John is the hapless narrator of Cat's Cradle. In the past, he set out to write a book about the day the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, entitled The Day the World Ended. His research led him to an ill-fated acquaintance with Angela, Frank, and Newt Hoenikker, the equally hapless children of Felix Hoenikker. He became involved with their efforts to buy happiness through the use of their father's scientific creation, ice- nine, which could simply and without effort turn water to ice.
When Bokonon and his friend, Edward McCabe, landed on San Lorenzo, a small island republic ravaged by poverty and disease, they hoped to turn the island into a utopia. However, they quickly realized the futility of their efforts. Bokonon saw that the truth was an ugly thing indeed, so he sought to offer the citizens of San Lorenzo hope through comforting lies. He created the religion of Bokononism and asked McCabe to outlaw it so that the religion would be more exciting and meaningful for its practitioners. John becomes a follower of Bokononism after he travels to San Lorenzo to interview Julian Castle for a magazine article.
Angela Hoenikker is the oldest child of Felix and Emily Hoenikker. Although her brother Newt is a four-feet tall midget, Angela is over six feet tall, and physically unattractive to boot. After her mother died in childbirth with Newt, Felix withdrew Angela from school to take care of him, Frank, and Newt. To cope with her unhappiness, Angela deluded herself into believing her father was an unappreciated saint. After her father's death, Angela traded her share of ice-nine to Harrison C. Conners, a handsome scientist involved with top secret weapons research for the U.S. government, in return for his agreement to marry her.
Emily Hoenikker was the beautiful wife of Felix Hoenikker. She died while giving birth to Newt. Felix exhibited little affection or concern for his wife when she was alive, and his attitude went unchanged by her sudden death. He did not even bother to purchase a tombstone to mark her grave. A year after her death, Angela and Frank used his Nobel Prize money to buy a 20-foot high monument to mark her grave.
Felix Hoenikker was a key researcher in the development of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. When John began researching the Hoenikker family, he quickly learned that Felix cared little for human responsibilities. Felix approached his work as if it were an amusing game, regardless of the content of the research. Felix was emotionally indifferent to other people, including his family, simply because people were not his "specialty." When a marine general asked him to solve the problem of mud, Felix began working on the creation of an isotope of water, which he called ice-nine, that was solid at room temperature. Unfortunately, Felix succeeded in creating ice-nine, but he kept no records of his research. After his death, his three children, Angela, Newt, and Frank, secretly divided his creation among themselves.
Frank Hoenikker is the second child of Felix and Emily Hoenikker. Frank, like his father, cared little for human responsibilities. He bought himself a comfy position of Major General on San Lorenzo by giving ice-nine to the island's ailing dictator, "Papa" Monzano. "Papa" Monzano wanted Frank to succeed him as President of San Lorenzo, but Frank did not wish to accept the responsibility. He preferred to live comfortably without having to deal with the concerns of other people. He convinced John to become President in his place.
Newt, a four-feet tall midget, is the youngest child of Felix and Emily Hoenikker. Newt's mother died while giving birth to him. Newt hoped to find happiness when he became engaged to Zinka, a Ukrainian midget belonging to a dance company. Unfortunately, she was also a Soviet spy, and she quickly realized the potential of ice-nine as a weapon; she stole Newt's share of ice-nine for the Soviet government.
"Papa" Monzano was the ailing dictator of the small island republic of San Lorenzo. He gave Frank a comfy post as Major General in exchange for ice-nine. He also planned to install Frank as his successor, but Frank convinced John to become the President of San Lorenzo following Monzano's death. Monzano committed suicide by swallowing ice-nine.
Mona Aamons Monzano was the adopted daughter of "Papa" Monzano. She was the child of Nestor Aamons, a Finnish architect who died prior to her birth, and a native of San Lorenzo. Monzano adopted the unusually beautiful girl to raise his popularity, and he turned her into a national erotic symbol. Frank successfully convinced John to become President of San Lorenzo when he mentioned that Mona would marry him. The Books of Bokonon predicted that Mona would marry the next President, and Mona was a devout Bokononist. Mona committed suicide by swallowing ice-nine after it killed almost all life on earth.
Nestor Aamons, a Finnish architect, designed Julian Castle's charity hospital on San Lorenzo. He was Mona's biological father.
