Cat's Cradle Satirical Analysis

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Kurt Vonnegut’s satirical novel, Cat’s Cradle is laced with ‘dangerous jokes’ and dark humour. Vonnegut uses satire as a medium to criticise the idiocies and shortcomings of the contemporary world. Set on the fictional island of San Lorenzo, the novel satirises everything from religion to law to science to technology to nuclear proliferation and the Cold War. The novel’s use of satire endeavours to amend vices the author sees in the world, vices especially relevant to the period during which he was writing, when the United States and the Soviet Union were engaged in a heated arms race and many Americans were beginning to protest the Vietnam War. Underlying the dark humour of the novel are ‘dangerous jokes’ that form the basis of the novel,…show more content…
The novel represents science as a practice of ascertaining truth, while it symbolises religion as a form of establishing lies. The notion of religion is satirised as a shortcoming of the modern world. In spite of this negative portrayal of religion, the novel’s most austere criticisms are reserved for science and its goal of pursuing and realising truth. Vonnegut challenges the perception that truth is naturally desirable and good, seeing it as an inescapable belief in modern day society. Moreover, he describes a realistic world in which truth is used for materialistic gain without concern for the lasting repercussions those truths will have on humanity. The dichotomy between religion and science is epitomised by the contrasting worlds of Ilium and San Lorenzo. Each world is the product of a separate intellectual system, with Ilium representing science and truth, while San Lorenzo represents a society based on a non-existent religion and lies. With the opening epigraph of Cat’s Cradle - ‘Nothing in this book is true’, an excerpt from the book embedded in the novel called “The Book of Bokonon” – the author breaks the tradition of representing reality in fiction. The non-existent religious text the novel often quotes, announces its own status as an artifice before the narrative starts. The opening quote is of particular significance as it is an example of burlesque, challenging the idea of truth being…show more content…
From the onset, the novel examines the disillusionment of society by ineffective institutions, the nuclear arms race, and the Vietnam War. Vonnegut strengthens his idea of hatred towards war by employing negation in, “No wonder kids grow up crazy. A cat's cradle is nothing but a bunch of X's between somebody's hands, and little kids look and look and look at all those X's …. [And] No damn cat, and no damn cradle.” This highlights the lack of control an individual has over their destiny and the nihilistic view of society at the time, with many people disillusioned by the threat of nuclear war. Likewise, the paradox of the novel is evident in the opening paragraph when the narrator states “All of the true things I am about to tell you are shameless lies”. The enigmatic nature of the novel highlights the futility of society and raises questions on what the true meaning of life is. Furthermore, this futile view of life in the novel is accentuated when Julian Castle says to his son Philip, “Son … someday, this will all be yours” as they stand before a room containing piles of dead bodies. Vonnegut conveys his ideas of life having no intrinsic meaning or value and that is meaningless and absurd by existential and nihilistic perspectives. Kurt Vonnegut embodies nihilism in “What can a thoughtful man hope for mankind on Earth, given the experience of the
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