Cat's Cradle

by: Kurt Vonnegut

Study Questions

1

How does Bokononism try to solve the problem of violent, religious dogmatism?

Each Bokononist believes that he or she belongs to a team that carries out God's will, but Bokononism warns that the individual will never fully understand what his or her part in the divine plan is. Everything that happens in his or her life is "meant to happen," so the Bokononist feels no pressure to do anything other than live his or her life with the faith that he or she is inevitably doing God's will. The opening lines of The Books of Bokonon declare that Bokononism is based entirely on lies. Bokononism acknowledges that human existence has no inherent meaning or purpose, but it recognizes that people demand meaning and purpose for their lives. Therefore, Bokononism offers the comforting illusion of meaning and purpose without inspiring the violent religious dogmatism that sometimes characterizes the practitioners of other religions. Essentially, Bokononism is an extremely passive religion, and one can hardly imagine Bokononists actively organizing a violent crusade in the name of their religious "truths," a common problem for other religions. Bokononists accept that their religion is based entirely on comforting lies.

2

How does Felix mock the prevailing notion that "evil" is humanity's biggest problem?

Many of Vonnegut's contemporaries who shared his distrust of technology based their criticisms on the old, accepted paradigms of "good" and "evil." When exploring the disturbing possibilities of mass destruction, they focused on undeniably evil people, such as Hitler, who instigated well-organized, efficient campaigns of senseless slaughter. Vonnegut mocks standardized, Western ideas about good, evil, sin, and morality in his portrait of Felix Hoenikker. Generally, an "innocent" person is ignorant of sin. Felix, in many ways, fits this definition. When one of his colleagues commented that science had known sin after the first bomb was tested, Felix asked him what sin was. Felix, unlike his colleague, did not understand or acknowledge the moral responsibility they had incurred in creating the atomic bomb. Felix was very much like a child in the way he approached his research, whether it involved nuclear physics or the behavior of turtles. Through Felix, Vonnegut implies that humanity's insatiable need to increase its store of knowledge can be deadly. The danger rests not in the prospect that destructive scientific knowledge might fall into the hands of "evil" individuals, but that this knowledge will more likely fall into the hands of ignorant, innocent overgrown children who do not understand or acknowledge the moral responsibility that comes with their destructive creations.

3

How does the commencement speech delivered at Frank's high school graduation mock the valorized status that science occupies as a means to discover "truth?"

The commencement speech, delivered by one of Felix's colleagues, illustrates the inadequacy of science to fulfill all of humankind's needs. Felix's colleague declared that science would one day discover the key to life. This "key to life" was later discovered to be a type of protein. That such a thing could be considered a key to life is ridiculed in the reaction of two of Frank's high school classmates, a bartender and a prostitute named Sandra. Neither understood the details or significance of this discovery. It didn't change their lives, and, by extension, it did not affect the daily lives of most people on the planet. The discovery of the protein might offer cures or better nutrition, but it does not offer happiness.