Kurt Vonnegut is immensely talented at writing stories in which the plot seems to have no direction or purpose until suddenly, and unexpectedly, it does. Vonnegut took that talent and ran with it in his 1963 novel: “Cat’s Cradle.”
Like much of Vonnegut’s work, the plot of “Cat’s Cradle” is a bit busy in the timeline and much of the book is background information for the actual story that the narrator, in this case the perfectly normal John, wants to tell.
John is an ambitious writer who begins his journey with the goal of writing a book about the day Hiroshima was bombed and the American side of it all, so he hunts down the children of Felix Hoenikker, that man who helped develop the atomic bomb.
John found that the Hoenikker children, now adults, were less than normal. There was Newt, an extremely little little-person, Angela, an unpleasant mothering sort, and Franklin, who had disappeared and was presumed dead somewhere in Cuba.
John traveled around upstate New York trying to find as much as he could about the Hoenikker family. He finds out that one, when the atomic bomb dropped, Felix Hoenikker was busily playing cat’s cradle, and two, he may have been creating more than just bombs. However, none of that is a part of the true story.
The true story begins and becomes busier with John on a plane, by chance with two of the Hoenikker children, to the small island of the Republic of San Lorenzo. San Lorenzo is ruled by a dying dictator, “Papa” Monzano and his right-hand man, an American scientist.
On the island, John discovers the religion of Bokononism, which is illegal yet widely practiced. Bokononists are usually skeptics that believe in good will towards men and more than anything they believe that mistakes cannot be made; that everything is for a reason, more or less.
The religion makes John realize that all the business that followed his arrival to San Lorenzo was just as it was supposed to be.
If the purpose of “Cat’s Cradle” had to be guessed, as it can only be guessed, I would guess that Vonnegut wanted his readers to appreciate fragility.
The world is fragile, but the world is also busy. Busy, busy, busy.
The world could freeze in an instant and Vonnegut wants his readers to appreciate the world, or hate, or feel however they want about it, just as long as they are aware of it.
Ironically, Bokononists probably would not like “Cat’s Cradle,” as they are too skeptical for such dark, yet light hearted stories.
The novel hurts and is terrifying with satirical realism, and if read too deeply it could easily break the reader, but assumedly, most readers would rather be broken a thousand times and end their world and thousand times more than to have not read “Cat’s Cradle” at all. Paige Jurgensen / Columnist
Paige Jurgensen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
“Cat’s Cradle” encourages readers to be aware of the world they live in.