Satire, Surrealism and Dark Humor in Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle

Satire, Surrealism and Dark Humor in Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle

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Satire, Surrealism and Dark Humor in Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle


"And there on the shaft in letters six inches high, so help me God, was the word:
Mother" (48)

"'If that's mother,' said the driver, 'what in hell could they have raised over father?'"

As the reader soon finds out, 40 cm of marble, as directed by Felix Hoenikker's will, that says "FATHER" (49). Vonnegut stops you short and plucks at your hand like a little boy who has just shaved the cat and can't wait to show you what he's done: you can't, as a responsible adult, laugh at the absurdity of the bald and shivering feline because you know that you should be astonished, offended, annoyed, anything but burst out laughing, which you desperately desire to do. Vonnegut acts as Wrang-Wrang in this scene; two men in an ice storm, marveling at a towering alabaster penis given in memoriam to a mother by her children.

Vonnegut's use of the surreal (and, by the way, this is also an episode of, if not dark, then very twisted humor) in the scene discourages the reader's scrutiny so that Vonnegut can slip his point across without notice. What point? Possibly, and this could be just me thinking aloud, the scene describes the strength of the mother and the dual roles she had to play; the father was also a child, as simple and pure in his intellectual ecstasy as, well, a marble cube. "The marker was an alabaster phallus twenty feet high and three feet thick" (48), Vonnegut crows, inviting you to stand in the cold with him and wonder with the driver exactly what in hell is going on…

Satire is thrown into CC early and often, so much that it seems almost unfairly easy to extract examples, but it is such an integral component of the novel that it requires at least a look-see.

One of my favorite parts of the book is the scene on the airplane where Jonah meets not one but two stereotypical "Ugly Americans," a term coined by William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick in the title of their 1958 novel of the same name.

The Mintons are well educated, speaking "six or seven" (65) languages between the two of them but see the people and places they have seen during their diplomatic careers as "About the same" (65). They are what Bokonon calls a duprass that will, as Jonah points out, die at very nearly the same time when the world is overcome by ice-nine.

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