The Vonnegut Zone - Cat's Cradle

Cat's Cradle

by Kurt Vonnegut


Commentary found through Gale Database: Dictionary of Literary Biography:

Cat's Cradle is all self-declared fictionality, from its beginning - "Call me Jonah" - echoing the opening of Herman Melville's Moby-Dick (1851) to its location on a rectangular island copied from the table-mounted model in a toy shop. Its politics derive from a magazine ad for Charles Atlas's "Dynamic Tension," and its religion of Bokononism is founded on foma (defined as "harmless untruths"). The first sentence of the Books of Bokonon reads, "All of the true things I am about to tell you are shameless lies." One of Vonnegut's significant themes here is artifice. The repeated response to its title image, a tangle of string signifying nothing, is the phrase "No damn cat, no damn cradle." Its premises and situations are jokes, its characters are caricatures, and its language, with its comical-sounding invented vocabulary and its Bokononist calypsos, is hilarious. The narration of the story - with its many chapters, satiric epigraphs, and fragmentary paragraphs, which often amount to a succession of one-liners - is an amusing parody of the novel form.

The origins of the novel are equally amusing. One of the stars of the research team at General Electric was Irving Langmuir. He was reputed to have absentmindedly left a tip for his wife under his breakfast plate and at one time to have become preoccupied with whether turtles buckle or compress their spines when they retract their heads, both of which Vonnegut attributes to the father, Felix Hoenikker, in Cat's Cradle. Vonnegut also has told the story that when H. G. Wells, the British novelist who was one of the fathers of science fiction, came to visit the Schenectady laboratory "Langmuir thought he might entertain Wells with an idea for a science-fiction story - about a form of ice that was stable at room temperature. Wells was uninterested, or at least never used the idea. And then Wells died, and then, finally, Langmuir died. I thought to myself: `Finders, keepers - the idea is mine.'" "Ice-nine" becomes the cause of the end of the world in this novel, which begins with John/Jonah setting out to write a book called "The Day the World Ended," about the day Hiroshima was bombed.

The narrative form of Cat's Cradle, with an author standing behind a narrator (John/Jonah) retailing the words of another writer (Bokonon), proved liberating for Vonnegut . His comic impulses flourish in the eccentric voices the narrative device affords, but his more serious purposes are also served. Behind all the hilarity of the situation there is pain - in the personal relationships of the Hoenikker family, in the reminders of the Holocaust and Hiroshima, in the hopeless plight of the impoverished islanders, and in the constant threat existing in the "real" world of this time of nuclear annihilation. The "dynamic tension" of the novel, to use its own term, heightens the impact of both the comedy and the underlying dark warning by their juxtaposition.

Written by: Peter J. Reed, University of Minnesota Source: Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 152: American Novelists Since World War II, Fourth Series, Updated Entry. A Bruccoli Clark Layman Book. The Gale Group, 1995. pp. 248-272.

Review found through NoveList:
Cat's Cradle

Publishing Information:
Delacorte, copyright 1963. 231p.
Subject Headings:
End of the world
Fantasy fiction, American

Notes (library speak, not comparable to Cliff Notes):
Later printing issued by H. Holt

The document(s) listed below are about or mention this title:
Adult -> Explore Fiction -> Science Fiction -> Apocalypse
Adult -> Explore Fiction -> Science Fiction -> Best Authors and Their Best

Web References:
A Tribute to Kurt Vonnegut Features Vonnegut's bibliography and links to other web sites about the author
Kurt Vonnegut Corner Features Vonnegut's biography, photos, and discussions and analysis of Vonnegut's works
Hennepin County Public Library

