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Cat's Cradle Theme Analysis

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Matthew Hauri

on 4 June 2013

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Transcript of Cat's Cradle Theme Analysis

Truth Vonnegut juxtaposes: Science & Religion Vonnegut implies that instead of discovering things that are beneficial to humans, scientists are greedy, so they research and develop that which gains them the most money; destructive weapons for the government. Science is way of discovering truth, while religion is a way of creating lies Vonnegut implies that since life lacks meaning, man tries to give life meaning through the lies we call religion. But it is of the greedy human nature to use religion for personal gain. Kurt Vonnegut Vonnegut was born on November 11, 1922 in Indianapolis, IN
He died on April 11, 2007
"Cat’s Cradle" was written in 1963
Other works: Writing Style Vonnegut writes fiction/science fiction novels, most of which are commentaries on war, government, religion, and the nature of humans.

Vonnegut blends satirical humor into his works, urging readers to laugh at the corrupt society we live in. Life Experiences -Drafted into World War II and witnessed Dresden fire bombings. (Influenced his decision to write a novel about the atom bomb and the destructive aspects of science.)

-He was a strong supporter the American Civil Liberties Union.

-President of the American Humanist Association. (Vonnegut's Humanist views are showed through dialogue between characters showing their own opinions Plot Quick Summary John, the protagonist, hopes to write a book outlining the events of the day the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima
He pursues Felix Hoenniker, the bomb's inventor.
Felix is dead, but his 3 children are still alive.
John interviews the Hoenniker offspring and discovers that they each hold a sliver of a deadly compound that Felix created:Ice-Nine. During his search for information about Felix Hoenniker, John is hired to write an article about Julian Castle, a rich philanthropist on an island republic named San Lorenzo.
On San Lorenzo, John discovers a corrupt government under the leader, Papa Monzano, and a fake religion called Bokononism, that is outlawed by the island's government. The Major General of Military and Science of the island turns out to be Frank Hoenniker, one of Felix's sons. Frank gained the position by simply giving his sliver of Ice-Nine to Papa Monzano.
When Papa Monzano becomes deathly ill, his successor, Frank Hoenniker, feels incapable of being the island's president, and asks John to be the next president
John accepts the offer, hoping to marry Mona, a beautiful woman who is advertised by San Lorenzo to attract more immigrants. Ice-Nine is a mysterious compound that Felix created for the U.S. military. It raises the freezing temperature of water, turning any water it makes contact with into ice. On the day he plans to announce his presidency, John discovers that Monzano has killed himself by swallowing Ice-Nine.
As John approaches the podium to announce his presidency, a plane crashes into Monzano's mansion, creating a landslide which carries Monzano's Ice-Nine infested body to the ocean, freezing all of the water on earth and killing all of humankind. Main Characters John: (Narrator) An Author who is writing a book about the day the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.
Bokonon: The first leader of San Lorenzo; Bokonon realized that the island's residents were living in poverty, so he created a fake religion called Bokononism to give them a feeling of comfort. He then convinced the island's next leader to outlaw the religion in order to make it more exciting and meaningful for its practitioners.
Felix Hoenniker: The scientist who constructed the atomic bomb, and developed the dangerous compound, Ice-Nine. Vonnegut combines all of his opinions of scientists and displays them through Felix. Felix is brilliant, but only in the dimension of science, and is portrayed as a child playing with dangerous toys. Felix is emotionally indifferent to other people, even his family. Angela Hoenniker: Felix’s daughter, who Felix forced to care of the family after his wife passed away. She became married to a scientist named Harrison Conners after giving him her sliver of Ice-Nine.
Frank Hoenniker: Felix’s oldest son, who was given the position of “Major General” on the island of San Lorenzo after giving his sliver of the Ice-Nine to Papa Monzano.
Newt Hoenniker: Felix’s youngest offspring, Newt is a midget who marries Zinka, another midget, who is actually a Soviet spy. Zinka steals Newt’s sliver of Ice-Nine. Connections to the Real World Throughout History Science being used for destruction and material gain can be dated back to early civilizations, and can be seen in many historical events since then. Greek Fire, basically the opposite of "Ice-Nine," was an incendiary weapon that could continue burning in water. It was used by Byzantine naval ships when invading Arab ports. Agent Orange, the herbicide used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam war, killed approximately 400,00 people and caused over 500,00 birth defects. Human Nature A constant underlying theme throughout the novel is the greedy and selfish nature of human beings. Vonnegut portrays scientists, followers of religion, and country leaders as greedy people whose every action is aimed at personal gain. Contemporary Society In the world today, the theme of religion as it is portrayed in "Cat's Cradle" can be seen in both U.S. foreign conflict and pop culture. Islamic terrorist organizations show the theme of manipulating religion for personal gain. Some military leaders in Islamic terrorist groups promise their soldiers that committing acts of terrorism and dying a martyr will allow them passage into Paradise and the reward of 72 virgins. Vonnegut's opinion that all religions are lies created by men to give life meaning is displayed by the religion of "Scientology." "Scientology" was created by L. Ron Hubbard in 1952 and is practiced by actor Tom Cruise The song supplies an opposing viewpoint, disregarding the destructive capability of the atom bomb by claiming that people should be more worried about when Christ returns. The song's message could be interpreted as "religion is more important than science."

