Cat's Cradle is Kurt Vonnegut's satirical commentary on modern man and his madness. An apocalyptic tale of this planet's ultimate fate, it features a midget as the protagonist, a complete, original theology created by a calypso singer, and a vision of the future that is at once blackly fatalistic and hilariously funny. A book that left an indelible mark on an entire generation of readers, Cat's Cradle is one of the twentieth century's most important works-and Vonnegut at his very best.
The curriculet is being added to your library
The opening line to this novel is called an epigraph. Many authors like to quote from a work of literature that readers can quickly recognize. This epigraph, though, is from a book perhaps you've never heard of, includes a word you cannot find in any English dictionary, and begins with the very blunt expression, "Nothing in this book is true." Think for a moment about how this simple literary technique affects you before you begin reading.
Chapter 1 - The Day the World Ended
From the first chapter, it's easy to tell that this book is science fiction. It talks about an apocalyptic ending to the world and atomic bombs. As you read on, you will notice the humorous tone of the author, Kurt Vonnegut, as well. This element is one aspect of what makes this book also fall in the genre of satire. As we read on, we will come back to the elements that Vonnegut uses in this work of satirical science fiction, why he wrote this book in this genre, and how it impacts character development and overarching themes in the story.
Chapter 2 - Nice, Nice, Very Nice
What does the content that is quoted from the Book of Bokonon in this chapter encourage its followers to do?
Chapter 4 - A Tentative Tangling of Tendrils
The "Define" tool in this curriculet can be accessed by clicking on any word and selecting the "Define" option. This will provide a dictionary list of definitions for most words. "Karass" and "sinookas" which are words created in the fictional landscape of this novel, will NOT be found in any dictionary. The author makes clear which words these are, though, by italicizing them for you.
Chapter 5 - Letter From a Pre-Med
After watching the video on satire, answer the following question. The passage that is highlighted in the text annotation is satirical because
Satire is an engaging genre to read and watch. The highlighted text is satirical, and the following video will better help you understand the various techniques that contribute to a satirical work. Watch the video and then answer the question that follows. (This annotation contains a video)
A cat's cradle is shown below. It is a game played by many cultures throughout the world, and has many variations in how it is played. (This annotation contains an image)
What satirical technique is used in this passage to show how fearful Newt is of his father?
Chapter 6 - Bug Fights
What thematic idea does Vonnegut MOST likely lead the reader to discover based on the anecdotes about Felix (Father) in this chapter?
Chapter 7 - The Illustrious Hoenikkers
One aspect of a satire is that characters tend to be extreme examples of particular trends, ideas, and behaviors. These characters are said to satirize these trends, ideas, etc. An example in this novel, is Newt, a person of short stature (it is not politically correct to refer to him as midget today), who is named after a small amphibian, and who epitomizes an underachiever. He dropped out of medical school, has obviously low self-esteem, and felt largely ignored by his family, especially by his father.
Chapter 8 - Newt's Thing with Zinka
This comment is only funny when you understand the political context in which this novel was written. Russia in the 1940s is a communistic nation. They believe in an equal distribution of wealth across all of society--no social classes, no abundance of wealth. Someone from late 20th century would find humor in this jab at communism.
What is Vonnegut MOST likely leading the reader to infer based on the highlighted detail?
Chapter 10 - Secret Agent X-9
Based on what his children, Sandra, and Dr. Asa Breed all say (in different accounts), it is becoming more clear that Felix Hoenniker was extremely intelligent (dangerously, as Dr. Breed suggested) and secretive. These details create suspense in the plot and we are meant to wonder what secretive, powerful things he actually did.
Chapter 12 - End of the World Delight
How does Vonnegut MOSTLY develop our understanding of Felix Hoenniker?
Chapter 13 - The Jumping-Off Place
This comment is an example of verbal irony. We know that Dr. Breed is ashamed of being part of a lab that put together the atomic bomb that killed thousands of people. He makes it sound like killing 26 people is a terrible thing, but in reality he is revealing his own inner turmoil and his guilt-stricken conscience for his role in the atomic bomb.
Chapter 14 - When Automobiles had Cut-Glass Vases
Why is the final sentence in this chapter an an important detail in the plot?
Chapter 15 - Merry Christmas
You might be wondering why Miss Pefko is introduced in this story. She says nothing significant about Felix Hoenikker. She admits to knowing very little. She has a cynical attitude towards science and scientists, who make her feel unintelligent. To understand her significance, think about who she represents in society. Satires are often full of minor characters who criticize some aspect of their society.
Chapter 17 - The Girl Pool
What social criticism does Vonnegut make through the tour of the Research Laboratory?
