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Cat's Cradle Study Guide

Felix Hoeniker  – Highly intelligent.

Simple, somewhat na´ve and innocent, which is dangerous.

Renowned scientist.

Demonstrates no concern for his own family. 

No concern for humanity. This is made evident through the comment of one character who states, “Sometimes I wonder if he wasn’t born dead”.

Loves puzzles (Cat’s Cradle) and tricks.

Creates atomic bomb.

Creates ice-nine. This is to help soldiers stay out of the mud in times of war. It would freeze the water so soldiers could get out of mud. However, it freezes all the water on earth.

Because he does not experience love, he does not understand the implications of his work. He does not question whether his work is right or wrong. He is amoral.  He doesn’t understand the basic needs of humans, survival.

Felix does not consider effect of inventions on mankind.

He does not consider right from wrong. He can not understand the concept of sin.

Never considers morality.  This is ironic, because his very inventions should be used with judgment and a sense of morality. This presents the theme of science and morality.

Another form of irony is the fact that the atomic bomb was not his worse creation. Ice-nine was far more destructive.

 

 

Jonah – narrator. His real name is John. He want to be called Jonah. This is a reference to Moby Dick. “They call me Ishmael”   Also, a biblical reference to Jonah. There is a search for truth.

 

 

Felix’s children are: Frank, Newt & Angela. Newt & Angela contrast each other in their appearance. She is very tall and he is a midget. They, too, are stupid and indifferent.

Children inherit ice-nine. They are socially inept. They do not understand the true implications of ice-nine.   They simply use the ice-nine for their own personal gain.

Newt falls in love with Zinka, who is, actually, a Russian spy.

 

The theme of lack of morality and conscience is seen through Dr. Breed’s son.  He leaves the world of science and becomes involved with the world of art after the atom bomb is dropped at Hiroshima. This reinforces the theme that technology can be dangerous and can have devastating effects on humanity.

 

The narrator travels to San Lorenzo. The island is barren.  This demonstrates the theme that human pursuits, on all levels, are worthless.

Bokonon, McCabe, and "Papa" Monzano run the island.  They set out to create Utopia.  When they realize that is impossible, they create Bokonanism .This is a religion based on lies.  Life on San Lorenzo was hopeless.  Bokonanism’s purpose was to give the people hope.  Two lies which Bokonon created were that McCabe was a dictator and he was banning the religion of Bokonanism. This was to create conflict. This gave the people something to live for. The punishment for practicing Bokonanism was the hook. Actually, found at Madam Tussaud’s wax museum. It was really just a hoax.  It was used very occasionally.

 

People on the island are unhealthy. “Papa” is quite sick and tells Frank he should take over when he dies.

Leaders on island live nicely. They use the people for their benefit. The people have nothing.

Newt paints Cat’s Cradle. Game based on imagination. It is not real. This further demonstrates the theme that the human pursuit of happiness is also not real.  Remember, Felix Hoeniker was playing Cat’s Cradle the day the Atomic Bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.

Frank does not want to take over. He is stuck in the past. The events of his childhood never really allowed him to develop. He does not understand people. Although power is within is reach, he does not accept it. He does not know how to help mankind. He is more or less a shell. He lacks substance.

Frank suggests Jonah take over as president. Jonah accepts because he is in awe of Mona. Jonah marries Mona, Papa’s adopted daughter.

Jonah has good intentions. He does not realize that good intentions, alone, are insufficient. He doesn’t understand the Bokonanism philosophy that human endeavors and quests produce no results.

Mona believes in practicing boko-maru with anyone. This is an intimate act (rubbing feet). Jonah does not want her to do this with just anyone, which is what she normally does.

One effect that Bokonanism has on readers is they may question their own faith. The author wants the reader to question what lies may comprise our own religions.

When “Papa” Monzano is dying, the narrator learns how the ice-nine was found by the children of Hoeniker, in their kitchen. They never stopped to think whether it was theirs to keep or if there were to be repercussions from its possession. Once again, the issue of science and morality is raise by Vonnegut.

Left in the hands of the Hoeniker children, ice-nine destroys much of the planet. When “Papa” ingests it he dies. Later a plane catches on fire over Papa’s castle. It strikes the castle it crumbles. The ice-nine quickly sets off a chain of disastrous, killing many of the worlds’ inhabitants. Jonah and Mona find shelter underground. Frank, Newt and some others survive, also. Many survivors killed themselves.

Jonah writes this novel. Frank concludes that he has grown and developed.  He feels surer of himself around others. The irony is that most of the world has been killed. There are less people around for him to be uncomfortable around. It is Jonah who reminds him of this fact.

Eventually, they meet Bokonan. He tells if he had more time he would write the history which demonstrated the stupidity of humankind. The entire novel satirizes this concept.

The narrator concludes that trying to find the meaning of life is analogous with a cat’s cradle. There is no meaning to life with the exception of procreation.

 

 

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