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A Novel

Written by Kurt VonnegutAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Kurt Vonnegut

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On Sale: November 04, 2009
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-307-56727-7
Published by : Dial Press Trade Paperback Random House Group
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Cat’s Cradle is Kurt Vonnegut’s satirical commentary on modern man and his madness. An apocalyptic tale of this planet’s ultimate fate, it features a midget as the protagonist, a complete, original theology created by a calypso singer, and a vision of the future that is at once blackly fatalistic and hilariously funny. A book that left an indelible mark on an entire generation of readers, Cat’s Cradle is one of the twentieth century’s most important works—and Vonnegut at his very best.
 


From the Trade Paperback edition.

Excerpt

Chapter One

The Day the World Ended


Call me Jonah. My parents did, or nearly did. They called me John.

Jonah--John--if I had been a Sam, I would have been Jonah still--not because I have been unlucky for others, but because somebody or something has compelled me to be certain places at certain times, without fail. Conveyances and motives, both conventional and bizarre, have been provided. And, according to plan, at each appointed second, at each appointed place this Jonah was there.

Listen:

When I was a younger man--two wives ago, 250,000 cigarettes ago, 3,000 quarts of booze ago . . .

When I was a much younger man, I began to collect material for a book to be called The Day the World Ended.

The book was to be factual.

The book was to be an account of what important Americans had done on the day when the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.

It was to be a Christian book. I was a Christian then.

I am a Bokononist now.

I would have been a Bokononist then, if there had been anyone to teach me the bittersweet lies of Bokonon. But Bokononism was unknown beyond the gravel beaches and coral knives that ring this little island in the Caribbean Sea, the Republic of San Lorenzo.

We Bokononists believe that humanity is organized into teams, teams that do God's Will without ever discovering what they are doing. Such a team is called a karass by Bokonon, and the instrument, the kan-kan, that bought me into my own particular karass was the book I never finished, the book to be called The Day the World Ended.

Chapter Two



Nice, Nice, Very Nice

"If you find your life tangled up with somebody else's life for no very logical reasons," writes Bokonon, "that person may be a member of your karass."

At another point in The Books of Bokonon he tells us, "Man created the checkerboard; God created the karass." By that he means that a karass ignores national, institutional, occupational, familial, and class boundaries.

It is as free-form as an amoeba.

In his "Fifty-third Calypso," Bokonon invites us to sing along with him:

Oh, a sleeping drunkard
Up in Central Park,
And a lion-hunter
In the jungle dark,
And a Chinese dentist,
And a British queen--
All fit together
In the same machine.
Nice, nice, very nice;
Nice, nice, very nice;
Nice, nice very nice--
So many different people
In the same device.

Chapter Three



Folly

Nowhere does Bokonon warn against a person's trying to discover the limits of his karass and the nature of the work God Almighty has had it do. Bokonon simply observes that such investigations are bound to be incomplete.

In the autobiographical section of The Books of Bokonon he writes a parable on the folly of pretending to discover, to understand:

I once knew an Episcopalian lady in Newport, Rhode Island, who asked me to design and build a doghouse for her Great Dane. The lady claimed to understand God and His Ways of Working perfectly. She could not understand why anyone should be puzzled about what had been or about what was going to be.

And yet, when I showed her a blueprint of the doghouse I proposed to build, she said to me, "I'm sorry, but I never could read one of those things."

"Give it to your husband or your ministers to pass on to God," I said, "and, when God finds a minute, I'm sure he'll explain this doghouse of mine in a way that even you can understand."

She fired me. I shall never forget her. She believed that God liked people in sailboats much better than He liked people in motorboats. She could not bear to look at a worm. When she saw a worm, she screamed.

She was a fool, and so am I, and so is anyone who thinks he sees what God is Doing, [writes Bokonon].

Chapter Four



A Tentative Tangling

Of Tendrils

Be that as it may, I intend in this book to include as many members of my karass as possible, and I mean to examine all strong hints as to what on Earth we, collectively, have been up to.