Chapter 18 - The Most Valuable Commodity on Earth
Scientific progressivism is the belief that science can provide a greater understanding of the world, "increase knowledge," and, in turn, improve the world. This idea was popularized during the Enlightenment and again during the beginning of the 20th century. It caused a lot of disillusionment as people realized that even science has its limits.
On the other side of the argument, there are those who hold an extreme view (like the Bokonists do, obviously) that it is difficult to know anything, or any truth, at all.
Chapter 20 - Ice-Nine
John's remarks regarding the singing and its relationship to his discovery of ice-nine contribute to create a(n) ________ tone.
Chapter 22 - Member of the Yellow Press
Ice-nine would create a chain reaction if it were ever released on Earth. Every atom of water that was connected to another would, one by one, freeze. The potentially cataclysmic effects of this substance make it more dangerous then even the atomic bomb.
Chapter 25 - The Main Thing About Dr. Hoenikker
Bokonism MOST helps John do which of the following?
Chapter 26 - What God Is
The conflict here is between religion and science. However, Vonnegut, unlike other authors, doesn't believe either is really the best way to know "truth." This is why he satirizes both Miss Faust and Dr. Hoenniker, who both represent the folly of their own belief system. On an interesting side note, Faust is one of literature's most famous examples of someone who ends up denying his belief in God in order to achieve temporary power. This person is considered a Faustian character. (This annotation contains an image)
Chapter 28 - Mayonnaise
How does this bizarre character, Knowles, MOST impact the elements of this story?
Chapter 32 - Dynamite Money
Felix's kids sure did not like him! The fact that they used their father's money to build a larger tombstone is one indication we have of this. Their mother represents love, self-sacrifice, and interconnectedness. Their father represents the opposite. What statement do you think Vonnegut is trying to make about the kind of person you should be?
Chapter 33 - An Ungrateful Man
Martin's opinion about Felix MOSTLY highlights Felix's
Chapter 34 - Vin-Dit
A Vin-Dit (a fictional word) is most similar to what one might call divine providence. It is the idea that God has his hand in human history, and guides each of us along. Moments we think are "coincidence" are actually Vin-Dits, or God directing the course of humankind to moments that have significant personal and often global impact.
Chapter 36 - Meow
Nihilism is the rejection of all religious and moral precepts. An atheist has a more single-minded focus on rejecting organized religion. According to John, Krebbs helped him see that his opinion about religion was foolish. He gave him an "Ah-ha!" moment, an epiphany.
Chapter 37 - A Modern Major General
In what significant way does Franklin's life MOST parallel that of his own father?
Chapter 40 - House of Hope and Mercy
What do Felix, John, and Frank all have in common? They all pursue happiness in light of other duties and areas of their life that need attention. Felix mostly ignored his family. Frank had a talent for making models, but let his reputation as his father's son gain him fame and a sense of importance. Now John even sounds like he's more interested in a girl than in getting his investigative job done. These character's choices are closely tied to thematic issues. As you read, we will look at this theme more closely, but for now watch the video below to learn more about themes. (This annotation contains a video)
Chapter 42 - Bicycles for Afghanistan
What problem do John and Bokonon see with granfalloons?
Chapter 43 - The Demonstrator
Part I Quiz
Chapter 44 - Communist Sympathizers
Vonnegut, on top of being an author, was also the president of The American Humanist Association. This organization promoted a humanistic view of the world in which people were encouraged to not identify themselves as part of social classes, political groups, or even religion, but to realize that they belong to humanity and are much more similar to each other than "labels" often allow. It seems Minton echoes Vonnegut's same beliefs.
Chapter 47 - Dynamic Tension
Based on Bokonon's principle of "dynamic tension," one would MOST likely advocate which of the following?
Chapter 49 - A Fish Pitched up by an Angry Sea
This chapters focuses on the emergence of Johnson as Bokonon. It carries with it the tone one might use to describe the life of a saint, but it distinguishes itself in that it suggests that Bokonon is more of a self-made saint. He didn't do anything for anyone else, other than discovering this island and pursuing his own destiny.
Chapter 51 - O.K., Mom
Part of this satirical work includes pointing out the folly of man. This comment points out the stupidity people demonstrate at times. Though these two siblings are not "evil" per se, their foolish decision to carry ice-nine over the Caribbean Sea could lead to a lot of destruction and death.
Angela makes sure that John will portray her father as a saint. What does this tell you about her?
Chapter 53 - The President of Fabri-Tek
Just like Zinka, these hasty marriages make you think that maybe these people aren't interested in just marriage--they might be after the ice-nine. The uncertainty that surrounds these marriages creates added suspense.
