Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

Outlandish novel, bizarre structure, vitriolic commentary on nature of truth and human responsibility, politics, religion and science. The plot revolves around the assumed supremacy of science over religion, despite the fact that beyond a certain limit both cause the destruction of humanity. The prose is native to all Vonnegut novels except in this one the comic relief is provided by short poems here and there rather than the dialogue or the story itself. There are 127 chapters which are treated more like quick episodes. It is a tragedy threaded as satire on consequences of human invention like creation of a religion known as Bokononism, the atomic bomb and a fictitious element known as “ice-nine”.

Our protagonist/narrator aims to recreate the life of influential Americans on what they were doing the day the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. He starts off with Dr. Felix Hoenikker, the inventor of the atomic bomb. Pursuing the scientist leads him into adventures unknown to him, from the three Hoenikker kids (Frank, Angela and Newt) to discovering the secret element of destruction (ice-nine) to the fictitious island of San Lorenzo where all hell breaks loose.

The beginning of the book lends to an altogether different story than what the end leaves us with. The reader expects to be led into the life of Dr. Felix Hoenikker, instead is introduced to a myriad of characters who may or may not be related to the scientist and who together change the course of the story by 180 degrees.

This book definitely falls short of the magnificence of Slaughterhouse-Five and Breakfast of Champions and having read both of them I cannot comprehend why Cat’s Cradle is known as the best of Vonnegut. The structure of the plot is quite erratic which gives the impression that perhaps the writer was literally making up the story as he went along.

Our narrator here isn’t half as interesting as he was in Slaughterhouse or Breakfast and seems to just “tag along” wherever his story takes him. His role as the chief narrator makes him dependable and unreliable at the same time, that is, at least he is honest with his lies, superficiality, judgements on other characters and overestimation of circumstances.

The end however left me questioning the validity of the story. Without revealing any spoilers, the end may need a thorough reading and only upon my second reading did I understand how things came full circle.

  • By that he means that a karass ignores national, institutional, occupational, familial, and class boundaries. It is as free-form as an amoeba.
  • What he was doing was spooning different kinds of bugs into the jar and making them fight.9780241951606
  • The story about Father on the day they first tested a bomb out at Alamogordo? After the thing went off, after it was a sure thing that America could wipe out a city with just one bomb, a scientist turned to Father and said, ‘Science has now known sin.’ And do you know what Father said? He said, ‘What is sin?
  • There is love enough in this world for everybody, if people will just look. I am proof of that
  • She hated people who thought too much. At that moment, she struck me as an appropriate representative for almost all mankind.
  • Hoenikker used to say that any scientist who couldn’t explain to an eight-year-old what he was doing was a charlatan
  • Every question I asked implied that the creators of the atomic bomb had been criminal accessories to murder most foul.
  • New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth. The more truth we have to work with, the richer we become
  • I just have trouble understanding how truth, all by itself, could be enough for a person
  • Research means look again, don’t it? Means they’re looking for something they found once and it got away somehow, and now they got to research for it?
  • ‘Americans,’” he said, quoting his wife’s letter to the Times, “ ‘are forever searching for love in forms it never takes, in places it can never be
  • Never had I seen a human being better adjusted to such a humiliating physical handicap. I shuddered with admiration.
  • He reported his avocation as: “Being alive.” He reported his principal occupation as: “Being dead.”
  • I could not take my eyes off Mona. I was thrilled, heartbroken, hilarious, insane. Every greedy, unreasonable dream I’d ever had about what a woman should be came true in Mona
  • “I think, therefore I am, therefore I am photographable.”
  • What awakened little Newt was an explosion far away below. It caromed up the valley and went to God
  • “People have to talk about something just to keep their voice boxes in working order, so they’ll have good voice boxes in case there’s ever anything really meaningful to say.”
  • “But the drama demanded that the pirate half of Bokonon and the angel half of McCabe wither away. And McCabe and Bokonon paid a terrible price in agony for the happiness of the people—McCabe knowing the agony of the tyrant and Bokonon knowing the agony of the saint. They both became, for all practical purposes, insane.”
  • I expected something pathological, but I did not expect the depth, the violence, and the almost intolerable beauty of the disease
  • She improvised around the music of the Pullman porter’s son; went from liquid lyricism to rasping lechery to the shrill skittishness of a frightened child, to a heroin nightmare.
  • “Maturity, the way I understand it,” he told me, “is knowing what your limitations are.”
  • Maturity,” Bokonon tells us, “is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists, unless laughter can be said to remedy anything.”
  • It posed the question posed by all such stone piles: how had puny men moved stones so big? And, like all such stone piles, it answered the question itself. Dumb terror had moved those stones so big
  • The walls of the room were white. But “Papa” radiated pain so hot and bright that the walls seemed bathed in angry red.
  • And I realized with chagrin that my agreeing to be boss had freed Frank to do what he wanted to do more than anything else, to do what his father had done: to receive honors and creature comforts while escaping human responsibilities.
  • When a man becomes a writer, I think he takes on a sacred obligation to produce beauty and enlightenment and comfort at top speed
  • “What hope can there be for mankind,” I thought, “when there are such men as Felix Hoenikker to give such playthings as ice-nine to such short-sighted children as almost all men and women are?”
  • “Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before,” Bokonon tells us. “He is full of murderous resentment of people who are ignorant without having come by their ignorance the hard way.”

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