Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle

Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle

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Paradoxical Nature of Life Exposed in Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle


Kurt Vonnegut's apocalyptic novel, Cat's Cradle, might well be called an intricate network of paradox and irony. It is with such irony and paradox that Vonnegut himself describes his work as "poisoning minds with humanity...to encourage them to make a better world" (The Vonnegut Statement 107). In Cat's Cradle, Vonnegut does not tie his co-mingled plots into easy to digest bites as the short chapter structure of his story implies. Rather, he implores his reader to resolve the paradoxes and ironies of Cat's Cradle by simply allowing them to exist. By drawing our attention to the paradoxical nature of life, Vonnegut releases the reader from the necessity of creating meaning into a realm of infinite possibility. It appears that Vonnegut sees the impulse toward making a better world as fundamental to the human spirit; that when the obstacle of meaning is removed the reader, he supposes, will naturally improve the world.

Like a dream filled with complex characters and situations which one is compelled to discuss and analyze the next day, Vonnegut uses dark humor to penetrate his reader's world. The Cornell medical student whom the narrator, Jonah, first interviews by mail turns out to be a midget. The brilliant nuclear physicist, the father of the atom bomb, is infantile. Writers and college professors are essential to human existence, and Boko-maru is a form of love that can happen anytime, anywhere, and with anyone.

By creating new religious and scientific vocabularies, Vonnegut infiltrates the reader's very mind. Bokononist ideas and principles that are almost reasonable give the reader a temporary framework for interpretation, "'As it was supposed to happen,' Bokonon would say" (Cat's Cradle 63). Never too far from reality, "Bokonon tells us that it is very wrong to not to love everyone exactly the same. What does your religion say?" (CC 141). Vonnegut's prophet cuts close to the bone, and so he must in order to reach the philosophical roots of the reader's belief system. Yet, the security of any and every belief and interpretation of any and all of the characters is in one way or another polluted until there is nowhere to turn.

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The reader is left in the end with nothing-no world, no God, no cat, no cradle-but the freedom to invent the future. It seems that Vonnegut trusts that, with all its flaws, humanity remains driven by a need to make a difference, and that with the cobweb of interpretation out of the way, it will do just that.
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