I do not intend that this book be a tract on behalf of Bokononism. I should like to offer a Bokononist warning about it, however. The first sentence in The Books of Bokonon is this:

"All of the true things I am about to tell you are shameless lies."

My Bokononist warning in this:

Anyone unable to understand how a useful religion can be founded on lies will not understand this book either.

So be it.

. . .

About my karass, then.

It surely includes the three children of Dr. Felix Hoenikker, one of the so-called "Fathers" of the first atomic bomb. Dr. Hoenikker himself was no doubt a member of my karass, though he was dead before my sinookas, the tendrils of my life, began to tangle with those of his children.

The first of his heirs to be touched by my sinookas was Newton Hoenikker, the youngest of his three children, the younger of his two sons. I learned from the publication of my fraternity, The Delta Upsilon Quarterly, that Newton Hoenikker, son of the Noel Prize physicist, Felix Hoenikker, had been pledged by my chapter, the Cornell Chapter.

So I wrote this letter to Newt:

"Dear Mr. Hoenikker:

"Or should I say, Dear Brother Hoenikker?

"I am a Cornell DU now making my living as a free-lance writer. I am gathering material for a book relating to the first atomic bomb. Its contents will be limited to events that took place on August 6, 1945, the day the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.

"Since your late father is generally recognized as having been one of the chief creators of the bomb, I would very much appreciate any anecdotes you might care to give me of life in your father's house on the day the bomb was dropped.

"I am sorry to say that I don't know as much about your illustrious family as I should, and so don't know whether you have brothers and sisters. If you do have brothers and sisters, I should like very much to have their addresses so that I can send similar requests to them.

"I realize that you were very young when the bomb was dropped, which is all to the good, My book is going to emphasize the human rather than the technical side of the bomb, so recollections of the day through the eyes of a 'baby, if you'll pardon the expression, would fit in perfectly.

"You don't have to worry about style and form. Leave all that to me. Just give me the bare bones of your story.

"I will, of course, submit the final version to you for your approval prior to publication.

"Fraternally yours--"

Chapter Five


Letter from

a pre med

To which Newt replied:

"I am sorry to be so long about answering your letter. That sounds like a very interesting book you are doing. I was so young when the bomb was dropped that I don't think I'm going to be much help. You should really ask my brother and sister, who are both older than I am. My sister is Mrs. Harrison C. Conners, 4918 North Meridian Street, Indianapolis, Indiana. That is my home address, too, now. I think she will be glad to help you. Nobody knows where my brother Frank is. He disappeared right after Father's funeral two years ago, and nobody has heard from him since. For all we know, he may be dead now.

"I was only six years old when they dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, so anything I remember about that day other people have helped me to remember.

"I remember I was playing on the living-room carpet outside my father's study door in Ilium, New York. The door was open, and I could see my father. He was wearing pajamas and a bathrobe. He was smoking a cigar. He was playing with a loop of string. Father was staying home from the laboratory in his pajamas all day that day. He stayed home whenever he wanted to.

"Father, as you probably know, spent practically his whole professional life working for the Research Laboratory of the General Forge and Foundry Company in Ilium. When the Manhattan Project came along, the bomb project, Father wouldn't leave Ilium to work on it. He said he wouldn't work on it at all unless they let him work where he wanted to work. A lot of the time that meant at home. The only place he liked to go, outside of Ilium, was our cottage on Cape Cod. Cape Cod was where he died. He died on a Christmas Eve. You probably know that, too.

"Anyway, I was playing on the carpet outside his study on the day of the bomb. My sister Angela tells me I used to play with little toy trucks for hours, making motor sounds, going 'burton, burton, burton' all the time. So I guess I was going 'burton, burton, burton' on the day of the bomb; and Father was in his study, playing with a loop of string.

