Cat's Cradle

Friday, February 1, 2013

Cat’s Cradle 
by Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut’s novel poking fun at both war and religion is clever on so many levels. He captures the absurdity of creating an atomic bomb in the same way Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 tackles the subject of war. We seem hell-bent on insuring our own destruction.

Our narrator is researching the fictional inventor of the atom bomb, Felix Hoenikker, and he learns more about his background through his strange son, Newton Hoenikker. Throughout the book cat’s cradle, a children’s yarn game, is used to show the meaninglessness of things. When looking at the overlapping lines of string Newton points out that there is no cat or cradle in the designs. Newton’s constant refrain…

“See the cat? See the cradle?”

… echoes through our minds as Vonnegut moves on to talk about the fictional religion, Bokononism. It’s a strange blend of cynical beliefs and nonsensical rituals and is practiced by the people who live on the remote island of San Lorenzo. In Vonnegut’s classic style, the belief system contradicts itself, overlapping forbidden laws and absurd practices. Vonnegut’s satire of religion is rivaled only by his mocking of the invention of weapons, in this case Ice-9, a weapon which freezes all the oceans of the world.

Vonnegut’s life was filled with tragedy; his mother’s suicide, sister’s death and his time as a prisoner of war in Germany. Yet despite all the horrors he experienced, he still had an irrepressible sense of humor. Sure, it’s an incredibly dark sense of humor, but it’s there.

BOTTOM LINE: One of my favorite Vonnegut novels, there is less of the extraterrestrial and more social commentary in this book. You don’t have to agree with all of his beliefs to appreciate his skill. If you’re a fan of Catch-22 I think you’d particularly enjoy this one.

“When a man becomes a writer, I think he takes on a sacred obligation to produce beauty and enlightenment and comfort at top speed.”

“She hated people who thought too much. At that moment she struck me as an appropriate representative for almost all mankind.”

“The highest possible form of treason is to say that Americans aren’t loved wherever they go, whatever they do.”

*Drawing of Cat's Cradle by Vonnegut from the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library


Sandy Nawrot said...

This book would go on the list of "I need to read if I want to call myself a serious reader". I like that fact that he is clever but doesn't lose his sense of humor. People like you are going to upgrade my reading selections yet!

Jeanne said...

This book was my version of Catcher in the Rye when I was a snotty teenager. I measured everyone else's phoniness by it.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Sandy - You definitely need to read something by Vonnegut because you're a Hoosier!

Jeanne - Ha, I love it. This is a perfect book for that.

Rob said...

I love Cat's Cradle. My favourite of the three I've read so far.

The idea of Bokononism was great I thought. The fact that it's a book of lies, and says so in its first line, but still manages to provide comfort to its followers is something that made me look at aspects of religion in a new light.

Brooke said...

How have I made it 29 years without reading any Vonnegut? I don't even own anything by him. This is a huge fail on my part!

Enbrethiliel said...


Hi, Melissa! I know almost nothing about Kurt Vonnegut, but your review reminds me of a paper I took in uni about satiric novels. On the reading list were Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, H.G. Wells's Time Machine, Anthony Burgess's Clockwork Orange, and other similar novels. It leans toward the British tradition (as did the entire School of English in my New Zealand university) and the dystopian genre, but now I wonder whether a syllabus adapted for an American class would have Cat's Cradle on it.

Anonymous said...

Cat's Cradle is one of my favorites of Vonnegut's books. I actually quoted Dr. Hoenikker's Nobel Prize speech at my Dad's memorial service in2007. There was (maybe still is) a Canadian band that calls themselves the Bokononists.

You should come to a meeting of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library book club sometime. We're reading God Bless You Mr. Rosewater for the 2/28 meeting. :-)

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Rob - Yes, Vonnegut's cynical nature is so clear in this one and he has a blast poking fun at religion.

Brooke - You should definitely check him out! Not everyone loves his more sci-fi stuff, but maybe try one of his nonfiction books first. A Man Without a Country is really good. You still have his sense of humor, but none of the more extreme plot points.

Enbrethiliel - What a great reading list! I would have loved to have taken that class.

bibliophilica - I would love to! I will be at a play the night of the 28th, but is there a list of future dates and books?

Anonymous said...

Hi Melissa,
The KV book club now has a wordpress page. The "about" page is and I think the notes to the last meeting include the schedule for the next few months or longer.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

bibliophilica - Oh bummer, I work full-time so a meeting in the middle of the work week is out for me. Have fun though!

Anonymous said...

I really disliked Slaughterhouse-5, but really loved this one!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Stacybuckeye - I loved this one so much more than Slaughterhouse! I felt the same way I want some of Salinger's lesser-known books. It's funny so many people judge an author off their one famous book, but don't give their others a chance.