The Cruel Joke of Life Exposed in Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle

The Cruel Joke of Life Exposed in Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle

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The Cruel "joke" of Life Exposed in Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle


Cat's Cradle is set up like a series of comic strips, with satirical commentary found in the last "panel". What, then, could we conclude is the accumulative punchline for the entire novel? What does Vonnegut give us for his "last laugh"? If we attempt to answer this question, we must first try solving the answers to "what is the joke?" and "who is the joker?"

It seems Vonnegut's characters are the victims to the cruel "joke" of life. In Cat's Cradle he suggests that God is the joker. Like any good comedian, he must consider his timing and his audience. By using human beings that are always trying to understand it all in a scientific age, it becomes the perfect "set-up". His method of delivering the joke seems to be either through Religion or Science. In the novel, the more the characters try to find the meaning of life, the funnier and more absurd the joke becomes. And no one is laughing harder than Bokonon. Julian Castle quotes this poem from The Books of Bokonon after Jonah shrieks, "My God-life! Who can understand even one minute of it?"

Tiger got to hunt,
Bird got to fly;
Man got to sit and wonder, 'Why, why, why?'
Tiger got to sleep,
Bird got to land;
Man got to tell himself he understand
(150).

Bokononism is a witty, satirical retort to the methods that God uses to play his joke. Bokonon and his followers understand the joke and even play along. When the final "punchline" is about to be delivered (when the ice nine is released), the Bokononists, who seem to have always anticipated an end to this prank called life, willingly eat the ice nine and kill themselves.

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The final panel of this black comic strip book is also, I believe, the final punchline. As Bokonon prepares to make himself a permanent reminder to God that he was in on the joke all along, he says: "I would make a statue of myself, lying on my back, grinning horribly, and thumbing my nose at You Know Who" (231). As readers, we understand the punchline only by fully understanding the joke.
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