"It so happens I know where the string he was playing with came from. Maybe you can use it somewhere in your book. Father took the string from around the manuscript of a novel that a man in prison had sent him. The novel was about the end of the world in the year 2000, and the name of the book was 2000 A.D. It told about how mad scientists made a terrific bomb that wiped out the whole world. There was a big sex orgy when everybody knew that the world was going to end, and then Jesus Christ Himself appeared ten seconds before the bomb went off. The name of the author was Marvin Sharpe Holderness, and he told Father in a covering letter the he was in prison for killing his own brother. He sent the manuscript to Father because he couldn't figure out what kind of explosives to put in the bomb. He thought maybe Father could make suggestions.

"I don't mean to tell you I read the book when I was six. We had it around the house for years. My brother Frank made it his personal property, on account of the dirty parts. Frank kept it hidden in what he called his 'wall safe' in his bedroom. Actually, it wasn't a safe but just an old stove flue with a tin lid. Frank and I must have read the orgy part a thousand times when we were kids. We had it for years, and then my sister Angela found it. She read it and said it was nothing but a piece of dirty rotten filth. She burned it up, and the string with it. She was a mother to Frank and me, because our real mother died when I was born.

"My father never read the book, I'm pretty sure. I don't think he ever read a novel or even a short story in his whole life, or at least not since he was a little boy. He didn't read his mail or magazines or newspapers, either. I suppose he read a lot of technical journals, but to tell you the truth, I can't remember my father reading anything.

"As I say, all he wanted from that manuscript was the string. That was the way he was. Nobody could predict what he was going to be interested in next. On the day of the bomb it was string.

"Have you ever read the speech he made when he accepted the Nobel Prize? This is the whole speech: 'Ladies and Gentlemen. I stand before you now because I never stopped dawdling like an eight-year-old on a spring morning on his way to school. Anything can make me stop and look and wonder, and sometimes learn. I am a very happy man. Thank you.'

"Anyway, Father looked at that loop of string for a while, and then his fingers started playing with it. His fingers made the string figure called a 'cat's cradle.' I don't know where Father learned how to do that. From his father, maybe. His father was a tailor, you know, so there must have been thread and string around all the time when Father was a boy.

"Making that cat's cradle was the closest I ever saw my father come to playing what anybody else would call a game. He had no use at all for tricks and games and rules that other people made up. In a scrapbook my sister Angela used to keep up, there was a clipping from Time magazine where somebody asked Father what games he played for relaxation, and he said, 'Why should I bother with made-up games when there are so many real ones going on?'

"He must have surprised himself when he made a cat's cradle out of the string, and maybe it reminded him of his own childhood. He all of a sudden came out of his study and did something he'd never done before. He tried to play with me. Not only had he never played with me before; he had hardly ever even spoken to me.

"But he went down on his knees on the carpet next to me, and he showed me his teeth, and he waved that tangle of string in my face. 'See? See? See?' he asked. 'Cat's cradle. See the cat's cradle? See where the nice pussycat sleeps? Meow. Meow.'

"His pores looked as big as craters on the moon. His ears and nostrils were stuffed with hair. Cigar smoke made him smell like the mouth of Hell. So close up, my father was the ugliest thing I had ever seen. I dream about it all the time.

"And then he sang. 'Rockabye catsy, in the tree top'; he sang, 'when the wind blows, the cray-dull will rock. If the bough breaks, the cray-dull will fall. Down will come cray-dull, catsy and all.'

"I burst into tears. I jumped up and I ran out of the house as fast as I could go.

"I have to sign off here. It's after two in the morning. My roommate just woke up and complained about the noise from the typewriter."
Kurt Vonnegut

About Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut - Cat's Cradle

Photo © Rosemary Carroll

Kurt Vonnegut was a master of contemporary American literature. His black humor, satiric voice, and incomparable imagination first captured America’s attention in The Sirens of Titan in 1959 and established him, in the words of The New York Times, as “a true artist” with the publication of Cat’s Cradle in 1963. He was, as Graham Greene declared, “one of the best living American writers.” Mr. Vonnegut passed away in April 2007.
Praise

Praise

 
“A free-wheeling vehicle . . . an unforgettable ride!”—New York Times 
 
“[Vonnegut is] an unimitative and inimitable social satirist.”—Harper’s Magazine

“Our finest black-humorist . . . We laugh in self-defense.”—Atlantic Monthly
Teachers Guide

