Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

I am Jonah. When I was young, I collected material for a book known as ‘The Day the World Ended’. That was the day went the atomic bomb was dropped. Bokonon is my religion now. I used to be a Christian. Bokonon was only known in San Lorenzo. The religion believes in doing God’s will but without discovering what you are doing. The team is known as a karass. Another you meet with a messed up life can be part of your karass.

Investigations on God’s Will would be futile. There is no need to understand. You can never see what God is doing, so don’t try.

Bokonon is established based on shameless lies. Felix Hoenikker was the father of the atomic bomb and he had 3 children, Angela, Frank and Newt. I wrote to Newt to find out more about Felix so that I can include the information in my book. Felix passed away on Christmas Eve.

Frank disappeared after Felix’s funeral. Felix was playing with a string when the bomb went off. The kids were all very young. Felix worked for the General Forge and Foundry Company in Ilium. The string was from a book that was burnt and which Felix didn’t get to read. Angela was like a mother to Newt and Frank. Their real mother, Emily, passed away. Felix said this when he received his nobel prize. He was a real unpredictable character. Felix was playing with the string in a game known as Cat’s Cradle. He didn’t like playing games. He tried to play with Newt, but with little success. Felix was acting all childish, like a kid. Newt didn’t like his father.

Anything can make me stop and look and wonder, and sometimes learn. I am a very happy man. – Felix Hoenikker

See? See? See? Cat’s cradle. See the cat’s cradle? See where the nice pussycat sleeps? Meow. Meow….Rockabye catsy, in the tree top, when the wind blows, the cray-dull will rock. If the bough breaks, the cray-dull will fall. Down will come cray-dull, catsy, and all. – Felix Hoenikker

Newt dropped out of med-school. Felix wasn’t interested in people at all. Mother died when Newt was born. Felix wondered about weird stuff like whether turtles’ spines buckle or contract. The scientists had to take away his turtles so that he could concentrate on research. Angela was lonely and didn’t have friends. She played the clarinet. Father didn’t know what sin was. Newt was a midget and he liked a girl, whom he was about to marry. The girl was Zinka, a Ukrainian midget and a dancer. She was 42 while Newt was only 23.

I visited Asa Breed at the General Forge. He was Felix’s ex-boss. According to Asa, it was impossible to control Felix.

I met Sandra, a whore, in a bar. We chatted about a lot of stuff. Frank was just a kid who liked to make model airplanes and jerk off.

Felix was supposed to be Sandra’s commencement speaker but he didn’t show up. Asa replaced him and spoke about the wonders of science. Protein was the secret of life.

A bartender came to tell me his experiences during the atomic bomb day. He also made a drink for the son of Asa Breed, when he was finally sick of helping the war.

There were rumours that Asa Breed loved Felix’s wife. Felix’s kids might have been fathered by Asa.

Many people worked at the General Forge, There was once when Felix abandoned his car in traffic and when told by the police where he could pick up his vehicle, he wasn’t interested, Emily got in an accident after picking up the car and hurt her pelvis. This was why she died when Newt was born.

We met Francine Pefko, she was the secretary of Dr Nilsak Horvath. She didn’t know anything about science or what her boss did. Scientists think too much. She didn’t even know what a charlatan was.

I think you’d find that everybody does about the same amount of thinking. Scientists simply think about things in one way, and other people think about things in others –  Dr Asa Breed

We were in the laboratory now. The exhibits could explain themselves and weren’t mystifying. Naomi Faust was Breed’s secretary. The girl pool were people who typed in the basement, they didn’t know anything about science but still served the cause.

Dr Breed was unhappy at how I suggested scientists were not humans. I wanted to interview Dr Breed on Felix. Breed hires people to do pure research and to increase knowledge.

New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on Earth. The more truth we have to work with, the richer we become. – Asa Breed

Felix always worked on his own projects and one of him was to combat mud as the Marines’ didn’t want to combat in mud. Breed explained to me how it worked and what Felix came up with. He spoke about the concept of cannonballs stacked on a courthouse lawn. Felix came up with Ice 9. With a seed of Ice 9, marines could throw it on water bodies and it would freeze. According to Asa, there was no such stuff. He ended the interview with me. However, it turns out that Felix did produce a little of ice 9 before he died. His children divided the Ice-9 among themselves.

