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Cat's Cradle

Kurt Vonnegut


Study Questions

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.

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.

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.

Jack, the proprietor of Jack's Hobby Shop, showed John an exquisitely detailed model that Frank constructed. How does this model serve as a metaphor for Frank's careless, indifferent, irresponsible attitude toward the real world? How does it serve as a metaphor for John's careless, indifferent attitude toward San Lorenzo?

How do Hazel and Lowe illustrate the irrational grouping behaviors of human beings?

Why are the Hundred Martyrs to Democracy ironic?

How does Vonnegut satirize the human will to power in Cat's Cradle?

What does Mona symbolize about the human character?

What is the essential difference between Julian and Bokonon's philosophies of life?

How does Vonnegut satirize humanity's obsession with the "truth?" Why does he satirize it? Why does he think it is dangerous?

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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.


34 out of 71 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


63 out of 66 people found this helpful

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