The Role of Humor in Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle

The Role of Humor in Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle

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The Role of Humor in Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle

"I've narrowed comedy down to two words: clown and
farts. Because first it makes you laugh, and then it makes
you think." Dave Attell's joke comes remarkably close to
describing exactly what it is that Kurt Vonnegut is able to
do with his writing. First, he makes his readers laugh, and
then he forces them to think. By employing such humorous
devices as irony and satire, Vonnegut is able to bring humor
to a less-than-humorous subject.

Cat's Cradle is Vonnegut's novel about the day the
world ended. Why, then, is it so full of jokes? By making it
so, Vonnegut makes it easier for himself to get his point
across. Rather than making the book a crusade against
science or religion, he instead creates a light-hearted look
at people themselves. By seeing the characters in the book
and laughing at them, he is forcing us also to laugh at

By openly criticizing one religion or another, Vonnegut
feared he would have alienated a potential audience or
created some discomfort. Rather than offend anyone, then
- or perhaps rather to offend everyone equally - he instead
created Bokononism, using aspects of all religions, and
exaggerating them to the point of absurdity. Though we may
laugh at the Bokononists, at the same time we realize that
there are certain truths in the creed. In this manner,
Vonnegut gets his audience to think about themselves and the
follies of their own religions.

Another important part of the book is the constant
"tirade" against science. Jonah's writing makes it evident
that he finds all scientists to be cruel, cold, and
unfeeling. At the same time, Vonnegut paints the scientists
in a humorous light by employing such techniques as Dr.
Breed's scolding of Miss Faust, in which he proudly
proclaims how long it's been since a fatal accident.

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beyond the surface, Vonnegut is more cruel in his treatment
of artists. Jonah is himself a joke. A narrator that lies
outright, puts an editorial slant on the truth, and claims
to put faith into a religion based upon admitted lies, he is
ironic in and of himself. Also, anytime that an artist in
the book is placed in charge of something, it gets ruined,
examples being Jonah's apartment and San Lorenzo (and,
subsequently, the world.)

The main thrust of Vonnegut's humor seems to be toward
the idea of fate. As a writer, he has been in charge of
determining the fates for literally thousands of characters,
and seems to have the idea in perspective. From the opening
line, "Call me Jonah," to the end of the book when Bokonon
tells Jonah to make a gesture to the gods, Vonnegut uses
Herman Melville's Moby Dick as a symbol of fate. Every time
the subjec of fate is broached, especially with the Moby
Dick references, it is a joke. In fact, one of the book's
funniest scenes (at least as far as low humor is concerned)
is Jonah's discovery of Mrs. Hoenikker's grave. That scene
was probably also the single most cruel stab at Melville's
masterpiece and the ideas it represented. Vonnegut was in
this way trying to tell his readers that fate is foolish and
to put any belief into it would be absurd.

By creating entirely fictitious governments and
religions, Vonnegut is able to safely make fun of the
systems that all mankind takes seriously. In his own way, he
is forcing his readers into a glass jar and making them
fight their own method of thinking, much the same way
Franklin Hoenniker did with his insects. By looking at the
characters in Cat's Cradle, Vonnegut's audience is able to
laugh. Then, by looking at the hidden meanings and wondering
why they laughed, they are able to think.
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