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“Cat’s Cradle” a Book by Kurt Vonnegut Literature Analysis Essay


Cat’s Cradle is one of the most famous works of Kurt Vonnegut, the American author. The story is about the fantastic island which lives under its laws. The lie and misrepresentation of facts accompany the life of citizens. In Cat’s Cradle Vonnegut tries to show the usefulness and frustration of the existence if it is controlled and manipulated by a certain group of people who hide the truth from people.

The essay is devoted to the topic of madness in the novel. In particular, the novel’s plot encompasses the different examples of madness including the fabricated religion, the lie, and madness of Bakonon and McCabe, madness in power, crazy invention, and the whole life in the island.

Madness is the central theme in the novel uncovering its moral: the vainness of human activity if it is not for common good.

The Topic of Madness in the Novel

Fabricated Religion

The fabricated religion represents one of the most obvious topics of madness in Vonnegut’s novel. The religion of Bokononism has been developed by Bokonon and McCabe for making life on the island more interesting. It becomes the beginning of the overall madness of people living in San-Lorenzo Island. It is not surprising as there is nothing from the truth in the religion. The dissemination of the fabricated story, as well as the statement about the death penalty of everyone confessing to Saint Bokonon, put people’s mentality and behavior under the control of illusions. Because it is the farfetched religion, it has not given real spiritual satisfaction which any religion should give to people.

Moreover, true religions have been supporting people’s belief in eternal life for centuries. As regards the religion which has been disseminated on the island, it has factually become the beginning of the life end on the island. “Live by the harmless untruths that make you brave and kind, and healthy, and happy” (Vonnegut 1963). The most important lesson which can be learned is that the belief in God is a good thing, but the belief in all of what the other people say can be harmful to your life.

The Heartbreaking Necessity of Lying

The lie of Johnson and McCabe is one of the examples of madness in the novel. Eventually, the good intentions of Johnson and McCabe led to the destruction of the country and the tragic death of its people. The lie which they created was the example of madness itself. The rumors turned people to believers in the sham religion. The mass lie about reality resulted in the outlook estranged from the facts. As regards Johnson and McCabe, they tried to play their roles so well that they, eventually, went mad with their fictitious story. In this context, the story is well described by the words from the novel: “the heartbreaking necessity of lying about reality and the heartbreaking impossibility of lying about it” (Vonnegut 1963). Probably, Kurt Vonnegut tries to make us see that the heartbreaking truth is better than the heartbreaking lie.

Madness in Power

The power became the supporter of the madness on the island. It can be said that the lie surrounding the Bokonon story was only the beginning of the madness of people on San-Lorenzo Island. “Papa” Monzano, the next ruler of the island, not only continued to support the fictitious religion but also made people believe in the sanctity of his daughter who was considered the first beauty in the country. “McCabe was always sane enough to realize that without the holy man to war against, he would become meaningless. “Papa” Monzano understands that too” (Vonnengut 1963). The daughter was proclaimed a symbol of love and beauty on the island. The mass madness fueled by the fanatics and bluffs made people completely estranged from reality. They created their small closed world on the island. In this context, it should be emphasized that the power is the influential factor contributing to the predominant ideology. The author shows that if the ideology is supported by the fabricated facts, it can turn to the weapon of the power against itself.

Crazy Invention

The science can turn people crazy if it is not aimed at the creation of well-being. The culmination of the plot began when Felix Hoenikker was assigned as a minister in “Papa” Monzano government. He introduced the ice-nine to him. “Papa” Monzano who suffered from cancer used it to commit suicide. However, the accident on the island resulted in the ingress of the ice-nine into the nature of the island. It was the end of the world. Nevertheless, some characters survived. They were the narrator intending to publish the book about the weapon of mass destruction and “Papa” Monzano’s daughter. In essence, the invention of the ice-nine was madness itself as the idea to develop the weapon able to destroy the world is hard to occur in the mind of reasonable personality. “Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before” (Vonnengut 1963). It became obvious that any human activity should have some moral background and it should be aimed at creating and not to destroy.

The Life on the Island as a Crazy Game

It can be said that the way of life on the island is the example of madness in the novel. Continuing the discussion of the topic of human madness in Cat’s Cradle novel, it should be mentioned that the title of the novel itself is connected to the plot. The Hoenikker’s son says,

“No wonder kids grow up crazy. A cat’s cradle is nothing but a bunch of X’s between somebody’s hands, and little kids look and look and look at all those X’s”
“No damn cat, and no damn cradle.” (Vonnengut 1963)

The inanity of the game is associated with the same inanity of the ice-nine invention and the whole life on the island. Vonnegut teaches us not to be caught in the trap of our illusions.

The Discussion of the Novel Moral

The plot of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel reminds us of the mad actions which mankind takes in its history rather frequently. Hiroshima atomic bomb explosion is, probably, the brightest example associated with Cat’s Cradle plot. The author makes us think about whether there is an essential reason for the weapon of mass destruction production. Furthermore, it should be said that huge amounts of money are invested in the development of new kinds of weapon. These amounts will not contribute to the well-being of mankind. The question arises why governments invest funds in the development of the weapon the primary goal of which is not to defeat the country in case of war but to wipe out another country. It is not surprising that the author subjects the story of San-Lorenzo Island to the satire. “In the most classic line of black humor, Vonnegut holds that laughter is the only instrument which can make us bear the senselessness surrounding of the tragic human conditions” ( De Castro 31). Vonnegut gives us an idea that mankind can avoid apocalypses if people stop lying and make the efforts to create and not to destroy. Saying the truth is what governments can do to save our planet.


To summarize all the above mentioned, it should be said that Cat’s Cradle represents a part of the valuable heritage of American literature. The moral of the work touches upon the urgent issues of modern society and global politics. Also, the plot of the novel indicates the importance of the moral and ethical attitude to individual life. In particular, we should be careful about the information disseminated by others, should think about their intentions; we should act ethically, and must be architects of our fortunes.

Works Cited

De Castro, Jesus Lerate. “Cat’s Cradle: The Apocalyptic Creativity of Kurt Vonnegut.” Revista de Estudios Norteamericanos 6 (1998): 25-34. Print.

Vonnegut, Kurt 1963. Cat’s Cradle. 2013. Web.

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IvyPanda. 2020. ""Cat’s Cradle" a Book by Kurt Vonnegut Literature Analysis." May 9, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/cats-cradle-a-book-by-kurt-vonnegut-literature-analysis/.


IvyPanda. (2020) '"Cat’s Cradle" a Book by Kurt Vonnegut Literature Analysis'. 9 May.

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