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4/20/11 9:28 PM

Postmodernist Features in Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle
Autor: vonnegutcorner <>, Téma: Essay Collection, Vydáno dne: 31. 01. 2006

A paper describing postmodernist features in Vonnegut's Novel Cat's Cradle.

Postmodernist features in Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle
Eliska Plackova, 2002
Cat's Cradle is a book, which enables many points for literary discussions. One possible topic of them could be the postmodernist features in this book. In this examination Ihab Hassan's essay "Toward a Concept of Postmodernism" was used as a source of secondary literature for defining of postmodernist features. The most visible and prevalent features are postmodernist metonymy, treatment of the character, dynamic tension, anarchy and a postmodernist look at religion as a whole. To put Vonnegut's Cradle into a definite time span, let me start with a bit of personal data about the author. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. was born on November 11, 1922 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Although from a wealthy family, the Depression caused a rapid lost of their fortune. After having no success with his study of science, Vonnegut found pleasure in writing. Poor academic performance made him leave the university and join the U.S. Army. It is hard to state for sure, if his inspiration for writing laid mostly in his genetically inherited poetical cells or in his life experience. When we look at his father's occupation, we find nothing striking that would have something in common with writing. His father was an architect. So let's have a look at his mother. She had a long history of mental instability and consequently committed a suicide. As well known, in each talented writer is a piece of insanity. After taking into account Vonnegut's science fiction themes, we can lead discussions about this connection to his mother's sanity. Some inherited features can be seen, if we take into consideration, that in 1984 Vonnegut attempted to commit suicide as well, for which he blamed his mother's example. Vonnegut's war experience left clear marks on his writing and in the book Cat's Cradle as well. As a direct witness of the bombing of Dresden, Vonnegut was left with unforgettable memories. The scene of senseless misery and mass destruction at Dresden played an important role in forming Vonnegut's intellect and pacifist views. Just as Petr Zelenka in his book about Vonnegut's new religion says: "Vonnegut, as a fantastic moralist, cynical pacifist, holy atheist, anti-intellectual philosopher, a pocalyptic futurist and bitter humorist, covered all these paradoxes of our time." After studying anthropology, Vonnegut worked for General Electric and was forced to continue writing short stories in order to make living for his family. Because of the low wages there, Vonnegut found a job as a teacher of English in Rhode Island, where he wrote many of his short novels. Vonnegut became a science fiction writer, although not very pleased by this label. As the author himself says, his novels were directed for the people who like to spend long evenings with a pleasing novel or short story. The novels were for the people of such times, when there were no TV, movies or radio. They were for the people, who were relaxing with a magazine in their hand.(HN Víkend) The best description of America at that time is to be found in Lundguist's book Kurt Vonnegut, where he quotes Vonnegut's words: America was an idealistic, pacifistic nation at the time. I was taught in the sixth grade to be proud that we had a standing army of just over a hundred thousand men and that generals had nothing to say about what was done in Washington. I was taught to be proud of that and to pity Europe for having more than a million men under arms and spending all their money on airplanes and tanks. I simply never unlearned junior civics. I still believe in it. I got a very good grade (Lundquist 2-3). In an essay by McDowell we even find a very interesting comparison of Vonnegut's writing and Hitchcock. "