Teacher's Guide



NOTE TO TEACHERS

Kurt Vonnegut’s death in April of 2007 will surely prompt scholars and classrooms to revisit his work. Cat’s Cradle (first published in 1963) is, perhaps, Vonnegut’s most accessible novel and, unlike some of his other publications, does not seem to draw the ire of censors and detractors (although it does contain very brief mature language). The novel, however, still clearly shows the craft for which Vonnegut is famous and provides the literary challenges that instructors desire.

Cat’s Cradle provides the irony and dark humor on which Vonnegut built his literary reputation but within a very straightforward literary construct — its plot is without the problems of time readers find in Slaughterhouse-Five. The text describes characters whose motivations are unique (a reporter, for instance, whose work leads him to a new religion and new job as dictator of an island nation) but whose presentation is easily comprehensible.

As with any Vonnegut novel, social commentary, while steeped in irony, remains explicit. This commentary will allow Cat’s Cradle to become part of a social studies curriculum that analyzes elements of Cold War America or weapons of mass destruction and their role in history or current events. Vonnegut’s book also lends itself to any class’s discussions of religion, politics, and societal values.

This text can provide challenging and appropriate study for high school students. The novel is an “easy read” that has enough critical acclaim to merit its inclusion in many classrooms. It gives students access to archetypal Vonnegut cynicism without being overly depressing.

ABOUT THIS BOOK

Cat’s Cradle gets its name from the children’s game. As Vonnegut says, “For maybe a hundred thousand years or more, grownups have been waving tangles of string in their children’s faces” to form “nothing but a bunch of X’s between somebody’s hands” (165-166). The emptiness of these X’s — “No damn cat, and no damn cradle” (166) — forms the cynical, ironic core of Vonnegut’s story. Cat’s Cradle traces the life of the narrator, John, as he discovers and interacts with his karass, Vonnegut’s term for the group of people who impact one’s life.

John, or Jonah as the narrator introduces himself, finds his karass as he seeks to write a book called “The Day the World Ended.” John tries to interview the “chief creators” (6) of the atomic bomb and discover their thoughts/actions on the day of the Hiroshima bombing (August 6, 1945). John’s discovery of Dr. Felix Hoenikker (one of the fictitious creators) and his interactions with Dr. Hoenikker’s family drive the plot of Cat’s Cradle.

John’s contacts with Hoenikker’s son Newt begin the narrator’s connections to Dr. Hoenikker’s legacy. Newt remembers the scientist making a cat’s cradle on the day of the bombing. John travels to the research laboratory of the General Forge and Foundry Company in Ilium, seeking to interview colleagues of the deceased scientist. He finds that Ilium remembers Dr. Hoenikker as both “one queer son of a bitch” (64) and a creative genius. John ultimately connects with Dr. Hoenikker’s family as he travels to the island of San Lorenzo where Franklin Hoenikker (the older brother) is “Minister of Science and Progress in the Republic of San Lorenzo” (80) and Dr. Hoenikker’s daughter, Angela, is visiting.

On San Lorenzo, the events of the book unfold as John encounters the rest of his karass but also realizes that each of the Hoenikker children has a crystal of Ice Nine, their father’s final discovery. Ice Nine freezes any water it touches and has the potential to turn Earth into an ice crystal. Vonnegut’s sense of irony takes over as John becomes the island’s new dictator just as Ice Nine is loosed on the world. Saved from initial destruction, John must live the final chapter of “The Day the World Ended.”

ABOUT THIS AUTHOR

Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007) has received both praise and blistering criticism for his work. His most famous works — Cat’s Cradle, Slaughterhouse-Five, Breakfast of Champions — have gained wide a audience and are studied often. Vonnegut’s use semi-autobiographical material sometimes leaves readers wondering about both his life and his works.

TEACHING IDEAS

Cat’s Cradle primarily provides an instrument for teaching the analysis of literature, but its social commentary, historical parallels, and apocalyptic predictions allow for diverse uses in the classroom.