The wampeter is the pivot of a karass. It can be anything that orbits around the karass. There are two of them at any point, one waxing in the importance while the other will wan.

Miss Faust showed me Felix’s laboratory. All Felix was interested in was the truth. He didn’t know what God or Love was and did not think they were true.

There were toys on his laboratory and Felix used cheap toys to perform experiments. He had a photograph of cannonballs stacked on courthouse lawns. Felix also had 3 weird kids.

Lyman Enders Knowles was a crazy lift operator. He made it difficult for us to descend and was happy to prove a point. He believed Felix entered a new dimension when he passed away.

I visited Felix’s tomb. There were the words MOTHER on the tomb. The 3 children initiated on the tomb. Later, we found FATHER’s tomb. The tombstone establishment was Avram Breed and sons. I wanted to buy a stone angel but it was not for sale. Marvin Breed was Asa’s brother. The children came to visit their parent’s tombs quite often. Life is sure funny sometimes.

Marvin knew Emily and they went to same high school. Asa was introduced to Emily and soon they were together. She was a very pretty lady. Felix stole her from Asa and married Emily. Felix was uncaring and didn’t take good care of Emily.

I know how harmless and gentle and dreamy Felix Hoenikker (a scientist) was supposed to be, how he’d never hurt a fly, how he didn’t care about money and power and fancy clothes and automobiles and things…how he was so innocent…but how the hell innocent is a man who helps to make a thing like an atomic bomb? – Marvin Breed

I never met a man who was less interested in the living. Sometimes I think that’s the trouble with the world: too many people in high places who are stone-cold dead. – Marvin Breed

I was shoved in the direction of Bokononism. Frank was only interested in model planes. Angela used to play the clarinet in her room and was terribly lonely in nature. Asa’s boy works on stone cutting and is a sculptor in Rome.

I visited Frank at his shop. Jack worked at his store. Frank built a grand landscape in the basement of his store. Frank didn’t have a home. Frank was mighty talented.

I allowed a poet, Sherman Krebbs, to stay with me for free. He left and also made many long distance calls, set my couch on fire and killed my cat. A wrang wrang is someone who steers people into an absurdity. Nihilism was not for me. I felt there was a meaning behind his act.

I felt in love with a girl on a magazine cover. Her name was Mona Aamons Monzano, and was the adopted daughter of the dictator on San Lorenzo. Miguel Monzano was known as ‘Papa’. Franklin was also in the magazine and he was the minister of science and progress. He was 26.

The capital was Bolivar. Frank was the architect of the entire town. Frank was wandering around at sea when he came upon the glorious mountain on San Lorenzo. It was mountain Mount McCabe. He was placed in prison for a while. But after ‘Papa’ knew he was Felix’s son, he started receiving special treatment.

Julian Castle was a sugar millionaire who founded a free hospital. He was a completely unselfish man. His son Philip Castle owned the hotel that I was planned to stay. It was a new hotel. I kept dreaming of Mona and how much I loved her.

I sat beside Horlick Minton and his wife, Claire. Horlick was the American ambassador of San Lorenzo. A duprass was a karass consisting of only two people. I couldn’t make them laugh. They eventually died within a second of each other. I met another couple on the plane. They were H. Lowe Crosby and his wife, Hazel. Crosby once owned a bicycle factory in Chicago. He liked how disciplined the people were on San Lorenzo. He mentioned that in the US, labor laws were strict and he didn’t want to hire workers. Hazel and I were both Hoosiers. Hoosiers usually make their mark in the world. Hazel wanted me to call her Mom. It was a false karass.

Crosby thought that dictatorships were good. He believed that everyone should build bicycles for him. Everyone was a Christian on the island. Papa threatens anyone who commits crime with the hook and there has been no crime. It was helping to reduce crime rates. Minton was fired for pessimism.

Americans are forever searching for love in forms it never takes, in places it can never be. It must have something to do with the vanished frontier. – Claire Minton

It turns out that Americans were hated in many places

There was a book written of San Lorenzo. It was titled ‘The Land, the History, the People’ and was written by Philip Castle. There was a passage about Bokonon.

Bokonon had this theory of dynamic tension in the book. It was a battle between good and evil. Bokonon was an alumnus of a muscle building school that Charles Atlas went to. There was a need to have good vs evil in order to build tension. This would be how good societies would be formed.