Table of Contents:
  1. The Day the World Ended
  2. Nice, Nice, Very Nice
  3. Folly
  4. A Tentative Tangling of Tendrils
  5. Letter from a Pre-med
  6. Bug Fights
  7. The Illustrious Hoenikkers
  8. Newt's Thing with Zinka
  9. Vice-president in Charge of Volcanoes
  10. Secret Agent X-9
  11. Protein
  12. End of the World Delight
  13. The Jumping-off Place
  14. When Automobiles Had Cut-glass Vases
  15. Merry Christmas
  16. Back to Kindergarten
  17. The Girl Pool
  18. The Most Valuable Commodity on Earth
  19. No More Mud
  20. Ice-nine
  21. The Marines March On
  22. Member of the Yellow Press
  23. The Last Batch of Brownies
  24. What a Wampeter Is
  25. The Main Thing About Dr. Hoenikker
  26. What God Is
  27. Men from Mars
  28. Mayonnaise
  29. Gone, but Not Forgotten
  30. Only Sleeping
  31. Another Breed
  32. Dynamite Money
  33. An Ungrateful Man
  34. Vin-dit
  35. Hobby Shop
  36. Meow
  37. A Modern Major General
  38. Barracuda Capital of the World
  39. Fata Morgana
  40. House of Hope and Mercy
  41. A Karass Built for Two
  42. Bicycles for Afghanistan
  43. The Demonstrator
  44. Communist Sympathizers
  45. Why Americans Are Hated
  46. The Bokononist Method for Handling Caesar
  47. Dynamic Tension
  48. Just Like Saint Augustine
  49. A Fish Pitched Up by an Angry Sea
  50. A Nice Midget
  51. O.K., Mom
  52. No Pain
  53. The President of Fabri-Tek
  54. Communists, Nazis, Royalists, Parachutists, and Draft Dodgers
  55. Never Index Your Own Book
  56. A Self-supporting Squirrel Cage
  57. The Queasy Dream
  58. Tyranny with a Difference
  59. Fasten Your Seat Belt
  60. An Underprivileged Nation
  61. What a Corporal Was Worth
  62. Why Hazel Wasn't Scared
  63. Reverent and Free
  64. Peace and Plenty
  65. A Good Time to Come to San Lorenzo
  66. The Strongest Thing There Is
  67. Hy-u-o-ook-kuh!
  68. Hoon-yera- Mora-toorz
  69. A Big Mosaic
  70. Tutored by Bokonon
  71. The Happiness of Being an American
  72. The Pissant Hilton
  73. Black Death
  74. Cat's Cradle
  75. Give My Regards to Albert Schweitzer
  76. Julian Castle Agrees with Newt that Everything Is Meaningless
  77. Aspirin and Boko-maru
  78. Ring of Steel
  79. Why McCabe's Soul Grew Course
  80. The Waterfall Strainers
  81. A White Bride for the Son of a Pullman Porter
  82. Zah-mah-ki-bo
  83. Dr. Schlichter von Koenigswald Approaches the Break-even Point
  84. Blackout
  85. A Pack of Foma
  86. Two Little Jugs
  87. The Cut of My Jib
  88. Why Frank Couldn't Be President
  89. Duffle
  90. Only One Catch
  91. Mona
  92. On the Poet's Celebration of His First Boko-maru
  93. How I Lost My Mona
  94. The Highest Mountain
  95. I See the Hook
  96. Bell,Book, and Chicken in a Hatbox
  97. The Stinking Christian
  98. Last Rites
  99. Dyot meet mat
  100. Down the Oubliette Goes Frank
  101. Like My Predecessors, I Outlaw Bokonon
  102. Enemies of Freedom
  103. A Medical Opinion on the Effects of a Writer's Strike
  104. Sulfathiazole
  105. Pain-killer
  106. What Bokononists Say When They Commit Suidcide
  107. Feast Your Eyes!
  108. Frank Tells Us What to Do
  109. Frank Defends Himself
  110. The Fourteenth Book
  111. Time Out
  112. Newt's Mother's Reticule
  113. History
  114. When I Felt the Bullet Enter My Heart
  115. As It Happened
  116. The Grand Ah-whoom
  117. Sanctuary
  118. The Iron Maiden and the Oubliette
  119. Mona Thanks Me
  120. To Whom It May Concern
  121. I Am Slow to Answer
  122. The Swiss Family Robinson
  123. Of Mice and Men
  124. Frank's Ant Farm
  125. The Tasmanians
  126. Soft Pipes, Play On
  127. The End

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