Chapter 56 - A Self-Supporting Squirrel Cage
Why did religion in San Lorenzo erupt so quickly?
Chapter 59 - Fasten Your Seat Belts
How does Vonnegut's satirical approach help the reader better understand Newt?
Chapter 61 - What A Corporal was Worth
The posters in this chapter provide a bit of comic relief. Each one is like a joke, and these constant jokes have been running through the entire novel. Because of the constant satire, the focus on death (especially in this chapter), this novel has also been called a dark comedy (or black comedy). A dark comedy attempts to make the readers laugh even though they get the sense that things don't turn out well for anyone.
Chapter 62 - Why Hazel Wasn't Scared
What is the MOST significant detail about the setting the Vonnegut wants the reader to notice?
Chapter 64 - Peace and Plenty
When John finally meets Mona, we see him in a new light. He is much more "star-stricken" than we might have expected from his cool, collected, Bokonist-infused narration. How has he changed over the course of this novel? How will his change affect the plot? Watch the following video on character development to learn more about this concept and how it applies to this story. (This annotation contains a video)
Chapter 65 - A Good Time to Come to San Lorenzo
The title of this chapter--"A Good Time to Come to San Lorenzo"--in contrast with the event that occurs at the end, is an example of
Chapter 68 - Hoon-Yera Mora-Toorz
One type of irony, found often in satires and dark comedies, is situational irony. This event is situational irony. Watch the following video to learn more about situational irony, and think about what it implies about San Lorenzo. (This annotation contains a video)
Chapter 70 - Tutored by Bokonon
Philip's ___________ seems to create tension between himself and John.
Chapter 72 - The Pissant Hilton
Although this poem, and boko-maru seem silly, they are rituals that connect to Vonnegut's humanist philosophy of life. He believes in the interconnectedness of human life, and after all the tragedy, death, and human selfishness and stupidity he saw, he spent a large time of his writing career trying to show that people have a lot more in common if they break down labels, borders, and policies that cause segregation.
Chapter 73 - Black Death
What uncomfortable truth does Vonnegut convey at the end of this chapter?
Chapter 74 - Cat's Cradle
Newt is still plagued, obviously, by his father's awkward attempt to bond with him. If a major theme of this novel is the importance of humans connecting meaningfully with one another, we see that Newt has not grown much in this department. In fact, Newt and other characters fail to see how anything makes sense. They were told many things as children, believed them, and are now disillusioned because the truths they have believed don't make them happy. In what ways do other characters in this novel fail to find happiness with the truths they hold onto?
Chapter 76 - Julian Castle Agrees with Newt that Everything is Meaningless
What statement is Vonnegut attempting to make about art and religion?
Chapter 78 - Ring of Steel
The San Lorenzo utopia project created a fictionalized conflict between Bokonon and the government. This "dynamic tension" between state and religion is what the founders of this island state claim make the utopia run smoothly. Legends, miracles, and a historical precedent for the religion had to be developed, so much like a film producer and director might make a movie, Bokonon and McCabe made a dramatic history of their conflict. In other countries during Vonnegut's time, this practice is referred to as propaganda. The Nazi's, Fascists, and Communists were known to create posters, fictional news stories, and legends in order to control the emotions of their constituents, too.
Chapter 80 - The Waterfall Strainers
What is the deeper meaning of Newt's words at the end of this chapter?
Chapter 81 - A White Bride for the Son of A Pullman Porter
Part II Quiz
Chapter 82 - Zah-Mah-Ki-Bo
Pay attention to this phrase, zag-mah-ki-bo, and its thematic significance in this story. To what degree do you think these characters believe in fate?
Chapter 85 - A Pack of Foma
Why does Bokonon insist that his own cosmogony (creation of the universe) is a lie?
Chapter 87 - The Cut of My Jib
Fate and free-will come back into play in this chapter. John absolutely believes in free-will. He has told us from the beginning that things happen as they should. The gravestone with the angel. His trip to San Lorenzo. Now he is being asked to be President of San Lorenzo. How do you think he will interpret this event? And, more importantly, why do you think he will interpret it this way?
Chapter 89 - Duffle
Based on the admission that Frank makes and other details we've learned about his siblings since their arrival on the island, it seems clear that all of Felix's children are
Chapter 90 - Only One Catch
Here's the irony in this situation. John believes that everything that is happening to him is part of the vin-dit, or fate, that Bokonon describes. He sees all these favorable circumstances as God's intervention in his life. Bokonon, however, insisted that everything he said about his religion, including vin-dit, is a lie. If this is true, then John's beliefs about fate are just meant to make him happy in believing that things are working out for him. If you don't buy into Bokonon's beliefs, then fate could still be true. Confusing, right? This is a theme that Vonnegut challenges you to ponder.