Bokonon was a Negro. His real name was Lionel Boyd Johnson. Bokonon later enrolled in a good University. He was caught by the German submarine during the war. Later, he ended up on an island. After the war, he went on a long voyage. He and corporal McCabe were fated to land on San Lorenzo. Bokonon had their own dialect. His lifeboat miraculously came to shore when Johnson became Bokonon.

There were two more Hoosiers on the plane. They were Conners and Hoenikker, both brother and sisters.

I spoke to Angela and Newt on the plane. They had ice 9 in their bottles. Angela wanted her father to be portrayed as a saint. They were in the plane because Frank was getting married to Mona in San Lorenzo. Felix died on a chair, on the same day that the children divided their ice nine.

Angela was married to Harrison Conners, who was the president of Fabri-Tek. After knowing him for just 2 weeks, they got married.

I continued reading the book on San Lorenzo. Nestor was Mona’s father. He was an architect and eventually helped Castle design the hospital.

Mona was adopted by Papa. Claire was a professional indexer. She was ashamed at how Philip Castle indexed his book. He was also in love with Mona. Claire could deduce that Philip was a homosexual man.

The people of San Lorenzo were pathetic when Johnson and McCabe first arrived. Castle Sugar ran the country like an anarchy. God had made the island worthless. Cortes was the first man who conquered the island. No one complained that San Lorenzo was conquered. The island was not worth defending. Castle Sugar withdrew after Johnson and McCabe took over. McCabe overhauled the economy and laws and Johnson designed a religion. Eventually, Zinka broke Newt’s heart.

A pissant was a guy who couldn’t think properly. He was someone who thought he was damn smart. He will make you seem stupid. Crosby also went to Cornell.

Johnson and McCabe failed to run the island properly and people were still miserable. It was an unproductive nation. They divided the income equally among everyone and each only got 6 or 7 dollars. Bokononism was banned on the island. Bokononist mingled by pressing their bottom of their feet together. This was banned too. Bokonon became an outlaw on the island.

We all touched down. The local people looked like villagers. Papa, Mona and Franklin came to meet us. Franklin was Pap’s bodyguard. Mona was extremely pretty. She was the only beautiful girl on the island.

‘Papa’ greeted all of us. Tomorrow was a holiday to celebrate the day of the hundred martyrs to democracy. Frank would be marring Mona tomorrow as well. Papa seemed hurt and later collapsed in pain. Frank was very anxious over his condition. Papa proclaimed that Frank would be the next President of San Lorenzo.

Bokonon was in hiding and it was difficult to find him. Nobody wanted to help him as they would face the hook. The 100 Martyrs to Democracy were people who were sunk by a German submarine during the war.

There was a young man working on a portrait of Mona. He liked to say ‘That happiness is mine.’ He was Philip Castle, the man who wrote the book of the island. Bokonon used to teach Philip and Mona when they were young. Philip was indeed a Bokononist. Crosby felt he was an irritating puissant. It turns out that Philip also owned the hotel they were in.

I was the only guest in the hotel. I caught two men practicing Bokononism. They were practicing the ritual known was boko-maru.

Philip was serving me in the room. He started talking about his father, Julian. Frank suddenly called me and wanted me at his place immediately. In the past, the bubonic plague overwhelmed the island and Julian’s hospital couldn’t cope with it. Later he started laughing at those who died and said that his son could take over the hospital.

I went to Frank’s house. It was incredibly grand. Stanley was his servant and made me feel at ease. Newt was painting a picture. It looked dreadful and I couldn’t interpret it. Newt said it was a cat’s cradle. Julian Castle visited also. Julian agrees with Newt that everything is meaningless. Newt was self-taught and Julian thought that he painted the image of Hell. He thought the painting was meaningless. To Julian, he felt mankind was vile and didn’t know anything. He tore out the painting and flung it in the waterfall.

Boko-maru did work and Julian believed in it. Julian said everyone on the island was a Bokononist. Bokonon threw out the priests and created a new religion. Religion became a source of hope and lies were created to escape reality. Bokonon chose to be outlawed. ‘He asked McCabe to outlaw him and his religion, too, in order to give the religious life of the people more zest, more tang.’ McCabe would organize people to hunt for him. Later, they had to report that Bokonon escaped. It was like a miracle!

