Cat’s Cradle is, “Vonnegut’s most highly praised novels. Filled with humor and unforgettable characters, this apocalyptic story tells of Earth’s ultimate end, and presents a vision of the future that is both darkly fantastic and funny, as Vonnegut weaves a satirical commentary on modern man and his madness” (Barnes and Noble n.pag). In Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut uses satire as a vehicle for threatened self-destruction when he designs the government of San Lorenzo. In addition, the Bokonists practice of Boko-maru, and if the world is going to end in total self destruction and ruin, then people will die, no matter how good people are and what religion people believe.
An example of satire that Kurt Vonnegut uses is when he designs the government of San Lorenzo. San Lorenzo is a small island somewhere in the Caribbean. The people in San Lorenzo are doomed to failure no matter what leader they have, and they have always been this way. San Lorenzo, in the novel, is pictured as one of the most unsuccessful and useless places on earth. The people there are very poor, do not have much to eat, and do not have any motivation left at all, “Johnson and McCabe had failed to raise the people from the misery and muck” (Achebe 133). Thus, that is why they do not care anymore who there leader is going to be, because they know that they are going to fail anyway, “Everybody was bound to fail, for San Lorenzo was as unproductive as an equal area in the Sahara or the Polar Icecap” (Achebe 133). The way that the people are kept alive is by trickery by the government and the holy man Bokonon. The story of Bokonon and his religion begins with the dictator of San Lorenzo and Bokonon at first being friends, but then they decided to govern San Lorenzo by themselves. Seeing that the people are hopeless and without direction, Bokonon invents his religion, “When Bokonon and McCabe took over this miserable country year agothey through out the priests. And then Bokonon, cynically and playfully invented a new religion” (Achebe 172). But then McCabe outlaws it and makes practicing any religion other than Christianity punishable by the deadly Hook, “Anybody caught practicing Bokononsim in San Lorenzo, will die on the Hook” (Achebe 134). All the people on the island have become devout Bokonists, and the struggle between the government and the religion keeps them entertained, and therefore alive, “Well, when it became evident that no government or economic reform was going to make the people much less miserable, the religion became the one real instrument of hope. Truth was the enemy of the people, because the truth was so terrible, so Bokonon made it his business to provide the people with better and better lies” (Achebe 172). The hopeless, directionless people represent mankind as a whole and the government plot represents what Vonnegut sees as society’s mindless, clear diversion from reality that keeps everyone interested in life.
An example of satire as a vehicle of self-destruction in the story is the Bokonists practice of Boko-maru. Boko-maru is the Bokonists tradition of placing the naked soles of one’s feet to another person’s naked soles, “Bokononists mingled their souls by pressing the bottoms of their feet together” (Achebe 135). This is the very silly and pointless part of the religion that seems to be based on nothing at all. Bokononism says that one cannot touch soles with another person without loving them, and therefore sole touching is a good thing since it promotes love. This is sarcastic because a Boko-maru comes from a religion that accuses itself as a pack of lies, and yet has a feature that is strangely true.
The crucial example of satire as a vehicle of self-destruction in the story is that no matter what religion people believe in, no matter what acts of goodness people perform, nothing in the end can save everything from total ruin and pointlessness. The destruction of the world by ice nine shows Vonnegut’s tendency towards his negative view of the world. No matter what any of the characters wished for or did, the world was destroyed all the same by some incredibly stupid and pointless force called God, who guided the entire human race through its wasted and bloody history simply so one man could, “Climb to the top of Mount McCabe and lie down on my backthumbing my nose at You Know Who” (Achebe 287).
Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut is a satire on the state of world affairs in the 1960’s. At the beginning of the novel, the narrator is researching for a book he is writing. The book is to be about the day the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and the lives of the people who created the bomb. The narrator is involved in events which are helplessly beyond his control, but which are unavoidably leading to a destination at the end. In the end the entire earth is destroyed, through a seemingly impossible series of coincidences and completely random events, which are strangely explained by Bokononism. All through the story Vonnegut builds up his theme of the pointlessness of life with the help of satire. An example of this is the religion of Bokononism. Bokononism says that that all religions (including Bokononism) are nothing but a pack of hideous lies, which should be completely ignored.
Barnes and Noble. “The Synopsis.” Cat’s Cradle. http://coe.ilstu.edu/labschool/uhigh/english/S1Vonn/vonnpage.htm
Jr., Kurt Vonnegut. Cat’s Cradle. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing: 1963.