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Cats Cradle

CatS Cradle In questioning the value of literary realism, Flannery O’Connor has written, “I am interested in making a good case for distortion because it is the only way to make people see.” Kurt Vonnegut writes pessimistic novels, or at least he did back in the sixties. Between Slaughterhouse Five, Mother Night, and Cat’s Cradle, Vonnegut paints a cynical and satirical picture of the degradation of society using distortion as the primary means to express himself. In Cat’s Cradle, the reader is confronted with the story of the narrator, John, as he attempts to gather material to write a book on the human aspect of the day Japan was bombed. As the story progresses, he finds that becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish reality from illusion. He meets up with a midget, a dictator, and a nation’s object of lust as his journey progresses, and he eventually ends up the sole leader of a remote island and witnesses the end of the world.

Using implausible stories and unbelievable characters and situations to convey his message, Vonnegut’s utilization of literary distortion allows him to move the reader and prove his point in a far greater way than he could by just blatantly shouting his opinions. “Anyone unable to understand how useful a religion can be founded on lies will not understand this book either”(16), states the narrator, concerning Cat’s Cradle. Throughout the text, Vonnegut uses the religion of Bokononism, which is a fictitious faith founded on the basis of deception, to establish that people can prosper and be happy under false beliefs. When two men founded the island nation of San Lorenzo, Cat’s Cradle’s model for society, it was decided by them that the only way to keep starving natives from revolting was to create a religion focusing on the individual and then outlaw it. By doing this, the people could “all employed full time as actors in a play they understood, that human being everywhere could enjoy and applaud” (144).

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So became Bokononism, one of the men taking charge of the government, and the other, Bokonon, retreating into the forest to preach his faith. After exploring the theory of Bokononism, and machinations of the men behind it, the reader is left wondering if Vonnegut is implying that democracy and our American ideals could be, perhaps, an elaborate hoax. Bokonon’s words: I wanted all things To seem to make more sense, So we all could be happy, yes Instead of tense. And I made up lies So that they would all fit nice And I made this sad world A par-a-dise (109) Upon his arrival at San Lorenzo, John is struck by the illusionary visage that the island projects. From his room in the luxurious “Casa Mona,” he is blessed with a view of the island’s one paved street, the harbor, the airport, and a multiplicity of well manicured lawns and hedges. However, “the squalor and misery of the city, being to the sides and back of the Casa Mona, were impossible to see” (131).

This clouded sense of beauty projected by the hotel may be interpreted as yet another metaphor blasting the concept of nationality. Perhaps the bells and whistles decorating our freedom and independence are merely distracting us from the corruption and destruction being planned behind the scenes? Perhaps we really have no business calling ourselves “one nation under god”, as we are simply millions of people with millions of different interests? As John states: .. a seeming team that [is] meaningless in terms of the ways God gets things done, a textbook example of what Bokonon calls a “granfallon.” Other examples of “granfallons” are the Communist party, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the General Electric Company, the International order of Odd Fellows-and any nation, any time, anywhere. (82) Bokononism says that if there is a god, he is a practical joker, and the destruction of the world is thought of to be the Almighty’s final horrible joke. In one of his last statements, Bokonon states that this God is hardly the all-loving entity he is perceived to be. Someday, someday, this crazy world will come to an end, and our God will take things back that He to us did lend.

And if, on that sad day, you want to scold our God, why go ahead and scold Him. He’ll just smile and nod. (218) In this same cool manner does Bokonon go about breaking the news that God does not intervene with human affairs, rather it is man who must control his own destiny. Man blinked. “What is the purpose of all of all this?” he asked politely.

“Everything must have a purpose?” asked God. “Certainly,” said man. “Then I leave it to you to think of one for all this,” said God. And He went away. (215) While the notion of a practical joking funnyman as a heavenly father may offend some churchgoers, it is Vonnegut’s way of saying that we may be taking our concept of religion too far.

Only MAN is sacred in Bokononism, and that may be an aspect left out of organized faith. We may only live once, and wasting our lives preparing for the one hereafter may be a phenomenal waste of time. In conclusion, while some of the events and ideas present in Cat’s Cradle may register as ridiculous and just plain “weird,” it is with these feelings that Vonnegut wished his readers to experience his novel. Only by creating extreme situations and extraordinary theories was Vonnegut able to reproduce the level of absurdity he felt towards society. When a novel simply denouncing God, America, and progress may have been shunned and ignored by the masses, the humorous and witty, yet bitter account of the end of the world present in Cat’s Cradle was able to make an impact.

English Essays.


Jonathan Swift has suggested that “Satire is a sort of
Glass, wherein Beholders do generally discover every body’s Face
their own; which is the chief reason…that so few are offended
with it.” Richard Garnett suggests that, “Without humour, satire
is invictive; without literary form, and it is mere clownish
jeering.” (Encyclopaedia Britannica 14th ed. vol. 20 p. 5).

Whereas Swift’s statement suggests that people are not offended
by satire because readers identify the character’s faults with
their own faults; Garnett suggests that humour is the key element
that does not make satire offensive. With any satire someone is
bound to be offended, but the technique the author uses can
change something offensive into something embarrassing.