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John. John becomes involved with these people and learns about Felix's latest invention . This can be compared to director Alfred Hitchcock's practice of self cameos on screen. Postmodernist features can be found through out the whole novel. The second title of the book. his ch ildren divided this ice-nine among themselves and each of them used it in a quite peculiar way. But let's focus on the book Cat's Cradle itself. The main narrator of the book differs from his modernist predecessors and regular heroes already in his name and treatment of his character. middle daughter and the youngest child is a boy. stories. midget son of Felix Hoenikker. believed her father was an unappreciated saint. a writer. the youngest. Mom. when he was twenty-two years old and in many of his novels the character of the mother is dead. in each of his novels there is at least one character from his native region. "The Day the World Ended" can attract the reader immediately. which he calls "The Day the World Ended. Nazis. when he plays Cat's Cradle on the day that his invention is used." It is true. which Felix was playing that morning. Newt writes letters to John and tells him about his brother Frank and sister Angela.eu/rservice. it refers also to the Melville's Moby Dick. John's work takes him to the republic of San Lorenzo. John's research takes him closer and closer to this invention. The whole family is very strange. Another parallel can be seen in connection with Vonnegut's mother. Royalists. Ice-nine can turn water to ice.php?akce=tisk&cisloclanku=2006013108 Page 2 of 5 . Communists. a six-foot tall unattractive woman. and their compositions express the postmodernist metonymy. who? gets swallowed by the whale. Their succession and titles are rather unusual for a novel. and Draft Dodgers?" The factual metonymy can be seen in the Cat's Cradle as well.icenine. open) Chance Exhaustion/silence Participation Antithesis Dispersal Rhetoric Parataxis Combination Against Interpretation Signifier Desire Polymorphous Difference-Differance/Trace Irony Immanence Individual chapters.kurtvonnegutcorner. The name Jonah does not have only biblical connotations though. The Cat's Cradle was a string game. This book was written in 1963. essays. which is. No Pain. rather than a whale-hunting Ishmael. The first sentence of the book tells us: "Call me Jonah. Parachutists. that we can find some parallels between Vonnegut's books and his life. more! 4/20/11 9:28 PM In fact. Peter Reed in his book about Vonnegut writes about this point: "It is characteristic that Vonnegut's speaker should be a Jonah. His mother committed suicide." (7) This name could be easily connected with the biblical Jonah. The Hoenikker family of the novel. the day when his father went to play with him and scared him with his ugly face. who was swallowed by a giant whale on the way to Ninive. The book Cat's Cradle is no exception. After Felix's death. Hoenikker himself connects both . where the whole story finds its climax. just the same as in Vonnegut's own family. Frank loved to play with bugs and ants. consists of an elder son." He decides to write about Felix Hoenikker..Kurt Vonnegut bio. From his early youth. one of the creators of the atomic bomb and his family on the day when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Newt is a midget. Chapters are short and with describing titles such as: "A Nice Midget. John gets in touch with Newt Hoenikker. Ihab Hassan in his essay Toward a Concept of Postmodernism defines Postmodernism as: * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Paraphysics/Dadaism Play Anarchy Performance/Happening Decreation/Deconstruction Absence Text/Intertext Syntagm Metonymy Rhizome/Surface Misreading Idiolect Mutant Schizophrenia The Holy Ghost Indeterminacy * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Antiform (disjunctive. In his research. is the fictional author of a book. and Angela.K. The complicated structure of the Cat's Cradle in the form of string parallels the structure of the atom bomb. Newt also describes the day when the bomb was dropped. O." This opinion is http://www.

jungle and religion.ism itself refers to the thesis. Why "Cat's in the Cradle"? The cat can be found in the Cradle only when children play with the cat and put it there. The postmodernist dynamic tension is represented by visible symbolism throughout the work. a bubble pipe. Because without "Papa's" badness. Bokononism contains the postmodernist misreading. He likes painting. is actually a game as well.Kurt Vonnegut bio. if you would. The ending . communism. On the contrary.eu/rservice. or a fi sh bowl. So I stay like a baby To this very day. He never played with his children. The title of the book brings us to an even closer look at the matter. just like Jonah by the whale in the biblical story. How could wicked old Bokonon Ever. (Book of Bokonon) When talking about Bokonon. just a children's game. There are no shocking visions described in connection to this day. whose name was corrupted by the island dialect. Ice-nine." Here we can see Vonnegut's opinion about religion. anarchy (in terms of its chaotic drawings) and deconstruction. essays. "Truth