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Cat's Cradle

Kurt Vonnegut

Chapters 56-72

Chapters 44-55

Chapters 73-81

Summary

John continued to read Philip's book on the history of San Lorenzo. When Bokonon and McCabe landed at San Lorenzo, the native people were ravaged by poverty and disease. The Catholic Church and Julian Castle's sugar corporation combined to own almost all of the land on the island, despite the fact that Castle's company never turned a profit. Philip notes that the company broke even only because it paid its laborers nothing. San Lorenzo had no real history of independence. The island had been conquered by various nations. When Castle Sugar arrived, the island had no government at all, and the company simply took advantage of the situation to exploit the workers. McCabe and Bokonon stepped into this void and declared themselves in charge of the island with the hope of making it a utopia. Having never actually made a profit, the sugar company withdrew its claim to the island without protest. Bokonon created a new religion while McCabe tried to re-design the economic and legal systems.

When the plane landed at San Lorenzo, Lowe was in the process of defining what he meant by "pissant," a person who thinks he knows everything and makes others feel like idiots. Lowe was delighted to discover that he, Newt, and John had all attended Cornell, according to John, another granfalloon. Hearing Newt's last name, Lowe asked if he had something to do with a Russian dancer who was rumored to be a spy. Newt carefully turned the topic of conversation.

Besides the small group of modern buildings in its capital city of Bolivar, San Lorenzo was still ravaged by poverty. McCabe and Bokonon had failed to improve the standard of living for the island's native residents. Posters declaring the illegality of practicing Bokononism were plastered around the island. Other posters depicted Bokonon and offered a reward for his capture dead or alive.

Mona, Frank, and "Papa" Monzano met the passengers of the plane. Monzano was rather old and appeared to be very ill. John regarded Mona as the embodiment of all male fantasies about women. Monzano greeted Lowe as if he was the American ambassador until Lowe pointed him to Horlick. Monzano informed Horlick that the next day was a national holiday in honor of the Hundred Martyrs to Democracy. Horlick lied when he replied that every American schoolchild knew of the Hundred Martyrs and their sacrifice, but Monzano collapsed on the ground. Monzano whispered that Frank was to become president after his death because Frank had science and "ice" in his power.

After Monzano was carted away, the Crosbys and John took a cab to their hotel. Upon questioning, the cab driver informed them that Bokonon was a "very bad man" who was probably a Communist. John asked him about the Hundred Martyrs. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, San Lorenzo declared war against Germany and Japan and sent a hundred soldiers on a ship to the United States. A German submarine sunk the ship just as it left Bolivar's harbor. The hundred soldiers became known as the Hundred Martyrs to Democracy.

The Crosbys and John were the first guests ever at the Casa Mona Hotel. Crosby attempted to speak with a young man working on a huge mosaic portrait of Mona, but the artist rudely rebuffed his attempts at conversation. John received similarly flippant answers to his questions. He finally realized that he was speaking to Philip Castle, proprietor of the hotel and author of San Lorenzo: The Land, the History, the People. Crosby attempted to complain to the hotel clerk about Philip's rude behavior. When the clerk informed him that the man in question owned the hotel, the Crosbys checked out of the Casa Mona to take lodging in the American embassy.

John found his room to his satisfaction, but the bathroom lacked toilet paper. When he wandered about the empty embassy looking for a chambermaid, he came upon two workers sitting on the ground with the soles of their feet pressed together. They begged him not to tell anyone because they would be punished with the hook. John had come upon the Bokononist ritual of boku-maru.

Commentary

Vonnegut satirizes the human will to power in his description of San Lorenzo's tumultuous history. Despite the island's economic worthlessness, various nations conquered it over the years as if merely for the sake of conquering it. Castle Sugar maintained its operation on San Lorenzo despite its inability to turn a profit, even when the laborers were paid nothing and brutalized by overseers. Vonnegut here implies that human beings have a destructive, greedy drive for power that has no connected noble goals.

The United States government and the Soviet Union both acquired ice-nine even though both countries already had impressive weapons arsenals. Again, it seems that both countries acquired ice-nine simply for the sake of having it or because the other had it. It didn't matter that, if either nation actually tried to use it as a weapon, they would kill almost all life on earth. If used, ice-nine would destroy everything, including its user. With the extreme example of ice-nine, Vonnegut is able to highlight the supreme absurdity of the arms race.

The government of San Lorenzo is a total farce. It provided comfortable, modern conveniences for foreign citizens, yet most of the island's citizens are ravaged by poverty and disease. "Papa" Monzano adopted a beautiful girl to increase his popularity, but he didn't actually try to do anything for the citizens of his country. And Mona herself becomes a symbol of the irrationality of man. For all its science, all its knowledge, men are still ruled by their "base" instincts when it comes to Mona.

Overall, Cat's Cradle implies that human beings live under the mistaken assumption that human behavior can be explained in rational terms. Humanity tries to justify its behavior with moral codes of religion or law, but the moral codes themselves make little sense given the behavior of the characters in Cat's Cradle. Lowe believes in brutally killing people for minor crimes, as if this would correct the "immoral" behavior of petty criminals. The scientists in the novel, the very avatars of rationality, see nothing wrong with producing weapons capable of mass destruction. In many ways, the battle to right moral wrongs seems to create more destruction than the wrongs themselves.

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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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30 out of 58 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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31 out of 33 people found this helpful

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