Cats Cradle Research Paper

Cat's Cradle: A “Framework” for Humanity

Chapter One

Call me Jonah. That is the name I have chosen to use, rather than the Christian one of “John” my parents gave me. Given the nature of the work before me, I will be taking pains to protect those close to me from what may be dangerous repercussions. Then, my name is unimportant. What matters is that I have been where I have been, and am now positioned to look back and investigate the end of the world.

I am not being entirely facetious. When I was a younger man – a thousand casks of ale ago – I was, like everyone around me, preparing for that end. Even then, I began writing notes for what would become this book, this account of the fall of greatness, and the end of civilization. I had envisioned that I might be fortunate enough to finish it, perhaps as a slave to a Spanish Don, or as a prisoner in Madrid. For this book was to document, as it occurred, the end of England as wrought by the fury of Spain, Philip, and the Armada he sent to crush our lives. In those earlier days, when I had begun, my countrymen and I put on valiant faces and made loud noises about how this could never be, even as we knew the power of Spain was probably unstoppable.

I was a devout Protestant then. I am a Puritan now, essentially having been driven into the more extreme faith by the challenge of Philip's insane Catholicism. Where before I was content to embrace the Queen's national religion, and trust that it was removed enough from the pope's greed and the idolatry of the Mass to bring me nearer to God, I now must be as far from these things as I can be. We Puritans believe that man's salvation can only come through an abject acknowledgment of our weakness, and that we must always be on guard against the excesses of the flesh and the material world. This is God's Will, and I embrace it, I confess, because I believe whatever stands so apart from the filth of popery must be God's truth.

However, returning to my tale about my tale: my book may never be finished, even though I remain a free Englishman. It may never be finished because, in an irony of God's will, I fear that setting it out would be an act of vanity. Still, I will go as far as I can; if I am successful, the book will have nothing to do with myself, and stand as a proper tribute to the true religion, and the inability of the false to end the world.

Chapter Two

Today, in this year of 1597, long years after the astounding power of Spain's naval force was broken up on the rocks of Ireland and its sailors mutilated by the savages there, it is easy to forget the terror that seized all of my England. The course was set. After decades of wavering, Philip II had finally committed to putting his resources into the overthrow of Elizabeth and the restoration of the Catholic faith in England. The most powerful prince in Europe, we all knew his wealth was vast, as we knew Spanish shipbuilding dwarfed what we had in our ports.

Yet much of this was untrue. Not only were we, even as fiercely patriotic Englishmen, unaware of the many and valuable changes to the English navy John Hawkins – and the astounding Drake – had been devising, we were ignorant of the real state of Spain's technical abilities. Only after, and during the war itself, did we come to see how foolishly clumsy the great Spanish galleons were, and how mad it was to set these vessels in the shoal waters of the English coast. Philip had ventured on, even as his best admirals informed him that Drake, our English wonder, had crippled the Armada long before it was to launch by burning all the barrel staves, and thus destroying any means to supply provisions on his Armada. He had ordered his fleet to sail, ignoring that the food would rot and trusting to the priests he insisted sail on every ship.

We did not know any of this, then. But Spain did. That is why, employing channels not in favor by the government, I wrote to the children of Don Sidonia, the grandee to whom Philip had entrusted his “enterprise of England”. Sidonia was too old and sick to be approached, but I knew his children had his confidence, as I knew the many struggles with Philip, as Sidonia saw the probable doom of the Armada looming before it set sail, would have been known to them. I was burning with questions. How could so great a prince dismiss the urgent appeals of his wisest commanders, who begged him to abandon the enterprise? Had all the hours of prayer to his Catholic God damaged his mind, or had he been too long ashamed by the pope's admiration of Elizabeth, even as that pope urged Philip on? The Spanish king was forced to burn his own subjects, day after day, as heretics; what made him think he could crush, and convert, a Protestant foreign state? Some answers, at least, I was sure I could obtain from these Spaniards who had been so close to the core of the enterprise...