However, the comparison of Jesus to an atom bomb could also be interpreted as a shot at religion and its potential to be as destructive as science Opposing Viewpoint Literature Parallels to other Texts Frankenstein: In both stories, scientists are portrayed as people who search for truth and are lead to create dangerous inventions. The Creature and Ice-Nine are both created through experimentation, and through the ignorant nature of humans, both unintentionally cause mass destruction. Poisonwood Bible: Throughout Poisonwood Bible, followers of Christianity, (in its form adapted by Western Society) are portrayed as culturally arrogant. A few of the characters, such as Brother Fowles and Adah, realize that there is no point in following a religion that could be made of lies. Kingsolver implies that these convert to Pantheism, the worship of nature. A more pure, unchanged type of faith. "The first sentence in The Books of Bokonon is: 'All of the true things I am about to tell you are shameless lies'" (5). This embodies the nature of Cat's Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut's ridiculous collage of satire and black humor. Vonnegut, like the fictional holy man Bokonon, spins a tale of his ideals and convictions sarcastically, by stating the obvious opposite to the truth. The novel begins with John, a man journeying away from his primary occupation of writing a "Christian book" about the first Atomic bomb, and ends at his death, at the end of the world. Every amusing stumble and revelation that occurs between opens a new door for Vonnegut, behind which is an established institution he is eager to invite the world to criticize. Vonnegut's purpose in writing Cat's Cradle was not to romanticize or fictionalize the events surrounding the bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, but instead was to use those events to shamelessly ridicule the world's flawed religious, political, and scientific institutions.
Religion, as a collective philosophical institution, is one of the primary targets in Vonnegut's sarcastic crosshairs. Vonnegut invents the brazenly nonsensical cult of Bokononism, a religion based on lies which urges its practitioners to be blissfully happy, accepting misfortune as fate. John, the protagonist, has recently discovered the joys of Bokononism and, to create a sense of mystifying disorientation, Vonnegut introduces John's newfound religion amid a slew of ridiculous terms and rationalized definitions, intended, surely, to prompt the reader to dismiss this overly complex, convoluted religious concept: "[This discussion] brings me to the Bokononist concept of a wampeter. A wampeter is the pivot of a karass. No karass is without a wampeter, Bokonon tells us, just as no wheel is without a hub" (52). Though John's righteous religious message grows tedious and befuddling, there are notes in its delivery which ring true - not with John's design of enlightenment, but with Vonnegut's biting interpretation of the evangelical religious zealot. Haven't we all met someone who, recently making a discovery, was so long-winded in sharing it that nobody cared to listen? This is Vonnegut's point: that religion is tired, overly complex, and much too elaborate to have anything to do with life's true purpose. He asserts, through John's annoying born-again diatribe, that religion has been reduced to nothing more than a social diversion, a hobby, a mild fascination. Religions are so varied and loosely defined that nowadays everyone can be a messiah, even if nobody will commit to their worship. Possibly the most interesting and perplexing convention devised by Vonnegut in his satirical war against weightless religious conviction is the Bokononist concept of the 'granfalloon.' A granfalloon is a perceived link between people that doesn't really exist. As John uses it, a granfalloon is when people who own the same car or graduated the same academy assume that they are linked, though their lives have never intersected (91-92). However, the concept of the granfalloon enjoys a double significance, as Vonnegut expects the reader to reason that the concept, when applied to any religion, even Bokononism, destroys the institution to its core. To claim "I am a Christian," or to suggest, "We have a lot in common because we are both Jewish," is, according to Vonnegut's concept of the granfalloon, as ludicrous as hinting that all left-handed people are subconsciously linked, or that clinging to a specific ideology, like Christianity, makes you instantly part of a special community. While some may argue that religions and ideologies are truly globally unifying factors, it is hard to accept that all people who claim to be Christian are really focused on the same goals. This, according to Bokononism, means that Christians are a group lacking a common wampeter, which means that they do not compose a true karass, but instead comprise a hollow granfalloon.

