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Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle Themes

Updated on October 31, 2012
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Vonnegut: A Man Before His Time

Religion, for many, provides its followers with happiness, comfort and perhaps more importantly purpose or at least, the illusion of purpose, as Vonnegut suggests through his novel, “Cat’s Cradle”. Vonnegut is able to express his unique view on something as controversial as religion by using humor. Additionally, he utilizes simple language throughout the novel, and despite his simplicity he expresses his unconventional views on humanity - issues that still exist today. Vonnegut expresses his views on religion through Bokonism, the fictional San Lorenzo religion, that is made up entirely of lies, like all religion; he suggests that though people search for a purpose, there is no meaning to life. He also suggests that every part of our lives are made up of lies.

The Book of Bokonon acts as the Bible in the religion of Bokonism.

“The first sentence in The Books of Bokono is this: ‘All of the things I am about to tell you are shameless lies.’ My Bokonist warning is this: Anyone unable to understand how a useful relgion can be founded on lies will not understand this booki either. So be it.”

Bokononism is just like all religions today, based on lies, but Bokonism is open about being based on lies. Nearly all the characters are or become a Bokonist by the end of the novel because it provides them with happiness, making them feel like they have meaning; and that they have purpose, justifying it with coincidences and making connections to occurrences in their lives. Bokonists believe that life has no purpose and that they’re already doing God’s will without even trying. “…that do God’s Will without ever discovering what they are doing” . On the contrary, Christianity allows its followers to believe that they have purpose and actually have to do things to do God’s will; it doesn’t just come. Vonnegut could be describing his beliefs through Bokonism.

Vonnegut believes that lies is what people live off of; it’s what makes them happy.

“‘…New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth. The more truth we have to work with, the richer we become.’ Had I been a Bokonist then, that statement would have made me howl."

Lies seem like they are more valuable than “truth”, or what we’re told is true. Vonnegut portrays to us how science may not necessarily be “true”, because more often than not, that “truth” is distorted. Through the novel, we are shown how every aspect of society is based on lies, because lies are what makes the people happy. Science and truth seem to have no value in this novel; through the events in the novel “truth” does not, in fact, make society “richer” because this truth did more harm than good- the search for truth, anyway.

Humans are always searching for something- whether it be truth, knowledge, meaning or purpose. On the plane, Hazel is evidence of the search for meaning when she finds out that John is a Hoosier too. More evidence of our search for meaning is in the actually game, Cat’s Cradle.

“Newt remained curled in the chair. He held out his hands as though a cat’s cradle were strung between them. ‘No wonder kids grow up crazy. A cat’s cradle is nothing but a bunch of X’s between somebody’s hands, and little kids looks and look and look at all thos X’s…’ ‘And?’ ‘No damn cat, and no damn cradle.'"

The game is a piece of string that is made up of all X’s- there is no cat, and there is no cradle- so why do we call it ‘cat’s cradle’? People try to find truth and meaning in anything that they can. We accept things, like the game being called ‘cat’s cradle’ even if it doesn’t make any sense and we look for things that aren’t there. It’s similar to Christians who try to understand the universe- because they believe there is an “understanding”. John converted from Christianity to Bokonism and at the end of the novel with the demise of the world, he seems very accepting. If he was still a Christian he probably would of looked at the end of the world quite differently. Bokonon does not offer answers to all of life’s mysterious questions- and it does not offer salvation.

If he were still a Christian at the demise of the world, he would have trouble understanding the maliciousness that surrounded him. As a Bokonist he accepts the stupidity of mankind, which is why he was okay with the end of the world. John runs into so many coincidences in his travels to write this book, in his search for the truth, trying to make sense of it all. By the end of the novel, he comes to accept that his life and the world doesn’t make sense- another reason why he took the end of the world so well.


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Through his rhetoric style, with the use of simplicity and humor, Vonnegut conveys to us messages about humanity as he breaks apart parts of our society that we hold sacred. He picks fun and expresses how ridiculous we have become. We allow a lot of things to have greater importance and meaning then they actually have. I think Vonnegut supports our ridiculous ways though.

Thinking that there’s something more out there- some deeper meaning and something we can instill faith into allows us to live healthier lives mentally. Science and truth does not offer this. This comfort can only be found in lies. Deep down, everyone probably feels that there probably isn’t a meaning or purpose to life; but they choose to still have that faith in whatever it is that they “believe”.

I think that everyone knows we basically live off of lies; but that doesn’t stop us because that’s what makes us happy- the hope of something more and something greater than what we are. If we lived off of truths, or even, what we believe to be truths, we’d all have a darker mindset. Scientists in this novel seem to have a darker mindset since their motive is truth and knowledge- everything else gets pushed to the side, including the effects on humanity.

Science isn’t the root of the evil; it’s not the root of the sin. Sin can’t be done by science- only by man. When science gets into the hands of men, that’s where the origin of the issues start because there morals are not considered. The only thing that’s important is the “valuable” truth.


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