Understanding Religion Through Cat's Cradle

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  • Topic: Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle, Bokononism
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  • Published : March 24, 2013
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Students: finish reading Cat’s Cradle before reading this article. I say this because the article gives away the ending of the book! For Tuesday, write a reader response (your reaction) to this article. Your response should include specific examples and explanations as to why you agree or disagree with Liana Price’s view of the book. If you choose, you can write this as a reflection on how Price’s ideas have helped you understand Vonnegut’s book. The paper should show that you have thought about the topic. It should be at least two double-spaced pages, typed in Times New Roman 12-point font.

Understanding Religion Through Cat's Cradle
by Liana Price

The following is issued as a warning from the author Kurt Vonnegut to the reader: "Anyone unable to understand how a useful religion can be founded on lies will not understand this book either"(14): typical of Vonnegut in his usage of creating a personal narrative. Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was born in Indianapolis, like many of his characters, in 1922. His life from that point on closely resembles the lives of the people in his satirical novel Cat’s Cradle. Vonnegut's mother committed suicide when he was twenty two years old and in many of his novels the character of the mother is dead. Vonnegut's "lifelong pessimism clearly has its roots in his parents' despairing response to the depression" (Allen 2). He was captured in WWII and was present in Dresden, Germany when it was bombed and set fire to, killing 135,000 citizens. This later became the basis for Vonnegut's greatest success Slaughterhouse-Five. Cat’s Cradle was published in 1963, and though it wasn't as big a success as Slaughterhouse-Five, it became widely known as contributing to the "counter-culture" since it does in fact question and counter almost every part of our society's culture (Reed). One of the largest points of our culture brought into question in Cat’s Cradle is religion. Vonnegut himself is a Humanist, meaning that he isn't sure of the existence of a God, but values life above all else. In his last novel Timequake, Vonnegut explains that he understands that humans need religion as something to turn to for comfort and support (Timequake 63). Cat’s Cradle tells a fictional account of how the world met its end. There are actually three different writers at work in the story. First and foremost is the author Kurt Vonnegut. The narrator he creates in his novel is called John, or Jonah as he tells the reader to refer to him (Vonnegut 1), and he frequently recites passages from The Books of Bokonon written by a fictional religious guru Bokonon (Reed 125). All three hold true to a passage from another of Vonnegut's books "lies told for the sake of artistic effect... can be… the most beguiling forms of truth" (Vonnegut Editor's Note). Though Jonah is most closely linked to representing Vonnegut, Bokonon is the most interesting character created on the Island of San Lorenzo where most of the book takes place. By having this central yet elusive character invent a religion openly based on lies, Vonnegut demonstrates society's blind dependency on religion:

I wanted all things
To seem to make some sense,
So we all could be happy, yes,
Instead of tense.
And I made up lies
So that they all fit nice,
And I made this sad world
A par-a-dise (Vonnegut 90)

The latter quote describing why Bokonon, christened Lionel Boyd Johnson on the Island of Tobago in 1891 (Vonnegut 74), invented Bokononism is said to be found in Bokonon's "Calypsos", or short poems/songs. When Bokonon was still known as Lionel, before he reached the shores of San Lorenzo, he was a sailor whose ships crashed 6 different times. It was during these unexplainable incidents that Lionel met up with "brilliant, self-educated, idealistic Marine deserter" Earl McCabe who had just stolen his company's money (Vonnegut 77). The two set off for Miami but wrecked on the shores of San Lorenzo. This is when Lionel...
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