide by ice-nine while thumbing his nose at God.

Commentary

A prisoner once sent Felix a copy of a book he wrote about the end of the world. In his book, people engaged in a sexual orgy when the end was near. John repeated this scenario exactly. When facing the end of most life on earth, he satisfied his sexual urges. Again, Bokonon's distrust of humanity's ability to change its behavior despite numerous warnings is justified by the behavior of the other characters. Despite the warnings offered by Felix's irresponsible decision to rest before cleaning up the mess of ice-nine in his kitchen, the Hoenikker siblings and John did exactly the same thing. As a result, the plane crash unleashed ice-nine into the ocean.

Bokononism acknowledges humanity's irrational need for a reason and purpose in human existence. Bokonon's legend of humanity's creation portrays God as a playful court jester who sends his creations out to find a meaning and purpose where there is none. Bokononism doesn't offer an explanation for God's decision to create human beings. God assigned humanity the task of discovering the purpose behind their existence only because humanity demanded one. Nor does Cat's Cradle offer a purpose for humanity's ultimate destruction. In fact, the end of the world came about as the result of a stupid, careless accident. Survivors like Hazel reacted to the disaster with laughable trite phrases, such as, "It's no use crying over spilt milk." However, what reactions other than suicide or laughter are possible in the face of such a stupid catastrophe? In essence, "spilt milk" is the most accurate description of the accident. The end of the world was a dumb accident, with no grandeur, over in an instant.

Newt and John concluded that humanity's only real purpose was perpetuation of the human race. The entire human search for meaning within Cat's Cradle involved an immense outpouring of rational thought in search of a prize that did not exist. Everyone had an idea about what humanity should be, and they fought and battled to protect and propagate that idea of humanity. All of the deft handling of arguments and ideas, the justifications of religion, national identity, and political philosophy, nothing more than a game of Cat's Cradle, pointless and without end. And, even after the disaster, after the world had ended and all man's stupidity laid bare, still the survivors clung to the delusions of the past. Bokonon recognized the lost cause of humanity and dreamed of suicide. Hazel spent endless hours in her last days stitching together an American flag, claiming the island of San Lorenzo for a country that was no more.

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Incorrect information

by SuperBobKing, August 29, 2012

Ice-nine isn't an isotope of water. An isotope is an element with a different number of protons, and water is not an element and the water molecules are not altered. Ice-nine was just water in solid state only the molecules were put together differently than normal ice, which caused it to have a higher melting point.

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29 out of 56 people found this helpful

Incorrect Name

by tapmaster88, October 02, 2013

The name of Asa Breed's brother is not Martin, it is Marvin. Check Chapter 31.

Something I thought was interesting...

by possibly_troodon, March 28, 2014

It seems like almost every aspect of science has an opposite in religion and vice versa. Science is a search for truth, and Bokononism is nothing but "foma." Likewise, the scientific documents are completely incomprehensible to the secretaries in the Research Laboratory who transcribe them, and Bokononism is the one real comfort to the people of San Lorenzo.

I especially like how the contrast stands out in the characters of Felix Hoenikker and Bokonon. Felix is typically described as "innocent," yet his inventions, the atom bomb and i... Read more

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17 out of 18 people found this helpful

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