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Cat's Cradle

Kurt Vonnegut

Chapters 98-105

Chapters 82-97

Chapters 106-114

Summary

Although Monzano had asked John to kill Bokonon, he wanted Bokononist last rites. Dr. von Koenigswald agreed to perform the rites, stating that he was a bad scientist because he was willing to do anything to comfort another person. Like Bokononists, he believed that all religions were based on lies. While performing boku-maru with Monzano, he intoned the legend of humanity's creation while Monzano repeated the chant: God demanded that the mud sit up and take notice of all his creations. The mud sat up and counted itself lucky and praised God for all His wonderful creations. The mud felt unimportant next to God, so, to make itself feel better, it felt superior to the mud that did not sit up and take notice. The mud that awoke enjoyed meeting other interesting mud that awoke, and all the awakened mud eagerly looked forward to finding their karasses and wampeters.

When John asked Frank for advice in announcing his presidency, Frank refused to offer any help beyond what his job as minister of technology demanded. John realized that, in acquiescing to the job of president, he had given Frank everything he wanted: comfort and honor without any of the burden of human responsibility. For a while, John considered ending the charade that had existed on San Lorenzo for so long. He wanted to outlaw the hook, allow Bokononism, and place Bokonon himself in a government office. Then, John realized that neither he nor Bokonon could provide adequate food, housing, and social services, so he decided to outlaw Bokononism just as the previous Presidents had. He and Bokonon would continue to provide the people with the only thing they could give--a never-ending battle between good and evil.

The ceremony in honor of the Hundred Martyrs began. The tables were stocked with albatross meat and "native rum," which was actually acetone. The meat made John ill, and he declined to drink the rum, although Lowe, insensitive to the smell of acetone, partook heavily. In the sea, floated a number of cardboard cutouts depicting Stalin, Fidel Castro, Hitler, Mussolini, Karl Marx, the German Kaiser, and Mao. At an appointed time, the San Lorenzo airforce would fly over and open fire on the cardboard leaders. Lowe approved of the practice. He considered the cutouts to represent every possible enemy of freedom.

No one at the ceremony knew that John would be announced as the next President. Julian and Philip were bewildered that they had been invited, since Monzano had long been a declared enemy of theirs. Philip told John that he was considering calling a general strike of all writers. John replied that a writer was obligated "to produce beauty and enlightenment at top speed." Therefore, a general strike of writers would be akin to a general strike of firemen and policemen. People would die if they did not have "the consolation of literature."

Mona exhibited no distress at Monzano's impending death, nor did she make any public display of affection toward John. He wondered whether she was the epitome of "female spirituality" or simply frigid. Frank explained to Lowe and Hazel that Bokonon set himself against science, much to their shock and dismay. Science, in the form of doctors, had saved the lives of Hazel's mother and Lowe.

The albatross made John very ill, and he retreated to the bathroom next to Monzano's suite. A very distressed Dr. von Koenigswald ran out of Monzano's bedroom hysterically demanding to know what the small container around Monzano's neck contained. Apparently, Monzano had eaten its contents and died, instantly turning into a solid statue. John entered the bedroom to see Monzano's rigid body, his eyes and lips covered in a blue-white frost. Immediately, John realized that Monzano must have swallowed ice-nine. Noting Bokonon's ironic statement that everything should be recorded so that human beings avoid making the same mistakes as their predecessors, John wrote that Monzano was the first man in the world to die of ice-nine. John then notes that Bokonon's ironic statement was actually an assertion that writing and reading history is a futile prospect, since men always did repeat the mistakes of their predecessors.

Commentary

Bokonon's legend of humanity's creation is a cynical, playful metaphor for human folly. The mud that awoke alleviated its feelings of inferiority to God by feeling superior to the mud that did not awake. The myth reflects the tendency of people to mitigate their feelings of resentment, inferiority, and insecurity by wielding power over weaker, less fortunate people. Ironically, Felix created ice-nine as a solution to the problem of mud. Considering this in light of Bokonon's legend, his creation can be seen as the solution to humanity itself. This solution to humanity, however, was to kill it.

John vainly assumed that his profession, writing, provided humanity with consolation, beauty, and truth. Ironically, he criticized scientists, like Asa Breed, for having the same irrational, stupid pride in their own professions. Unlike Bokonon, John did not acknowledge the essential absurdity of his beliefs. Bokononism recognizes and acknowledges ambiguity because dogmatic truth all too often becomes a bludgeon to wield against others. The illusion of a "true" rational or moral order, the inability to tolerate and accept ambiguity, is one of the major problems that Vonnegut perceives in the human character.

The effigies floating in the harbor simultaneously symbolize the threat of violence embedded in the human character and the pointlessness of that violence. Since the effigies float in the harbor on the day of the Hundred Martyrs, just as the martyrs themselves did just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Further, like those cardboard cutouts, the Martyrs were destroyed with no real hesitation and for no real reason: killed for wanting to fight tyranny, their country is exactly that. The floating effigies represent the "evil" of the world: the leaders of Communism and Fascism and the German Kaiser who began World War I to boot. The destruction of this concentrated evil is the main event of the Hundred Martyr festival. But, it is not evil that is poised to destroy the world. In fact, the very planes meant to destroy the world set off the accident that allows the "innocent" but powerful technology of ice-nine to transform the ambiguous flaws of the Hoenikkers and John into worldwide catastrophe: This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.

The constant value invoked in the recording of history is its value to posterity, its ability to teach the present how to avoid the mistakes of the past. Vonnegut, through Bokonon, attacks even this accepted truth as delusion. The characters of Cat's Cradle knew the past, every single one of them had a profound connection to the atomic bomb, but none of them learned from it. They accept the truth taught to them with an easy acceptance, look at the fabric of history as they might ponder a game with a circular strand of string. But, where's the cat? Where's the cradle?

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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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