was the enemy of the people. Even the first verse in the Book of Bokonons says: "All of the true things that I am to tell you are shameless lies.kurtvonnegutcorner. he's so very bad But without bad "Papa" I would be so sad. (capitalism. John writes about this dialect: "The dialect of San Lorenzo is both easy to understand and difficult to write down. The Cat's Cradle is a game with a loop of string. stories. Science and technology in the palace at San Lorenzo are opposed to Bokonon. It is filled with things such as a kite with a broken spine. views. Tell me. the whole Bokononism is a kind of postmodernist religion. Even Hoenikker's lab looks like a child's room. it is again just a children's game applied to the world's destiny. that Jonah from Cat's Cradle was not hunting any whale. socialism?) and that is: that only their -ism is the right one for the world. When they pull in their heads." The http://www. so Bokonon made it his business to provide the people with better and better lies. Here we see the inclination towards play. He plays with it in his kitchen and cooks it in a pan. that people always look for something to what they can believe. almost never spoke to them. he readily accepted this religion and in the end was completely swallowed by these "harmful lies"." (71) Bokonon's poems are like children's rhymes. which eases the atmosphere of that day. when we take into consideration. which resembled children's questions like: "I wonder about turtles. do their spines buckle or contract?" (15) Hoenikker's second invention. The Bible say. Felix Hoenikker. The role of this Ice-nine is the same as inventions in books of Jules Verne or Karel Čapek. more! 4/20/11 9:28 PM understandable. all of these write about some invention. which destroys the world. which could be represented by Bokononism. which all these -isms claim. He tells us. The rebirth of Bokonon is described in rhymes as well: "Be like a baby. The playfulness is clear from the title of the book. the "father" of the atom bomb and father of the three children played this game on the day when the atom bomb was dropped. The Cat's Cradle was actually one of the figures made with the string. even though his paintings resemble children's doodles rather than real paintings. Bokonon in one of his Calypsos says about this dynamic tension: "Papa" Monzano. Just as the opposites of good and evil. because the truth was so terrible. combination and anarchy at once. Even the dialect at San Lorenzo is like a child's speech. there is the ability of toleration because the "absolute sense does not exist". but he played on this fatal day. The typical role of a scientist is switched here. The founder of Bokononism was Lionel Boyd Johnson. This eccentric scientist was always absorbed in thoughts. ever look good?" Postmodernism does not prefer any pole of this tension." (70) The different postmodernist points of view are seen on the presentation of Newt's painting.php?akce=tisk&cisloclanku=2006013108 Page 3 of 5 . So as we can see. Satan and Saint. It acknowledges the variety of counterparts.

In the Seventh Book." (Zelenka. we can get some overall idea of it though." (3) An open critique of the Catholic Church is included in one of the Calypsos as well: On the Natives of San Lorenzo: Oh. more! 4/20/11 9:28 PM religion just covers the horrible truths out there. 89) Even Felix Hoenikker was described as person so innocent. unless laughter can be said to remedy anything. History! Read it and weep!" And another harmless attack on religion "Of course it's trash!" But the book is also full of "frail human beings. which is a short book with a long title: Title: What Can a Thoughtful Man Hope for Mankind of Earth. an innovative interpretation of a new look at the way of our living. which http://www. cause hundreds of thousands of deaths also. and open form of verses and intertext is intertwined throughout the whole of Cat's Cradle. They believe in their made up religion. Incorporated." The postmodernist composition of these "Books" is visible on every line. oh. which are fed with lies and like in a Christianity or other religions. riddles). The essay "Understanding Religion Through Cat's Cradle" presents further analysis of Jesus and Christianity. a chain of gas chambers. they just blindly follow it. Cat's Cradle) At the end of this analysis we can see. 6. which is about Bokonon's Republic. but this makes the satire even more powerful: Mankind continually refuses to acknowledge what may be called its terminal stupidity and therefore perpetually threatens its own existence. The Books number 1. and creates their pains. and various separate verses.kurtvonnegutcorner. yes. which for some