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).
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.