Everyone was employed like an ‘actor’ in a play. The both men became insane after a while. McCabe didn’t want to catch Bokonon as without holy war, he would be meaningless too.

Frank didn’t return yet. The painting that Julian threw would be picked up by villagers downstream. Angela started playing on the clarinet. Newt was obsessed with the cat’s cradle. Angela was great at playing and she seemed possessed somewhat. New materials were being added to the book each day.

Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly; Man got to sit and wonder, “Why, why, why?” Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land; Man got to tell himself he understand. – The Books of Bokonon

‘Papa’ was dying. Frank was anxious about something I was something I was about to do. He said a word that meant ‘fate – inevitably destiny’.

‘Papa’ was dying from cancer; Dr Schlichter was ‘Papa’s doctor. This man was also part of my karass

There was a convoy of army trucks heading towards us. They had to protect Frank, the new president of San Lorenzo. Felix had an identical twin named Rudolph. He had a sister named Celia too. Stanley brought me a copy of the books of bokonon. The cosmology was a pack of lies.

There was a blackout on the island. Frank was tinkering with a motor-generator and Mona was with him. Frank and I would talk through the night. Frank brought me to a cave where he would talk about me. He said we both to hit it off. He said we would do something together. Now, Frank offered me a good wage for a job. He wanted me to take the job as President.

Frank said that he would assist me along the way. It was against religion to be the president. Frank said he couldn’t take it because of limitations. He knew he was no good at public speaking.

I refused to take the job. Frank never fulfilled his potential because he liked to screw Jack’s wife in the past. He said my personality suited the job more.

God told me that he had work for me to do. It was a vin-dit and I agreed to be a President. I could marry Mona if I would be the next president. This was written in the Books of Bokonon. I was delighted by that fact.

I finally met Mona. She was incredibly beautiful. She practiced boko-maru with me. It was my first boko-maru. It was a poem. We recited it. She loved me instantly. Mona loved everyone, in fact. She did boko-maru with everyone else and cried when I suggested that she only do it with me. She proclaimed sin-wat. It was a bad thing when a man wanted all love for himself. Bokonon says we have to love everyone exactly the same. I didn’t have a religion then. I knew I had to take up Bokonon in order to have her.

I tried to get ‘Papa’s blessing. The mountain was not sacred anymore. Man, said Frank, was sacred to Bokononists. Nothing else was. We reached the castle on the mountain. I saw the hook and wanted to chop it down. We waited to see Papa. I spoke to a man named Dr Vox Humana. His motto was to make religion live. ‘Papa’ didn’t mind being killed.

Papa was shivering due to the cold and he could hardly speak anymore. Papa said it didn’t matter who was the next President. I was supposed to kill Bokonon. Papa wanted us to teach society science too. It turned out that Papa was a Bokononist too.

The last rites were being recited. Dr Koenigswald volunteered to recite it as he didn’t believe in religions. God make mud. They both recited the verses. Amen.

Papa didn’t die yet. Frank would only help me with technical tasks and not on how to handle people. I wanted Frank to announce to everyone on my new appointment. I wanted electricity to be restored. I realized that Frank wanted to escape human responsibilities.

I also outlawed Bokononism. I wrote a speech for the people. I realized that I had to believe in God now. It took me time but I decided that good and evil had to be separated. Good in the jungle, evil in the palace.

During the event, there was some caricature that was painted of famous people. They would later be targeted by a simulated air strike. Minton would throw his wreath in the sea. Castle wanted to call for a strike of all writers till mankind came to his senses. There would be no new books, plays, histories etc. Julian encouraged us to keep writing. Men would die a horrible death without the consolations of literature.

Did Mona represent the highest form of female spirituality? Or did she seem very cold. I have to remember her as being sublime. The people in this island were only interested in fishing, fornication and Bokononism. Bokonon was against science.

I tried albatross meat and didn’t feel well. Dr Schlicter said Papa took some substance to kill himself. It turns out that he took ice-nine. I had to document this down so that future generations would avoid the same fate. Dr Schlicter was the second man to die from ice 9. Suddenly, he touched the water in the basin and it froze. His body started freezing too. I finally saw what ice 9 could do.