Author's Statement

Vonnegut's novel, Cat's Cradle, is very much entrenched within the 20th century. Its sardonic elements and greatly cynical viewpoints are redolent of post-World War II intellectualism, when the emergence of the atomic bomb gave more liberal thinkers an unprecedented opportunity to mock mankind's fatal fallibility. In a sense, the novel depends on the apocalyptic aspect of the bomb, and the legacies of Hiroshima, because Vonnegut depends on them; his talent can go no further than employing the most outrageous example of humanity's self-destructiveness.

This relates very strongly to the novel's primary setting of the fictional San Lorenzo, because Vonnegut's place is as convenient as his time. That is to say, it is easier to lampoon mankind's foolishness by using mankind's most deadly weapon, and it is easier to ridicule the ways in which mankind governs itself by creating a fanciful, mythical domain. Vonnegut's San Lorenzo is an entertaining place, but it is also an artistic evasion. It allows for satire without any demands for subtlety or real insight, because he can render his place and its people as absurd as he likes. Moreover, Vonnegut does not restrict this device to San Lorenzo; earlier in the novel, he paints the fictional town of Ilium just as flamboyantly. For example, Ilium is a place where everyone's life is centered on the home; it is an ugly city; and it was the famous “jumping-off” point for Western migration (Vonnegut 28). It is, very plainly, a joke of a city. It is fun, but it is not a device a great writer would employ.

This is why I placed the story of Cat's Cradle into a real epoch, and set it in the real time and place of Elizabethan England. Technology changes, of course, as the ways people and nations act change as well. However, the fundamental aspect of a “cat's cradle”, or a lattice of human connections as dictating vast effects from seemingly random and very deliberate interactions, can be explored and/or satirized by focusing on any genuine era at all. My choice was not to reveal that differences in technology and views of the world make for differences in humanity's course, because I do not believe they do, save in terms of size of results or effects. My choice was, rather, to try to take Vonnegut's theme and remove it from what strikes me as an adolescent platform. In my eyes, no ice-nine is needed to demonstrate that mankind can work against itself, and history is replete with incidents, like the coming of the Spanish Armada, wherein the only thing that saves humanity from a form of extinction, or the destruction of a nation, is that very ineptitude – and arrogance – of mankind itself.


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Kurt Vonnegut's science fiction novel, Cat's Cradle, is chocked full of social commentary, satirical humor, and an overall pessimistic view on American Society. Through the fictional religion Bokononism Vonnegut introduces us to John, a young man who is writing a book about the day the atomic bomb was dropped. His research led him to the late Dr. Felix Hoenikker, a brilliant scientist who was deemed the "father of the atomic bomb. " Anxious to learn more about Hoenikker from his surviving children, John followed them to the impecunious island of San Lorenzo. In San Lorenzo John was introduced to Bokononism, the dominant (yet illegal) religion of the island; which among its many bizarre features, openly proclaimed that it was a total lie. While on the island, John also learned more about Ice Nine, the final project that Hoenikker created.

Ice Nine (a simple rearrangement of water molecules) had the ability to freeze instantly any body of water, due to a complex crystalline formation. Although the ice was to be Hoenikker's great gift to the military to freeze swamps during battle, so they could move troops more efficiently; it ended up being a creation more fatal than the atomic bomb itself. Subsequently John's adventures came to a harsh, if strangely appropriate end caused by the selfishness of human nature. The moral of the story, laced with deception, ignorance, self-indulgence, and control is that life is entirely worthless and fails to serve a purpose. Yet, the comic relief and vivacity of the novel gives it power and charm, curiously contrasted with its depressing meaning.

In the beginning of the novel, the reader is introduced to the deceased Felix Hoenikker, a man who was full of curiosity and had an uncanny regard for everything scientific. Not only was he the father of the atomic bomb, but shortly before his death he created the destructive Ice Nine. With the ability to freeze anything liquid it was essentially the end of the world, should it get into the wrong hands. Although the original intention of the water derived destructor was to help soldiers solidify swampy muck when fighting wars, so they could easily get through waste quickly and cleanly; it also had the ability to end all human existence. The development of Ice Nine throughout the novel, as well as Hoenikker's prominence in the success of the atom bomb, is Vonnegut's scoff at militaries, scientists and governments, and how humanity sometimes uses magnificent creations for evil and destruction.

