A symbol is something that represents something else. In Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, a reoccurring symbol is – unbelievably - the cat’s cradle, which is represented in three different ways. There’s the “literal cat’s cradle, which is where this symbol comes from, and there’s an image of the cradle. But the most interesting way the cat’s cradle is represented is when it’s used as a metaphor in different situations. The cats’ cradle is used as a symbol to signify the difference between the world as it seems, to the world as it really is.
The literal reference to the term cat’s cradle comes from a game played with string. When Newt sees this he thinks there’s “nothing but a bunch of X’s between somebody’s hand”(166). But his father told him that there was in fact, a cat’s cradle hidden inside those X’s. This is the meaning of the cat’s cradle Vonnegut uses throughout the book because the cat’s cradle is just some string twisted up in certain ways. There really is “no damn cat, and no damn cradle”(166).
Newt’s painting was a representation of the cat’s cradle and should not be confused as the actual cat’s cradle. Even when it was drawn, Newt had to point out what it was to John. It wasn’t until then that John began to make connections. For example, he realized the scratches in the painting corresponded to the string that forms the cat’s cradle. I mean that’s what it seemed like, but in reality they were just scratch marks on a poorly drawn painting. The third way the cat’s cradle was expressed was by metaphor and was used multiple times in regular situations. For example, John thought Angela had “a very happy marriage” because of all the good things she said about Harrison Conners on the plane. But the truth is her husband is “mean as hell” and she is not happy with him. Good thing Newt was there to ask, “See the cat? See the Cradle?” (179) making the connection to the difference between what is and what seems. Angela gets worked up about this sometimes and...
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