Instructors often use Vonnegut’s novels to explain satire and irony; Cat’s Cradle’s pages are brimming with ironies that typify Vonnegut’s satire. The ironies of the narrator’s journey (his chance encounters, his inadvertent discoveries) lead naturally to the themes and ideas that the text satirizes — man’s greed, government’s inanity, and religion’s false hope, for example.

Vonnegut’s characters are vibrant, and his unique presentation provides a wealth of material for classroom analysis. The novel’s first-person narration is straightforward; however, since the narrator is also a reporter seeking each new character’s insight into the other characters, the characterization comes not simply from the narrator’s point of view but from the joint psyche of John’s karass. Point of view, likewise, affords another interesting avenue into an analysis of the book because John draws his narrative from the points of view of others.

The novel’s social commentary warrants classroom study. The novel touches on issues of marriage, child rearing, social activism, war, interpersonal relationships, suicide, religion and many other social issues. By creating a fictitious religion — Bokononism — and making it one of the central elements of the novel, Vonnegut forces readers to examine the parallels of this faux religion with real ones. The questions this religion seeks to answer are the same with which mainstream religions struggle.

Though Vonnegut prefaces his book by saying, “Nothing in this book is true,” Cat’s Cradle contains Vonnegut’s typical usage of semi-autobiographical elements as well as many elements that while not “true” certainly parallel or reflect historical events. At its most basic, the text will augment a study of the people and events surrounding the dropping of the atomic bombs during World War II. The work also leads naturally to discussions of historical events such as nuclear proliferation, government secret-keeping, the revolutions of Haiti, etc.

Finally, in an era of very popular apocalyptic literature, Vonnegut’s text examines two days “the world ended” and allows classes to delve into the issues that promote nation building, national pride and jealousy, the rise and fall of world leaders, global environmental threats, and the connections of these events to faith and destiny.

DISCUSSION AND WRITING

One - Four” — In this section of Cat’s Cradle, readers meet the narrator, John, and learn how he becomes involved with his karass (“teams that do God’s Will without ever discovering what they are doing” (2)).
1.By what two names does the narrator refer to himself?
2.What is the title of the book which the narrator intends to write? What is its intended subject matter?
3.What is a karass?
4.With whom does John begin his research for the book? Why?

“Five - Eight”
— These chapters focus on John’s interactions through mail with Newton Hoenikker, the youngest son of one of the fathers of the atomic bomb. Newt conveys his memories of his family on the day the atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima.
5.What child’s toy does Newt remember Dr. Hoenikker making on the day the atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima?
6.Who are the other members of Dr. Hoenikker’s family? What are they doing on the day the bomb fell?
7.Who is Zinka?

“Nine - Eighteen”
— These chapters cover the beginning of John’s visit to Ilium, the town in which the Hoenikkers lived, and General Forge and Foundry, where Dr. Hoenikker spent his working life. John meets and interviews several townspeople about the Hoenikkers.
8.Who is Dr. Asa Breed?
9.Who is Secret Agent X-9? What is the significance of this description?
10.Who is Emily? What is her connection to Dr. Hoenikker? Dr. Breed?
11.What type of work goes on at General Forge and Foundry?

“Nineteen — Twenty-four”
— In this section John discovers the concept behind Ice Nine and reveals that each of Hoenikker’s children holds a crystal of the creation.
12.What is Ice Nine?
13.How did Ice Nine come to be created?
14.What is a Wampeter? Who is John’s Wampeter?

“Twenty-five — Thirty-six”
— These chapters conclude John’s visit to Ilium. He sees Dr. Hoenikker’s lab and continues to meet people who give him insight into the Hoenikkers’ lives in Ilium.
15.What do each of the following characters reveal about the Hoenikkers?
Miss Faust
Lyman Enders Knowles
Marvin Breed
Jack (of Jack’s Hobby Shop)
16.What photographs does John find in Dr. Hoennikker’s office?
17.What does John discover about Dr. Hoennikker’s grave and marker?
18.What do readers learn about Emily Hoenikker in this section?
19.What name is on the pedestal of the angel grave marker? Why is it John’s vin-dit?
20.What did Franklin Hoenikker create in the basement of Jack’s Hobby Shop?
21.Why is Franklin Hoenikker wanted by law enforcement?
22.Who is Sherman Krebbs and what is his relationship to John?

