Cat's Cradle

by: Kurt Vonnegut

Chapters 56-72

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.


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.