Frank had given Papa the ice 9. Suddenly, Newt threw up. Angela was crying now. We all wanted to throw up. Frank acted like a dog and Newt accused him of giving Ice 9 to Papa. Frank desperately wanted to clean up the place and melt the bodies. He defended his actions.

I bought myself a job, just the way you bought yourself a tomcat husband, just the way Newt bought himself a week on Cape Cod with a Russian midget. – Frank Hoenikker

A pool-pah was a shit-storm. It turns out that US and the Soviet Union also had a little of ice 9. I remembered the fourteenth book of Bokononism. ‘What Can a Thoughtful Man Hope for Mankind on Earth, Given the Experience of the Past Million Years: Nothing.’

We melted the ice 9. The children told me what happened on Christmas Eve. Felix told them to stretch their brains and guess what was ice 9 was.

Any man can call time out, but no man can say how long the time out will be. – Bokonon

Newt mixed the rag with the ice 9 and the mixture reminded him of Mother’s reticule. The dog licked it and he froze stiff and so did Father. The children didn’t feel guilty. They all contributed to the dog’s death. They later placed the dog in the oven.

We lied that Papa was feeling better. Ambassador Minton delivered his speech. He despised the viciousness of mankind in leading to the death of 100 martyrs. We all had to reduce the stupidity of mankind.

Perhaps, when we remember wars, we should take off our clothes and pain ourselves blue and go on all fours all day long and grunt like pigs. That would surely be more appropriate than noble oratory and shows of flags and well-oiled guns. –  Ambassador Minton

I was nauseous again and would miss the air show. However, one plane burst into flames in mid-air. Everyone cried. We managed to save some others from falling. Many people perished when the castle collapsed.

The palace was gone now. I contemplated suicide at that moment. We backed away from the abyss. A stone gave way and fell. Now, ice 9 fell in the sea and tornadoes sprung up around us. We headed down into a manhole. We found a bomb shelter down below. There was a set of books of Bokonon. Mona was with me.

The sixth book was about pain. We could think before death. Our radio remained silent. Everything above ground was torn apart. Mona was not interested in reproduction.

Mona thanked me. Each one of us had to be what we all are. After the 4th day, the weather had stabilized. We waited a while more just to be sure. The Earth was locked in eternal winter. There was no other form of life.

Someday, someday, this crazy world will have to 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 not go right ahead and scold Him. He’ll just smile and nod. – Calypso

I knew how the Earth ended up like this. But so what? We walked to the foot of Mount McCabe. There was a bowl where they were thousands of dead people. All of them were facing the centre of the bowl and their fingers were near their mouths. Bokonon left a note in the centre saying that God was through with them.

We suspected that Bokonon was alive somewhere. He advised everyone to kill themselves. Mona laughed and said it solved so many problems. She couldn’t stop laughing. Later she touched her finger to the ground and placed it on her lips. Mona died. Crosby, Hazel, Newt were alive as they took a cab out of the area. I entered the cab.

They brought me to Franklin’s house. Hazel was optimistic about surviving. We would call ourselves the Swiss Family Robinson. We thawed the animals and ate them. Our health improved. Frank left behind an SOS transmitter which we could use. Save our soullllls. The words ‘It might have been’ were the most beautiful.

Hazel started making a flag to plant on Mount McCabe. Frank was playing with an ant farm. Frank said that we could learn from ants and how to co-operate. ‘You tell me, you tell me who told these ants how to make water.’ Frank asked me. I said God taught them. Frank got madder and madder.

Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before. He is full of murderous resentment of people who are ignorant without having come by their ignorance the hard way. – Bokonon

I looked for Newt. We drove and looked for paints. He lost his sex urge. Newt told me about the quotes in the books. There was a cruel paradox of Bokononist thought. It was necessary to lie about reality and there was an impossibility of lying about it.

It was a depressing religion. Bokonon wrote a chapter on utopias. Soft pipes, play on. Angela found a neat way to die when she picked up and played the clarinet just before her death. It was then while driving to the mountain, that I saw Bokonon sitting on the side of the road.

His feet were covered with ice 9. He was thinking of the final sentence of the book. This was what he wrote.

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; and I would take from the ground some of the blue-white poison that makes statues of men; and I would make a statue of myself, lying on my back, grinning horribly, and thumbing my nose at You Know Who. – Bokonon



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