Use of Coincidence in Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle

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Use of Coincidence in Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle

Most modern novelists avoid the use of coincidence as a plot device, and such use of coincidence is looked on as trite and cheap. This was not always the case, as novelists of yore, Charles Dickens is a great example, have been known to throw in a suspicious coincidence at the very climax of the book that ties up the plot nicely but leaves modern readers feeling betrayed and deceived. Perhaps due to more literate, sophisticated readers, or just the maturation of the novel form, writers no longer have the luxury of plot coincidence. Modern novelists have to navigate through their plot with well-crafted character motivations, understated if any foreshadowing, and logical rising action. In other words, the reader has to feel that they could have known what was coming next, even if they really had no clue.

So why is Vonnegut exempt?

In Cat's Cradle, most of the plot revolves around the character's coincidental meetings and odd bits of shared history. Can such a plot be credible? And why, as readers, do we let Vonnegut get away with this circus of manipulation?

The most obvious reason that we let Vonnegut get away with it is because we are busy laughing. This is no coincidence. Vonnegut makes each coincidence so absurd that it's humorous. Instead of hiding the fact that a certain scene comes about as coincidence, he focuses on the coincidence, repeats it, creates another scene with it, whips us back around again, until the reader no longer thinks, "How convenient of all his characters to end up on the same plane." The reader instead starts guessing ahead, examining the details that might lead to more absurdity.

Vonnegut also introduces a medium for coincidence early. If Vonnegut waits until the plot thickens, heavy in coincidence, to tell us about "Bokononism" and the inexplicable nature of a "karass", he would quickly lose credibility.
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