“Thirty-seven — Forty-seven”
— Chapters thirty-seven through forty-seven tell of John’s serendipitous discovery of the location of Major General Franklin Hoenikker and the narrator’s travel to the island of San Lorenzo where Hoenikker now resides. Assigned to write an article about the island republic, John sets off on the plane ride that occupies these chapters. He meets the new ambassador to San Lorenzo and his wife (the Mintons) and an American businessman and his wife (H. Lowe Crosby and Hazel). In these chapters readers learn the history of San Lorenzo.
23.Identify these characters:
Mona Aamons Monzano
Miguel “Papa” Monzano
Julian Castle
Philip Castle
Horlick and Claire Minton
H. Lowe and Hazel Crosby
24.How does John encounter Franklin Hoenikker?
25.Describe San Lorenzo as the Sunday Times describes it.
26.How did Franklin Hoenikker become associated with San Lorenzo?
27.What about San Lorenzo appeals to H. Lowe Crosby?
28.Explain the Mintons’ past troubles and how they led to his ambassador’s post in San Lorenzo.
29.Who wrote a history of San Lorenzo?
30.Explain “dynamic tension.”

“Forty-eight - Sixty” —
These chapters complete John’s plane ride to San Lorenzo. Readers learn more of the history of the island and of its religion Bokononism and Bokononism’s founder Lionel Boyd Johnson and the man with whom he attempted to create an island utopia of San Lorenzo, Earl McCabe. John also realizes that Newt and Angela Hoenniker have joined the journey at a stop in San Juan.
31.Identify the following characters:
Lionel Boyd Johnson
Angela Hoenikker Conners
Harrison Conners
Nestor Aamons
Corporal Earl McCabe
32.Trace the events that led Johnson and McCabe to San Lorenzo.
33.What does John learn from Angela about Dr. Hoenniker? About her life before and after Dr. Hoenniker’s death?
34.What major event does John say that Angela leaves out of her story?
35.Describe the realities of San Lorenzo.
36.Trace San Lorenzo’s history.
37.What was McCabe and Johnson’s goal on San Lorenzo? What two areas do they choose to address in order to achieve this goal?

“Sixty-one — Sixty-eight”
— In these chapters John and his karass arrive on San Lorenzo where they meet Papa Monzana, Franklin Hoenniker, and Mona Aamons Monzana. While issuing the island’s official reception, Papa collapses and revives only enough to name Franklin Hoenniker as the island’s new leader. Readers also find out that Bokononism is illegal and learn the story of the island’s Hundred Martyrs to Democracy.
38.What do the signs at the airport forbid?
39.What is unique about the crowd, band, dogs, and even infants of the San Lorenzans who greet John?
40.What is Papa’s background?
41.Who is to be the next president of San Lorenzo?
42.What does Mona do to the pilot?
43.Who are the Hundred Martyrs to Democracy?

“Sixty-nine — Eighty-six”
— In these chapters John checks into San Lorenzo’s one hotel where he is contacted by Franklin Hoenikker and asked to move to Frank’s house on the island. While waiting for Frank to come discuss “the most important thing ever” (161), John learns more about San Lorenzo, Bokononists, and the Hoenikkers.
44.What ritual of Bokononism does John discover?
45.What is that art that Newt has made?
46.Why did McCabe and Bokonon make Bokononism illegal?
47.Who is Dr. Schlichter von Koenigswald?
48.What does each Hoenikker child grab when the power returns?