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Stephen Leacock’s Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich is
a nonthreatening, humorous, and revealing satire of the moral
faults of upper class society. The satire acts as a moral
instrument to expose the effect money can have on religion,
government, and anything within its touch. Writing about such
topics is hard to do without offending people. Leacock’s
technique combines money with humour, and accompanies his moral
message with ironic characters; their exaggerated actions, and a
constant comical tone to prevent readers from being offended.

Leacock’s utopian world is filled with humorous labels that
represent the “Plutonian’s” personalities. “Ourselves Monthly”; a
magazine for the modern self-centered, is a Plutonian favourite.

To fill their idle days, the Plutonian women are in an endless
search for trends in literature and religion. Without the
distractions of club luncheons and trying to achieve the “Higher
Indifference”, the women would have to do something productive.

Readers that identify themselves with the class of people the
Plutonians represent would be embarrassed rather than offended by
Leacock’s satirical portrayal of them.

“The Yahi-Bahi Oriental Society” exaggerates the stupidity
of the Plutonians to a point where the reader laughs at the
character’s misfortunes. The con men give ridiculous prophecies
such as “Many things are yet to happen before others begin.”
(Leacock 87), and eventually take their money and jewelry. The
exaggeration increases the humour while the moral message is

The characters of the novel are ironic in the sence that
they percieve themselves as being the pinicle of society, yet
Leacock makes the look like fools. For someone who prides
themself on being an expert on just about everything, Mr.

Lucullus Fyshe’s (as slimmy and cold as his name represents)
perceptions are proven false. Mr. Fyshe makes hypocratic
statments about ruling class tyranny, while barking down the neck
of a poor waiter for serving cold asparagus.

Leacock exposes the whole Plutonian buisness world to be
fools by the their encounter with Mr. Tomlinson. A man who knows
live-stock; not stock market, is percieved as a finacial genius.

When Mr. Tomlinson replies that he does know about an investment,
the Plutonian reaction is:
“He said he didn’t Know!” repeated the listener, in a
tone of amazement and respect. “By Jove! eh? he said
he didn’t know! The man’s a wizard!”
“And he looked as if he didn’t!” went on Mr. Fyshe.
(Leacock 47)
After Mr. Tomlinson is discovered to be a plain farmer, and his
fortune falls, the Plutorians are seen eating their words:
“Now , ‘I said , for I wanted to test the fellow, `tell
me what that means?’ Would you believe me, he looked
me right in the face in that stupid way of his, and he
said, `I don’t know!'”
“He said he didn’t know!” repeated the listener
contemptuously; “the man is a fool!” (leacock 66)
On Plutoria avenue money makes the man and the fool.

Worth and expense are important for the inhabitants of
Plutoria avenue. Even the birds are “the most expensive kind of
birds” (Leacock 7). The innocents, Mr. Tomlinson and his family,
show that for Plutorians personal worth is based on the amount of
money an individual has. The media builds up Mr. Tomlinson to be
a financial genius, because of his great amount of money and his
mysterious look. His “look” is a confused man caught in a world
of which he has no understanding, but the money makes him the
“Great dominating character of the newest and highest finance.”
(Leacock 36). Mr. Tomlinson’s wife is described by the media as
setting new trends, and shaking the fashion world. She could have
worn a garbage bag in public, and probably received the same
review. Leacock exaggerates the obsession of money to a humorous
point that not even religion is spared.
Religion is a social event and business opportunity for
Plutonians. Rather than spiritual worth, St. Asaph and St. Osoph
churches are humorously described by mortgages, dollars per
square feet, and Bible give away debits. Priests work for the
church that offers them the most money, and has the best social
life. It would not be surprising if the two churches sold

In the real world corruption of the church would be
offensive to allot of people, but when desguised in humour
Leacock shields the readers from personal offence.

Leacock touches on the controvesal topic of updating church
doctrine by creating a humorous misunderstanding between Rev.

Furlong and his father:
“Now we,” he went on, “I mean the Hymnal Supply
Corporation, have an idea for bringing out an entirelynew
Bible.” /
“A new Bible!” he gasped.

“Precisely!” said his father, “a new Bible! This one –
and we find it every day in our business – is all
“All wrong!” said the rector with horror on his face. /
“For the market of to-day this Bible” – and he poised
it again on his hand, as to test its weight, “is too
heavy. The people of to-day want something lighter,
something easier to get hold of.” (Leacock 149).

The humorous exchange is not offensive, yet maintains its moral

Satire’s primary use is to expose. If no one was offended
or embarrassed by it then the work and the humour is an end in
itself. Leacock’s technique creates a

Works cited
Garnett, Richard. Encyclopedia Brtannica, 14th ed. Chicago:
Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1959.

Leacock, Stephen. Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich.
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1989.

Works consulted
Allen and Stephens. Satire, Theory and Practice. ed. Allen and
Stephens. Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing
Company,Inc., 1962.

Category: English


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