Cat's Cradle Study Guide

Cat's Cradle Study Guide

Original title:
Cat's Cradle

Cat’s Cradle is a novel by Kurt Vonnegut that is science fiction by style and the bitter satire by nature. The main theme of it is the huge impact of technical progress on humanity and the possible hazards that it can bring. The author uses as characters the children of the (fictional) scientist who worked on the nuclear bomb that was used in Hiroshima. This is deeply symbolic, because the scientist created even more deadly weapon that can kill the whole planet. He didn’t intend to do so (like the scientists who studied nuclear reactions didn’t intend to kill people in Hiroshima), but the weapon - the dreadful ice-nine that can instantly freeze any water and turn it into more ice-nine - is released.

The poor and militaristic country the main action is set in is also a metaphorical allusion of the human society where any discoveries and achievements of science are used not to make the life of the people better, but to reach more power and military strength. The dictator of San Lorenzo is a barely educated man who threatens his opponent with being impaled on a hook. The religion of the country is hypocritical to the core: officially it is Christianity, but the real religion is nihilistic Bokononism that was forbidden according to the plan of its founder, to make it spread faster as a secret knowledge.

The catastrophe caused by ice-nine can destroy all the world like the nuclear explosion destroyed Hiroshima. The main character, John, who was just a simple writer at the beginning, gets involved into the events and his incompetence, though good-intentioned, plays as important part as the violence of the San Lorenzo dictator or the genius of the inventor of ice-nine. These three things - mindless violence, spineless incompetence, and sharp mind dedicated to science only without thinking about the consequences - are what Vonnegut warns us against.

Cat’s Cradle is a sci-fi, a powerful satire and an anti-war novel that, despite having a bit outdated plotline for the pampered modern audience, is definitely worth reading.

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