“Eighty-seven — One Hundred four” —
As the book moves to its end, Frank offers to make John President of San Lorenzo and to allow him to marry Mona. John accepts and prepares for the announcement on the Day of the Hundred Martyrs. Papa prepares for death.
49.What is the one “catch” to being the next President of San Lorenzo?
50.What is Papa’s religion?

“One Hundred five — One Hundred twenty-seven”
— John discovers that Papa possessed and has taken Ice Nine to end his suffering. In the celebration of the Day of the Hundred Martyrs a plane crash causes Papa to fall into the sea, touching off the destruction of Earth by Ice Nine. John and Mona survive in a bunker while others of John’s karass also survive. John must decide what to do with his last moments of existence.
51.How does Papa die?
52.How had the Hoenikker children discovered Ice Nine?
53.How is Ice Nine released on the world?
54.Who survives? How?
55.What does Bokonon say about the end?

SUGGESTED ACTIVITIES

1.Have students write an additional chapter for the book. What will happen to the characters who have survived?
2.Examine Cat’s Cradle as a work of satire. What things does Vonnegut satirize? What changes does Vonnegut wish to see?
3.Examine the different religions represented in your community. Take field trips or bring in speakers to tell of these religions. Have students research different religions. How are they different/similar? What underlying assumptions do these religions share?
4.Examine different types of government. What must governments provide? How do different methods of government balance these provisions? Research kinds of government that have succeeded and failed. What were their strengths/weaknesses?
5.Research nuclear proliferation and weapons of mass destruction. Conduct a debate between pro and anti-nuclear factions.
6.Point of view is unique in Cat’s Cradle. While the narration is first person, the narrator’s views are shaped by his reporter’s tasks and sensibilities. Examine John’s views of the other characters. How are they formed? How do they shift as the text progresses?
7.Consider any of the text’s major characters by examining how and when information about the character is revealed. How are readers expectations controlled by the way Vonnegut presents the character you’ve chosen?
8.Create a plot map of Cat’s Cradle. Separate the plot events for each central character. Where do these maps intersect?
9.Create a dictionary of Bokononist terms.
10.Research a famous inventor. What is unique about him/her? What in the inventor’s background motivated the work? If you were asked to invent something, what problem might you solve? What are the obstacles to creation?

BEYOND THE BOOK

1. What actually happened on August 6, 1945? Research the actual men who created the first atomic bomb. What happened to them and to others on that day?
2.Examine satire as a literary form. Students may read other satirists (Swift’s A Modest Proposal to Orwell’s Animal Farm). Students may also examine satire in other media — Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury, The Simpsons, The Colbert Report.
3.View the movie The Last King of Scotland (rated R). Compare the movie to the events of San Lorenzo. Watch the SciFi Channel’s Eureka. What are its parallels to Ilium?
4.Combine classes with a chemistry teacher to examine the magic of chemical interaction. How can chemical arrangement be changed?
5.Read other Vonnegut novels. Look for repeated elements of plot, character, theme, etc. Examine the real-life events that make it into Vonnegut’s fiction.

OTHER TITLES OF INTEREST

Slaughterhouse-Five and other novels by Kurt Vonnegut
A Modest Proposal Jonathan Swift
Gulliver’s Travels Jonathan Swift
Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain
On the Beach Nevil Shute
The Stand Stephen King
The Left Behind Series Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye
Papa Doc, Baby Doc: Haiti and the Duvaliers by James Ferguson
The Manhattan Project: The Birth of the Atomic Bonb by Its Creators, Eyewitnesses, and Historians Cynthia Kelly and Richard Rhodes
http://www.atomicmuseum.com/tour/manhattanproject.cfm -- a guide to the atomic bomb’s creation
http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/index.html George Washington University’s guide to the National Archives includes a section on weapons of mass destruction and Iraq

ABOUT THIS GUIDE

David Corley teaches high school English in South Carolina. His experience is with many different levels of students in grades 9-12. He has also taught courses for adult education, college, and graduate-level students.

Download a PDF of the Teacher's Guide

  • Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
  • September 08, 1998
  • Fiction
  • Dial Press Trade Paperback
  • $16.00
  • 9780385333481

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