people is just a bunch of strings. over time. Oh. As we can see. All the people are actors. For example the Fourteenth Book of Bokonon. Vonnegut states a very original opinion about God's creation: "Whoever writes about other humans. they believe in something which is not.eu/rservice. The Book of Bokonon mentioned in Cat's Cradle is not complete. that Vonnegut is an author of this postmodernist culture. a very sorry people." (Zelenka. that he was pract ically a Jesus. a chain of grocery stores. The innovation and new ideas spring from all his sayings: "Maturity is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists. stories and autobiographical sections about Bokonon are included. The postmodernist antiform. but in man himself. they don't question it. "Once the comparison is made it is surprisingly relevant in that Jesus created a religion that would. The world is according to Vonnegut based on these Bokonon's quotations: "God never wrote a good play in his life.php?akce=tisk&cisloclanku=2006013108 Page 4 of 5 ." (Synopsis. which is typical for many postmodernist books. And they had no beer. stories. After that we can write our Constitution. Given the Experience of the Past Million Years? Only verse: Nothing Complete anarchy is seen in the Bokonons verses and opinions. who are simply incapable of the moral strength and wisdom demanded of them. then the Calypsos (poems. and a nati onal game. we know too much about the world. we find again some parallel to a game: "Let us start our Republic with a chain of drug stores." Even the invention of foma. with all its disjunctiveness. Did I find here. essays.Kurt Vonnegut bio. they had no music. he tastes personally the process of God's creation and for these characters he becomes a God himself. for some a real image of a Cradle. everywhere Where they tried to perch Belonged to Castle Sugar. 87) This a postmodernist feature. The main faith is not based in some religion. and 14 are mentioned. loves. anarchic view of religion and history as well. &. the whole book is full of a very distinctive humor. And. Bokononism is like a play. The crisis of Christianity (religion) is according to Vonnegut: "The adults can not regard themselves as God's little sheep anymore. which are lies. harmless untruths or as in the online Dictionary of Terms from the Books of Bokonon called "a useful and harmless sort of horseshit" are a kind of new religion. Or the Catholic church. Like Cat's Cradle." In another interview he says: "We can not believe in Christianity anymore. sorrows and passions.

natl. Cat's Cradle. He'll just smile and nod. Peter. which we need. to give our lives some meaning.html 16.2002 ("A life worth living" essay by Nick McDowell) www.2002 (The Books of Bokonon) http://www.geocities. 2001.eduhi.2002 ("Understanding Religion Through Cat's Cradle" essay by Liana Price) http://home. Vonnegut's partly autobiographic book Cat's Cradle is full of playfulness.html 16.3.November.cs.com/Hollywood/4953/kv_life.2002 (Vonnegut´s life) http://www.php?akce=tisk&cisloclanku=2006013108 Page 5 of 5 .html 16. Zelenka.kurtvonnegutcorner.edu/~crh4/vonnegut/catscradle/cats_magill. someday. TISK http://www. which finds pleasure in parody on humans' stupidity. Reed.com/lit/catscradle 25.1982. Vonnegut. and human history: Someday. 1972. we might come to the conclusion.duke.3. J." HN Víkend 2. Kurt. Zelenka. London: Penguin Books.3." The Disemberment of Orpheus: Towards a Postmodern Literature. Nové náboženství Kurta Vonneguta. 1965. on that sad day.htm 16. 1992.at/user/tw/vonnegut/vnetlnk. Kurt Vonnegut. Petr.Kurt Vonnegut bio.uni. And if.11. that Bokonon himself best expresses the possibility of our own destruction.com/Hollywood/4953/kv_religion.edu/%7Ewallingf/personal/bokonon. He addresses the generation. All this he masterly manages with his superb humor and inventive style.: 21. this crazy world will have to end. After thorough consideration.2001 (Vonnegut´s life) "Když povídka byla králem. essays.eu/rservice. s triking oppositions and metonymical comparisons. "Toward a Concept of Postmodernism. more! 4/20/11 9:28 PM embraces to all problems of our society.2002 (Synopsis: Cat´s Cradle) http://www. you want to scold our God.3. Why just go ahead and scold Him. Bibliography: Hasan. stories.3.geocities.html 16. And our God will take things back that He to us did lend. On a presentation of made up religion he shows human stupidity and blind faith. blind belief. Ihab. which we need for our lives. that many of the themes are not optimistic about human fate at all.sparknotes. Princeton. Jinoèany: H&H. http://www. despite the fact. Petr. our deepest convictions and beliefs. New York: Warner Books.ed.