Chapter 92 - On the Poet's Celebration of his First Boko-Maru
The use of boko-maru in this story is meant to convey which of the following ideas?
Chapter 93 - How I Almost Lost My Moma
Coming back to the fate versus free-will debate again, it seems that John became a Bokonist because he had to to keep Mona. If he forced himself into a religion just to obtain what made him happy, is this providence or free-will?
Chapter 96 - Bell, Book, and Chicken in A Hatbox
How has John changed over the course of the last several chapters?
Chapter 97 - The Stinking Christian
Do you remember the tension between science and faith that Vonnegut conveyed when we met all the lady lab workers in the laboratory? Well, here is this same tension again. Vonnegut provides more clarity on this theme as he reminds us that people use both science and religion as ways to coerce people, make them believe truths, and give them happiness. Neither presents reality as it really is. Both are flawed ways of knowing the world. In light of this, what do you think Vonnegut would say is more important?
Chapter 99 - Dyot Meet Mat
"Sitting-up mud" is a metaphor for
Chapter 100 - Down the Oubliette Goes Frank
The saying goes, "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree." In this story, Felix's children all fall into the same behavior as their father--they pursue pleasure and neglect what should really be done. It's ironic that John notices this because, in a more serious sense, he knows about ice-nine, its potential catastrophic effect on the world, and yet he is too busy becoming President and getting married to Mona. The readers might be waiting for John to get his act together, but we can't be sure he will.
Chapter 102 - Enemies of Freedom
What is the irony in Crosby's comment and the bombing of the world leaders?
Chapter 104 - Sulfathiazole
Sulfathiazole is actually a toxic drug. This is an example of dramatic irony because we know the effects of this drug, but the speaker does not. The bigger point that is being made is that science, even when it's progressive, still creates things that can cause more harm than good.
Chapter 108 - Frank Tells Us What To Do
Based on the ending of this chapter, one can infer that
Chapter 110 - The Fourteenth Book
Part of Vonnegut's humanist philosophy is that all men are prone to make mistakes, act selfishly, and be, generally, imperfect. This is a shock to some, but to those who know this, it frees them from seeing just a certain group of people as enemies, to seeing everyone as imperfect. The other thematic issue that comes up here is that "evil" in the traditional sense is not people who want to do wrong--it happens when people act stupidly and cause destruction and harm.
Chapter 111 - Time Out
In other words, once you've set something bad in motion, there's no telling how long before it spreads and causes destruction.
Chapter 113 - History
How does Bokonon's statement relate to larger thematic issues in this story?
Chapter 114 - When I Felt The Bullet Enter My Heart
In the aftermath of two major world wars, people reflected on how to best live their lives. All many could come up with was that God had let them down, mankind was full of "stupidity and viciousness," and that people across borders, religions, and social classes were not that different after all. Ernest Hemingway is one of many writers who wrote about the disillusionment of war, and the same themes in this novel--free will versus destiny; religion versus science; the effects of pride--all form a central part of many American novels written during the Modernism era. What other works of literature have you read from this period and how do they relate to this one?
Chapter 116 - The Grand Ah-Whoom
The mood in this chapter suddenly becomes __________ after Papa turns the ocean into ice-nine.
Chapter 119 - Mona Thanks Me
On several occasions John "educates" Mona and gives her a scientific perspective of the world. Each time she simply says, "Thank you." Her underwhelming response of gratitude shows how some people do not value seeing the world through the lens of science. To her, Bokonism is all she needs to be happy. John has a good mixture of both, but the author is making a larger point here about what people need to make themselves happy--some kind of world view to explain why things are they way they are.
Chapter 120 - To Whom It May Concern
What does this note reveal about the development of Bokonon throughout this story?
Chapter 122 - The Swiss Family Robinson
The so-called "Swiss Family Robinson" gang is an example of dramatic irony because we know, and they don't, that their situation is really far more dire than they believe. Maybe the've convinced themselves that everything will be better and that they'll survive. But the reader knows that they are delusional and they can only live for so long like this.
Chapter 123 - Of Mice and Men
This conversation is an example of a _________ which is a serious subject is presented in a very light-hearted manner.
Chapter 125 - The Tasmanians
As the tragedy of John and his companions comes to an end, he begins to realize his folly and finally understands the lesson he was meant to learn: reality is harsh, so lying about it, whether through religion or science or whatever, is the only way to make oneself feel better. This is Vonnegut's main point. It is up to you whether or not you want to believe him.
Chapter 127 - The End
Part III Quiz