Cat’s Cradle & truthful lies


AP Literature per. 3


September 19, 2003


Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle attempts to prove that universal truth can never be reached, because it is believed that all truth emanates from lies hidden by human faith. In the novel many characters search for ways to fulfill the lack of meaning in their lives, choosing to believe in what they’re told is “founded on lies.”(6) Dr. Hoenikker creates ice-nine which is “a force of nature no mortal could possibly control.” (21) Ice-nine is a representation of the powers and truth of science. Kurt Vonnegut takes a satirical approach to a subject that many people base their daily existence on, to jokingly attack religion and science. The theme of Cat’s Cradle is that science and religion are the basis of truth and lies. This is shown through Bokononism, the characterization of the Felix Hoenikker, and through Vonnegut’s syntax.


Throughout the novel constant references are made regarding the infamous lies of Bokononism. In the novel, a god like figure named Bokonon creates a religion known as, Bokononism. Bokonon states “All of the true thing I am about to tell you are shameless lies.”(5) Yet the people of the desolate town of San Lorenzo choose to believe his lies. Bokonon’s religion is spread through San Lorenzo like an epidemic and the people need his false hope to survive. Vonnegut, through the ideals of Bokononism, gives the reader the impression that all religions are based on lies and that man needs them to live.


When Bokonon came to San Lorenzo he saw the place as a money less pit of decay. The only way in which he felt people had a chance at happiness was to give them something, such as his lies, to base their existence on. These lies helped the people have a much better outlook on life, which kept structure in the island. Bokonon claimed that he created Bokononism because he “…wanted all things/to seem to make some sense, /so we all could be happy, yes, /Instead of tense. /And I made up lies/So that they all fit nice, /and I made this sad world/A par-a-dise” (127). The writings of Bokonon serve as a lifestyle for the hopeless San Lorenzo people.


Vonnegut’s depiction of Felix Hoenikker is of a man on a constant search for truth through his work as a scientist. Science was the basis for his existence. Felix was conveyed as a person without feeling and depicted as if his only purpose for living was to find the truth in things. This, in part contradicts the lies Vonnegut throws out with Bokononism. Felix lacked fantasy and cared nothing for lies and is remembered to be so through his children. In a recollection of his son’s, Newt said “My father…I don’t think he ever read a novel or even a short story in his whole life…he read a lot of technical journals” (10). Felix believed only in the reality of things, as he had said, “‘why should I bother with made-up games when there are so many real ones going on?’ ” (11). Vonnegut’s portrayal of Felix Hoenikker coincides with the search for truth being the reason for science.


The syntax of certain sections of the novel adds a technical understanding of the literary patterns. For example, in the final passage from The Books of Bokonon, Bokonon says, “ If I were a younger man, I would write a history of human stupidity; and I would climb to the top of Mount McCabe and lie down on my back with my history for a pillow”(287). In that passage the syntax presents a long assorted sentence. It is written similar to the Bible, and one can make that assumption that it was written that way to imply that all religions including the Bible are composed of lies.


Another example of Vonnegut’s syntax implicating the theme is the description of Felix Hoenikker’s invention, “He had made a chip of ice-nine. It was blue-white. It had a melting point of one-hundred-fourteen-point-four-degrees Fahrenheit” (51). The short chopped sentences remind the reader of how a scientist’s notes would be. It uses numerous hyphens to indicate brevity and present that it is broken down completely. This is common in scientific speech and writing to