Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle: Exposing the Folly of Humanity

Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle: Exposing the Folly of Humanity

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Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle: Exposing the Folly of Humanity


In an interview published in The Vonnegut Statement, Kurt Vonnegut states that one of his reasons for writing is "to poison minds with humanity. . . to encourage them to make a better world"(107). He uses poison, not in the context of a harmful substance, but as an idea that threatens welfare or happiness. In Cat's Cradle, Vonnegut strives to disturb the complacency of his readers by satirizing humanity and its institutions, such as religion, science, and war, to name a few. If Vonnegut is successful in his endeavor, he may disturb some enough to make them see the folly of what humanity has achieved, and attempt to make some meaningful and positive changes. In some instances, however, Vonnegut hedges his bets by not relying entirely on the perception of humanity, and succumbs to the temptation of plain speaking.

Julian Castle, physician and philanthropist, offers this opinion about his fellow man, "Man is vile, and man makes nothing worth making, knows nothing worth knowing" (116). Yet even with this opinion, Castle removes himself from the civilized world, and serves the mankind for whom he expresses so much contempt by building a hospital in the jungle and tending to the medical needs of the natives. Perhaps in Castle, Vonnegut is attempting to show how one person can make a difference.

Another example of plain speaking is seen in Horlick Minton's address honoring the Hundred Martyrs to Democracy. He states his feeling that rather than the "manly jubilation of patriotic holidays," the day would be better spent "despising what killed them. . . the stupidity and viciousness of all mankind" (170). As Minton himself points out, this is not the type of speech expected of an ambassador. Still, he is compelled to speak what he feels almost as though he has a premonition that his time is short and he may never have another chance to make people see what they are doing to themselves.

It should be remembered that Cat's Cradle was written in a time when the fear of man's stupidity leading to his annihilation was not so far fetched. After all, the Cuban Missile Crisis was still fresh in everyone's minds, the cold war with Soviet Russia was ever present, and bomb shelters were naively considered to be the hope of man's salvation.

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In one last bid for humanity to strive for a better world, Vonnegut, through Minton, offers another vision of the world, "Think of what paradise this world would be if men were kind and wise" (171). Poisoning minds with humanity, attempting to make humanity see where their inhumanity is leading, to bring about a better world is a noble aspiration. One can only hope that at some point in history humanity learns something instead of nothing, and opts for Vonnegut's vision of paradise.
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