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

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Updated: Aug 12th, 2019


Published in 1963, the book Cat’s Cradle is a must-read satirical chef-d’oeuvre by Kurt Vonnegut that strategically presents the technological changes of the time, the scientific innovations, the armed race between the west and Russia, and more importantly, a satire on religion.

Kurt Vonnegut’s satire on religion exposes its absurd nature and lies by using fictional characters. The setting is also a fictional country, the Republic of San Lorenzo that is complete with its own capital, Bolivar, and a national anthem. The essay looks at the book in details in an attempt to highlight how existential absurdism is expressed throughout the publication.

Existential Absurdism

The title of the book is an expression of existential absurdism. In the book, the narrator and writer demonstrate how a very popular game for keeping kids busy was not realistic. The game with the name cat’s cradle involves adults or playmates making shapes with a string in between their fingers.

The author describes that there is neither a cat nor a cradle in the game but rather a long-standing lie and absurdity. He goes ahead to demonstrate more absurdities in the book in a way that people are not aware in literature. Normal activities are criticized in a hilarious way. The reader can reflect some of these episodes in his/her normal days.

The book presents a person called Jonah who is the narrator of the story. The author describes how he began writing a factual book since his early days. The book was about what some citizens of America did when the first atomic bomb was dropped in Japan, a case that is consistent with the setting of the time when the book was written.

The author bases the book on the post-war period and the cold war, which were going on between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and America. It is clear that the narrator likes the form of government existing in some of the dictatorship and socialist countries such as Cuba and the Soviet Republics.

The book was based on his religion, which was at the time Christianity and later Bokonism. At the time of writing, the dominant religion was Christianity with few other religions taking shape. In the book, a fictional religion called Bokonism is proposed, which appears to ridicule other religions. It is based on lies following its deception of the common person and promises, which are never fulfilled. The religion in this book however makes this acceptable by informing its leaders that whatever is written in it is totally a lie.

The first satire in the book on religion occurs where the narrator describes that Bokonism would have been his choice of religion if he had known about its lies.

He qualifies this claim by stating the first statement of the book, which describes everything in it as a lie. Another ironic thing in the book is the character of the person who is described as being a pioneer in the atomic bomb. He narrator portrays him as one who never cares about his family, wealth, or anything in his environment except his innovations and inventions despite inventing a very deadly weapon, which ended the war.

On the day of the bombing of Hiroshima, the scientist involved is described to be making a cat’s cradle when the bomb dropped miles away killing thousands. The act is absurd in a way, as it compels the reader to think of how people can just take life for granted. The scientist is described as calm, relaxed, and one who does not care the welfare of anyone else except his work.

He is portrayed as being humane and one who cannot be responsible for the murders. However, he has to try very hard to recall the name of his wife despite his vast knowledge in atomic physics and science in general. The narrator and the author use the scientist to make a sharp contrast of people.

He represents the normal everyday man while he (the scientist) is at the opposite side of the hierarchy. These two people are then used to differentiate the feelings and families of the two classes with few differences emerging. It seems that each of the two classes is human with its own worries.

John ironically becomes the dictator of the island on which he is writing. He rules it with an iron fist. He declines to ask for support from God even though he knew the job he got was challenging. Instead, he invites Bokonon to the kingdom’s palace to help him rule.

He explores the concept of deception where he makes people think that his leadership is truthful and responsible. In the narration, Jonah, the king of the kingdom, is the chief prosecutor of Christians who achieves the goal by ridiculing them and their God. There are few Christians and priests still in the kingdom. However, everyone calls God whenever in trouble.

The relationship between leadership and religion emerges in this book, as the newly proclaimed king embraces bokonism. Jonah claims that the society he governed expected much from him. He was not willing to provide the demanded aspects of education, economics, health, and agriculture.

The only thing that the people were given was entertainment, which they did not require from their leaders. He uses the book of Bokonon to justify his actions especially when he orchestrates the murder of some of the citizens. A Christian minister is described as being the caricaturist of the palace, which portrays further the resentment that the leadership had on the existing Christians. As a climax, Vonnegut uses the inventor of the atomic bomb and his family to portray how people can be innocent even when they are harming others.

The family that is made up of Frank, Angela, and Newt is described as being of no ill intention, as the members went on with their daily activities as the bomb fell in Hiroshima. The author says that people are often misinterpreted to be evil when they are good. He brings out this revelation by the use of a hilarious satire.

There is an absurdity in the way God is portrayed in the book. A Karass is one of the other absurdities that are evident in the book with people being paired with others whom they do not know or relate with. They followed the will of the most high without question.

This therefore emerges as one of the positive things that the religion describes, as it did not discriminate between race, nationality, language, and sex of the people within each Karass people. The narrator however ridicules the idea of God when he proposes that the doghouse, which had passed on to him, be passed down to the person to which it is being explained.

The whole book has elements of absurdism in the way people tackle issues as they occur. Reference to the word of God is made in a number of instances, which are not in good faith. Vonnegut achieves irony in this book by bringing out the issues affecting the world at the time though in a humorous way.

The dictators of the time together with those who had passed on are also mentioned in the story. The narrator tries to describe them satirically. Among them are people like Adolf Hitler, Barbara Hutton, Benito Mussolini, and another one whom he refers to as Tommy Manville.

These leaders are described in details in a way that was not previously known to the reader. The narrator describes them as alcoholics and womanizers besides claiming that they are just like anyone else. This brings out the theme of political changes and world conflicts at that time.


The book by Kurt Vonnegut is a humorous expression of the characters of people in a way that the reader would never have guessed. Using a metaphor, Vonnegut says that the higher power is a sleeping lion with a doctrine that is based on lies. He explains the atomic bomb and the day it dropped on Hiroshima in a hilarious way.

The style makes the reader think of how people were even in the presence of war. Religion is a major feature in the book that is portrayed as being a set of lies, which people use to comfort themselves at the existence of a superior being. The book expresses the absurd nature of religion and its relationship with people.

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"“Cat’s Cradle” a Book by Kurt Vonnegut ." IvyPanda, 12 Aug. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/existential-absurdism/.

1. IvyPanda. "“Cat’s Cradle” a Book by Kurt Vonnegut ." August 12, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/existential-absurdism/.


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IvyPanda. 2019. "“Cat’s Cradle” a Book by Kurt Vonnegut ." August 12, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/existential-absurdism/.


IvyPanda. (2019) '“Cat’s Cradle” a Book by Kurt Vonnegut '. 12 August.

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