Another part of the book that denotes the self-destructive nature of human kind is the various beliefs of the Bokononism, in particular the karats. "We Bokononism believe that humanity is organized into teams, teams that do God's will without ever discovering what they are doing. Such a team is called a karats... " (2, Vonnegut). This is Vonnegut's basis to poke fun at the idea of fate. (In spite of this, this is how the reader comes to understand exactly what characters are essential to the story. ) Another part of Bokononism that was pertinent to the mockery of humans were the books, which seemed to be contradictory, and very satirical towards society; Especially in the fourteenth book, entitled "What Can A Thoughtful Man Hope for Mankind on Earth, Given the Experience of the Past Million Years?" (245, Vonnegut). The book only has a one word answer, "Nothing. " (245, Vonnegut). This was Vonnegut's very blunt way of saying that humanity is self destructive, and based on history, there is no hope for the future.

Cat's Cradle also puts a great amount of emphasis on how religion is a fraud, and that people would rather believe in deceit, than believe in nothing at all. On the very first page of the book it has an excerpt from book 1: 5 of Bokononism which reads, "Nothing in this book is true. Live by the foma (harmless untruths) that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy. " (Vonnegut, VII). The novel is Vonnegut's outlet of showing that people would rather believe lies, than be forced to face the truth.

Numerous pages of the book are solely devoted to the ludicrous beliefs of Bokononism, and almost have the ability to make the reader laugh aloud with its unconventional teachings, odd rituals, and blatant lies; nevertheless Bokononism has the devotion of an entire country. This shows the true ignorance of so many people who believe pseudo-prophecies for the sake of security, rather than candid integrity. Vonnegut's social commentary is multifaceted and there is a sarcastic note to essentially every aspect of existence in Cat's Cradle, including satire on human selfishness, and the need for control. Upon his death, Hoenikker's children divided the Ice Nine between themselves, and each had the fate of the world in little glass jars. One might think that alone is enough, but the three Hoenikker children used their Ice Nine to gain more control, affluence, and even sex.

The youngest, Newt Hoenikker, gave his third of Ice Nine to Zinka, a Ukrainian ballerina, who in turn gave the Ice Nine to the Ukrainian Government. He simply gave away total destruction for lust or, love. Angela Hoenikker, Newt's enormous sister gave her third of the Ice Nine to her handsome husband (who most likely married her for the Ice Nine to begin with), a wealthy U. S. government official in public relations; who was once an assistant to Hoenikker at his laboratory.

Instead of keeping the Ice Nine to herself, she used it for her advantage to secure a savvy husband, who, according to Newt was a 'paid, professional liar. Finally, Frank Hoenikker foolishly gave his coveted portion of the Ice Nine to a "shady" character named 'Papa' Montana, the Caribbean dictator of San Lorenzo. The purpose of giving the Ice Nine to "Papa" was to secure a high office in the military of San Lorenzo, and later become the ruler of the small Republic. These three actions, although only committed by the Hoenikker children, are representative of the entire human race. They depict the message that society is willing to give up so much at the cost of others, for something that they could not acquire on their own merits. Finally, a less noticeable poke at modern day society was when Frank revealed to John what promiscuous activities he took part in at Jack's Hobby Shop.

Throughout the book, Frank is described as a quiet loner, someone who was out of the social realms of normal teenage life. Frank said .".. but they didn't know what really went on there. They would have been really surprised, especially the girls -- in they'd found out what really went on. The girls didn't think I knew anything about girls. " (201, Vonnegut). When John asked him what he really was doing there, Frank simply said, "I was screwing Jack's wife all day. " (Vonnegut, 201).

This was Vonnegut's way of using satire and irony to show that people make skewed judgments on others based on nothing more than what they want to believe. In conclusion, Cat's Cradle is a fabulously constructed book, filled with sarcasm, wit, irony, and satire to express Vonnegut's personal views on Human Society. Although it ends with the destruction of the world from the lethal Ice Nine, the book is somewhat redeemed by its humorous anecdotes, and clever allusions. Vonnegut successfully portrayed his pessimistic views of our society, and opened the reader up to a completely new way of thinking in terms of human nature.


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Research essay sample on Vonnegut Social Commentary In Cats Cradle

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