Asa Breed was Felix's supervisor at the Research Laboratory where Felix helped develop the atomic bomb. John interviewed him when he was researching his book, The Day the World Ended, which was never finished. Asa took offense at John's questions because he felt that John believed scientists were heartlessly indifferent to humankind. He told John about Felix's attempts to create ice-nine. When John nervously asked if Felix had succeeded, Asa denied it and furiously ended the interview.
Asa Breed's brother; he owned and operated the tombstone shop in the city where Felix Hoenikker worked on the atomic bomb.
Julian Castle was the multi-millionaire owner of the Castle Sugar Corporation. He spent the first 40 years of his life as an irresponsible playboy before turning his attention to charity. He opened a charity hospital on San Lorenzo, the same island where Castle Sugar had a small operation. John traveled to San Lorenzo to interview Julian for a magazine article.
Philip Castle was the only child of Julian Castle. He and Mona had a childhood romance and once were briefly engaged. Philip wrote a book about San Lorenzo's history and people, which John read on the plane to San Lorenzo. Philip opened a hotel, the Casa Mona, but had few guests.
Harrison C. Conners, a scientist involved in top-secret weapons research for the U.S. government, was the handsome husband of Angela Hoenikker. He married her in return for a piece of ice-nine, which he gave to the United States' weapons arsenal. Angela's bargain did not bring her the happiness she sought: Harrison often returned home late at night, covered in lipstick.
John met Lowe and Hazel on the plane to San Lorenzo. They were traveling to the island to investigate the possibility of moving their bicycle manufacturing business to the island because they found U.S. labor regulations too restrictive. Lowe and Hazel are characterized by the ignorant hubris of typical Americans.
Naomi and Francine worked as secretaries at the Research Laboratory, transcribing documents that neither of them really understood. Naomi gave John a tour of Felix's lab.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, San Lorenzo declared war on Japan and Germany. The island put one hundred soldiers on a ship to the United States, but a German submarine sank the ship just as it left the harbor, killing all of the soldiers. They became known as the Hundred Martyrs to Democracy, and San Lorenzo created a national holiday in their memory.
A repentant former S.S. officer who served at Auschwitz, to atone for the atrocities he committed, he became a member of Julian's staff at the San Lorenzo charity hospital. He was "Papa" Monzano's attending physician. After Monzano committed suicide by swallowing ice-nine, Dr. von Koenigswald contaminated his hands with the deadly substance. When he tried to wash them, he died instantly as the ice-nine spread throughout his body upon contact with normal water.
When John traveled to Ilium to do research for his book, The Day the World Ended, he allowed Krebbs, a destitute poet, to live in his apartment for a couple of weeks. Upon his return, John discovered that Krebbs had incurred hundreds of dollars in long distance phone calls, wrecked his apartment, and killed his cat. John credited Krebbs for turning him away from a philosophy of nihilism.
A marine deserter, Edward McCabe hired Bokonon to transport him to Miami. However, they shipwrecked on San Lorenzo, which lacked a government at the time. Seeing the horrendous poverty and disease among the island residents, which was partly the result of the Castle Sugar Corporation's abusive labor practices, Bokonon and McCabe set out to make the island into a utopia. Because Castle Sugar had never turned a profit on San Lorenzo, the company retreated without protest when McCabe and Bokonon declared themselves in charge of the island. McCabe and Bokonon quickly realized that no amount of legal and economic reform could improve the standard of living for the island's residents. Bokonon sought to comfort the island's citizens with a religion, Bokononism, based on lies. At his request, McCabe, now a dictator, outlawed Bokononism so that it would be more exciting and meaningful to its practitioners. The strain of playing their roles in this charade drove both Bokonon and McCabe a little insane. McCabe began executing people in truth, though he never killed Bokonon because, without him, his own role as tyrant would be meaningless.
John met Horlick and Claire on the plane to San Lorenzo, where he was planning to interview Julian Castle for a magazine article. Horlick was the new America ambassador to San Lorenzo. Horlick, the new American ambassador to San Lorenzo, delivered a speech that argued against the murderous consequences of patriotism and nationalism. He declared that all soldiers who died in war were "murdered children." Shortly after, he died in an accident.
Zinka, a Russian midget dancer, captured the amorous attentions of Newt Hoenikker. Unfortunately, she was a Soviet spy. She became engaged to Newt long enough to steal ice-nine from him for the Soviet government.