Cat's Cradle

by: Kurt Vonnegut

Chapters 73-81

Vonnegut shows a number of origins for such delusion masquerading as simple truth. In the case of Asa Breed, this delusion arose out of simple pride and perhaps fear. Asa wanted to conceive of himself as a good person and an important scientist. In order to do so, he needed to defend his actions. The concept of "pure science" was his defense. But the delusion also exists on a grander scale. John traveled to San Lorenzo to write an article about Julian Castle. He discovered soon after arrival that Castle was a blatant misanthrope. Yet, John knows what his readers want: an article about a reformed bad boy. John resolves to give it to them. Delusion feeds itself and makes itself stronger. The public wants Julian to be a hero, and so he is presented as such.

Albert Schweitzer was a philosopher, theologian, and medical missionary who developed a philosophy that preached the utmost respect for the value of life. Julian's cynical dismissal of Schweitzer reveals a strain of nihilism. He believed the world is utterly meaningless and that all beliefs, religious, moral, or otherwise, are merely a means to exercise one's voice box. Unlike Julian, Bokonon did not seem to view people as worthless and repulsive. Rather, he saw them as ridiculous and laughable. His religion illustrates his cynicism, but he lacked the nihilism that characterized Julian's beliefs, and the greedy arrogance that characterized Lowe and Hazel. When he found that he did not have the power to increase their material comfort, he offered San Lorenzo's people the comforting illusion of meaning and purpose. Arguably, his gift to San Lorenzo was more meaningful than Julian's hospital or "Papa" Monzano's gift of an erotic symbol in Mona. Bokonon recognized the basic irrational nature of humanity and sought to provide comfort and a measure of happiness through an irrational religion. The only problem with the entire charade he created with his religion was that he and McCabe began to treat it as if it were real. At that point, people actually did begin dying for practicing Bokononism. Delusion became real.

Angela's outrage at her father's salary reveals her total indifference to the suffering, poverty, and disease that surrounded her on San Lorenzo. While Julian expounded upon the utter poverty in San Lorenzo, she still continued to complain about her father's pay, although the vast majority of San Lorenzo would have considered his pay an astronomical fortune.

With Newt's painting and his constant reference to the cat and the cradle, the title of the novel comes to bear a powerful symbol. Here is a game that Felix played as the bomb dropped and changed the world. It is a game played with string that forms nonsense shapes, a puzzle without end. And, it is a game named after a non-existent cat and a non-existent cradle. Cat's Cradle is a game of no meaning, of no value, and yet, it is beloved among children, its name accepted despite its ridiculous absence of fact. The game becomes a symbol of all the delusions that run rampant through the novel; people in Cat's Cradle search for an impossible final meaning, caught up entirely in a game with no end.