Monday, November 3, 2008

Cat's Cradle

"This is the way the world ends; not with a bang, but a whimper." -T. S. Eliot

A) The Pursuit of Happiness:

In Vonnegut's satirical novel Cat's Cradle, the small island nation of San Lorenzo becomes the contrast to Ilium, New York. San Lorenzo, an experimental utopia on a small caribbean island, becomes the reciporical for Ilium, the industrialized focal point of science and technology. However, while both may revolve around different ideals, inhabitants of both of these places are constantly in the pursuit of happiness. While Ilium revolves around the illustrious scientific genius, Dr. Felix Hoenikker, San Lorenzo revolves around the enigmatic Bokonon, the founder of the religion of Bokononism. Bokononism is founded on the on principles that appeal to human nature. For example, Bokononism is deemed illegal on San Lorenzo, therefore it appeals to the human psyche of reverse psychology. The first sentence of the book of Bokonon reads, "All of the true things I am about to tell you are shameless lies." This even further compounds the integration of the pursuit of happiness in this religion. While in other major religions, major components of the faith are often questioned, in Bokononism it is already spoken outright that this religion will not provide all of the answers, which ironically, is the answer many people seek to find.
The characterization in the novel helps lend further credence to the theme of the oursuit of happiness. A prime example of this is found in the children of Dr. Felix Hoenikker. The Hoenikker children, Newt, Angela, and Frank, who seem fairly harmless at first, simply want to be happy. However, their seemingly innocent attempts to gain an impossible happiness leads to the destruction of life on earth. Newt's futile quest for love from someone who shares the same disabilities as him leads to the Soviet Union acquiring a piece of the destructive Ice-Nine. Angela uses her Ice-Nine as a means to find her own love as well. Frank, however, who resembles his father the most, uses his Ice-Nine to gain power over San Lorenzo. However, when "Papa" Monzano passes, even Frank realizes he doesn't want this seat of power and simply wants to be happy; and so he relegates the power over to John, who is himself a sort of wayward magazine journalist that has also arrived at San Lorenzo for happiness. In this way, the Hoenikker children come to represent the people of the world searching for happiness. This search for happiness is viewed by some as perhaps the most universal of human endeavors and a noble goal. However, Vonnegut portrays this very humanistic effort as being neither as simple, or as moral, as it is generally perceived to be. Ultimately, this pursuit of happiness and lack of mature responsibility culminates in San Lorenzo and brings about the end of the world.

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B) "Ice-Nine was the last gift Felix Hoenikker created for mankind before going to his just reward. He did it without realizing what he was doing. He did it without leaving records of what he'd done......Dr. Hoenikker had only to go calling on Laboratory neighbors--borrowing this and that, making a winsome neighborhood nuisance of himself--until, so to speak, he had baked his last batch of brownies." (Vonnegut Chapter 23)

This entire quote focuses on the true danger that belies something that is seemingly innocent. Dr. Hoenikker was a peculiar sort of person. A true savant, Dr. Hoenikker can only focus on one project at a time, which leads, overall, to the destructive power of his concentrated thought. While Dr. Hoenikker was a childish man who couldn't even look after his own kids, he was in the meantime a Nobel prize winner and father of the atom bomb and Ice-Nine. The utter destructive power contained inside such a tiny crystal shows the dark face of science. This entire quote is satirical in nature, as it is a major understatement of Dr. Hoenikker's invention. Comparing something exponentially more dangerous than the atom bomb with a "batch of brownies" displays just how ridiculously dangerous the entire situation is. Vonnegut stresses the theme of power throughout his entire novel. Overall, every character in the novel is given power by the Ice-nine they have, yet are definitely unsuited for the destructive power it holds. This entire novel portrays how a dangerous weapon, if fallen in the wrong hands, can lead to misuse and ultimately the destruction of mankind altogether.

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C) As a previous reader of Player Piano and Slaughterhouse-5, I had very high expectations for Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle. As the master of satire, I often enjoy his realistic yet, subtle approach to his literary motifs. Instead of writing a novel where he preaches on "the soapbox", Vonnegut delivers a clever situation laced with irony and connotation. I found this entire novel a pleasure to read and overall, a very well-thought-out practical novel. The entire chapter setup Vonnegut gives in this book makes it seem more easy to read, and yet informative as well. Many of the short chapter titles actually contain significance to major themes of the novel. Overall, I found Vonnegut's characterization, plot, and flow of the novel as up to par with his other literary masterpieces with a somewhat more tasteful and certainly more censored storyline. If I had to rate this novel, I would definitely rate this a 5/5 for a satire novel. Vonnegut's timeless presentation has earned him a mark of fame in the literary community and that aspect of his writing certainly shines in this novel.

Whoops, sorry........wrong Armageddon

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