Vonnegut pokes fun at prophets and makes the faithful look foolish, but his sarcasm does not stop before a parody of politics. Vonnegut makes a joke of heroism and a farce of all military and political enterprises. Though the book initially centers on the science and bureaucracy surrounding the Atomic bomb, the true meat of the satire lies on the tiny island of San Lorenzo, where Vonnegut's primary military jab lies in The Day of the Hundred Martyrs to Democracy, San Lorenzo's "greatest national holiday." John arrives on San Lorenzo one day before the holiday, and, knowing only that it commemorates something honorable during WWII, inquires about the martyrs:

I asked the driver who the Hundred Martyrs to Democracy had been... [He] told me that San Lorenzo had declared war on Germany and Japan an hour after Pearl Harbor was attacked. San Lorenzo conscripted a hundred men to fight on the side of democracy. These hundred men were put on a ship bound for the United States, where they were to be armed and trained. The ship was sunk by a German submarine right outside of Bolivar harbor (149).

Vonnegut masters the art of dark comedy and unlikely hilarity with this anecdote alone. The "greatest national holiday" of San Lorenzo commemorates a startling and depressing military defeat, and the horribly hilarious part is that San Lorenzo's great contribution to the war for democracy was one hundred untrained, unarmed, conscripted soldiers. It's all at once hilarious and horrible, but it serves Vonnegut's purpose, which is to satirize the military by pointing out the futility and inevitable wastefulness of military effort. The emotionally devastating part, crafted expertly by Vonnegut, is the enraptured hope with which the citizens of San Lorenzo view this fateful day. They innocently celebrate what amounts to no more than a massacre, suggesting that all militarily involved nations are naïve to turn an amorous eye to their mistakes. San Lorenzo has other weaknesses which Vonnegut jumps to exploit, specifically its unstable political environment. Every citizen of San Lorenzo is a devout practitioner of Bokononism, and it is against the teachings of Bokonon to desire to rise above your position in society. This is a wonderful ideal, but when the president of San Lorenzo dies, nobody wants to take the job because of Bokononism, and so John, a newcomer to the island, is offered the post: "Come on. Be President of San Lorenzo. You'd be real good at it, with your personality. Please?" (201). Vonnegut uses the situation not to mock the failing political climate of San Lorenzo, but to comment on the nature of political corruption. In a society where nobody is greedy and nobody is corrupt, like San Lorenzo, nobody wants to be a politician, even if doing so means that they'll be wealthy and powerful. In this ideologically perfect society, there is no desire to dominate other people, and future leaders must be cajoled and tempted into their posts. The contemporary and satirical significance of this conviction is that all politicians desire to be wealthy and powerful, and that their government positions are simply masks for their need to control and dominate other people.

Vonnegut deals plenty of blows to organized government, but he also satirizes one of the modern military's favorite tools: science. Vonnegut makes a playful cartoon of Dr. Hoenikker, the 'father' of the Atomic bomb. While John is researching his book on the Bomb, he corresponds with Newt, Hoenikker's youngest son. Newt remembers the events leading up to the bomb's invention, and shares an anecdote about his father's short attention span and absent-mindedness:

I remember one morning when the oil burner had quit, the pipes were frozen, and the car wouldn't start. We all sat there... while [my sister] Angela kept pushing the starter until the battery was dead. And then father spoke up.... He said, "I wonder about turtles." "What do you wonder about turtles?" Angela asked him. "When they pull their heads in, do their spines buckle, or contract?" After the turtle incident, father got so interested in turtles that he stopped working on the bomb. Some people from the Manhattan project finally came out to the house to ask Angela what to do. She told them to take away Father's turtles... [He] never said a word about the disappearance of the turtles. He just came to work the next day and looked for things to play with... and everything there was to play with... had something to do with the bomb (16). Shameless Lies Literary Criticism by an anonymous source Main Points Quotes I Thought Were Special To find tranquility in life, one must first accept misfortune as fate, and use his/her believes to accept this misfortune on a spiritual level.
Accepting that a religion is formed of lies (Bokonon) but still practicing it is a way to comfort one's self and others.
Vonnegut's satire not only extends to the military, but to countries as a whole and their ignorance toward the results of their actions. "Vonnegut's purpose in writing Cat's Cradle was not to romanticize or fictionalize the events surrounding the bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, but instead was to use those events to shamelessly ridicule the world's flawed religious, political, and scientific institutions."

"We place our lives in the hands of childish men like Hoenikker on a daily basis. Science has dangerous potential when not treated with the utmost respect, and when used frivolously, to keep marines out of mud, for instance, it can have devastating repercussions. Further Analysis Art By Paul Kuczynski New Meaning "Vonnegut shows that intellect harbors the temptation to rule over life, death, and nature" (Bookrags.com) Science is the pursuit of knowledge and truth, while religion is a devotion to a set of lies. Keeping an equal balance of these truths and lies can prevent one from succumbing to greed and a hunger for power. Revised Theme Statement The Cat's Cradle "No damn cat, no damn cradle."

Vonnegut uses a simple game played by children to explain some of the main institutions in the world today: war, science, religion. If we look below the surface, we can see they are just as much of a cat's cradle than a bunch of X's between somebody's hands.
The cat's cradle can be undone within a second. Just as the combination of all these institutions can lead to the end of the world, as Ice-Nine did in the story.
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