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Cat's Cradle

Kurt Vonnegut

Chapters 82-97

Chapters 73-81

Chapters 98-105

Summary

Frank telephoned back to his house and demanded that John stay there until they can speak. He refused to tell John over the phone the reason for the urgency, except to say that Monzano was dying and that the death involved John in some way. Julian filled John in on the details of Monzano's demise: He had terminal cancer. His doctor was Dr. Schlichter von Koenigswald, a former German S.S. officer who worked at Auschwitz for six years. Repentant about the atrocities he had committed during the Holocaust, Koenigswald became a member of Julian's staff to try to atone by helping the poor of San Lorenzo. Julian wryly calculated that by 3010, Koenigswald would have saved as many people as he allowed to die in the death camp.

Meanwhile, the soldiers at the training camp, known as Fort Jesus, began digging holes and machine gun pits. The electricity went out all over the island. The soldiers would say only that they were under order to protect Monzano. To quell his uneasiness, John listened to Newt and Angela discussing Felix's identical twin, a music-box manufacturer in Switzerland, and Felix's sister, who raised schnauzers in New York. To further occupy himself, John read Frank's copy of The Books of Bokonon. Later that night, the electricity returned, startling Angela, John, and Newt awake. They ran about in disarray, Newt and Angela carrying thermos that contained pieces of ice-nine, unbeknownst to John. John found Frank outside. With Mona at his side, Frank was tinkering with a generator. John felt that he needed Mona more than he had ever needed anyone.

Frank tried clumsily to speak "man to man" with John before he got to the urgent matter of John's zah-mah-ki-bo, his destiny. He wanted John to become president of San Lorenzo after Monzano's death. Like Felix, Frank had no skill in dealing with the public. When John refused, Frank asked if there was anyone else he should ask. John notes that this scene is an example of what Bokononists call a duffle, a moment when the destiny of thousands rest in the hands of a stuppa, an ignorant child. When John laughed, Frank became defensive because it reminded him of his high school days when his peers taunted him with the nickname Secret Agent X-9. Inwardly, John pondered the irony that Frank's tormentors now held monotonous blue-collar jobs while Frank was a Major General offering him the presidency of a small republic. Frank added that all those kids in high school would all have been surprised had they known he was having sex with Jack's wife at the hobby shop every day.

Frank then informed John that The Books of Bokonon prophesied that Mona would become the wife of the future president of San Lorenzo. In other words, if John became president, Mona would be his. John accepted the job.

Mona performed the boku-maru ritual with John, much to his orgiastic delight. Afterward, they declared their love for one another, and John tried to forbid her to love or perform boku-maru with anyone else. Mona called him a sin-wat, a man who demands all of someone's love, and refused to marry him. John quickly relented and became a Bokononist that day, learning that the only thing Bokononists consider sacred is humankind.

The next morning, John and Frank visited Monzano's dreary castle to get his blessing for their plan. A Christian minister was there with a live chicken and a butcher knife. Since Catholicism and Protestantism were outlawed in San Lorenzo, the minister was forced to create new rituals in order to practice as a Christian on the island. Monzano languished on the golden bed that had been constructed from Bokonon and McCabe's crashed ship. He was wearing a small container on a necklace. Unbeknownst to John, the container held ice-nine. Monzano took the news of Frank and John's plan in stride. He urged John to kill Bokonon, then asked that Frank teach the people the truth through science, claiming that science was the only magic that works. He expelled the Christian minister and refused to take Christian last rites.

Commentary

Like Felix, Frank wanted to enjoy creature comforts without assuming any human responsibility. Therefore, he wanted to pass the job of president onto anyone who would take it. Frank, still bitter over the taunting of his peers, approached the matter of choosing a leader for an entire country in the manner of an awkward adolescent. John's assessment of Frank as an ignorant child playing with the destiny of thousands of people was, therefore, correct, but it is not as if John himself acted any less the ignorant child. John accepted the presidency for simple reasons of sexual desire and ownership; he wanted Mona, he took the presidency. John's decision was no more rational that the decisions made by anyone else in the novel.

Bokononism is a form of cynical humanism. It is extremely skeptical about the value of human "truths." Nevertheless, it considers humanity itself the only sacred thing. This philosophy is remarkably similar to Schweitzer's belief in the value of life itself. Again, Bokonon, despite his skepticism, did not exhibit the careless, indifferent nihilism of Julian Castle. Neither did he exhibit the vain, irresponsible, greedy, self-deluded ignorance of the Hoenikker children and John. Bokonon as a character is very much like Vonnegut. In the face of the never-ending problem of human indifference, stupidity, pride, and ignorance, he could do nothing but laugh, just as Vonnegut uses his humor to encourage his readers to laugh even as they read about humanity's unflattering characteristics. The laughter Bokonon infuses into his religion and the laughter that Vonnegut places in his novel is not the laughter of distance. It is a laughter of acceptance of the absurd nature of the world, and it is also a laughter of engagement, which refuses to give up on humanity. Bokonon's religion is a joke, but it is designed to help the citizens of San Lorenzo live their lives without despair or hatred.

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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 55 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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4 out of 5 people found this helpful

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