“All the things I am about to tell you are shameless lies.” So begins the Books of Bokonon. Bokononism is an original religion that is introduced in this book, Cats Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. The book shows the importance of religion, even if that religion is “shameless lies”. It also displays how people convince themselves that things are better then they really are. I read this book because of a promise I made to my father. I’m glad I made that promise; I just read a delightfully funny and deep tale about the end of the world.
The book begins with a writer named John researching for his book about the day the atomic bomb was dropped. He talks with Newt, son of Dr. Felix Hoenikker, the creator of the atomic bomb. He then goes to Illium, the town where the Hoenikkers grew up, and there he learns of ice-nine, one splinter of which could freeze all the oceans of the world. John soon discovers that Frank, the other son of Felix, is on a small island called San Lorenzo. He goes there to research more for his book. On the plane he meets Newt in person, who turns out to be a midget, and the Crosbys, a married couple. John reads a book the Crosbys give him on the plane all about the religion of Bokononism and it’s customs. One custom is Bokomaru, touching the souls of feet together to grow closer. He also reads of how Bokonon, the creator of Bokononism, was outlawed.
When they arrive on San Lorenzo the President falls ill. Frank, who is going to marry the President’s daughter, Mona, doesn’t feel up to the job of being president so he asks John to do it. After a lot of convincing John says yes. He learns that the reason Bokonon was outlawed was to give the religious life of the people more zest, it was Bokonon’s idea.
During John’s inauguration, the former president dies. It soon becomes apparent that he committed suicide with a sliver of ice-nine. Frank, John, and Newt clean up the mess and go out to watch the air show. During the air show something goes wrong and a plane crashes. The explosion causes the house to tip and the president’s body to fall into the sea. The ice-nine in his body freezes all the oceans of the world and causes an incredible storm. John and Mona hide in a dungeon until the storms stop. When the storms cease they rise to find that the survivors had all committed suicide with the ice-nine. Seeing this Mona does the same. John wanders the island until he finds Newt and the Crosbys, who are still alive. From then on they live on the barren earth and wait to die. The book ends with John finally seeing Bokonon, a weak, dying man laughing in a thick snow of ice-nine.
Most of the book was set on the island of San Lorenzo. Kurt Vonnegut did this so that he could create a new religion, Bokononism. Bokononism is a ridiculous religion, yet all the people of San Lorenzo put faith in it. It is not the truth of a religion that matters; it is the hope that you draw forth from it. A woman says, “I just have trouble understanding how truth, all by itself, could be enough for a person. (54).” Truth is all fine and good, but is it enough? The truth is harsh and disturbing, lies hold the only comfort. The lies of Bokononism gave the people hope. It even gave Bokonon himself hope, the lies of his religion allowed him to laugh in the face of death. This is true of all religions. But Bokononism openly says that he tells lies, he does not speak truth he speaks hope.
People can convince themselves that things are the way they want them to be. It doesn’t matter what is real, people will only see what they want to. Newt says, “A cat’s cradle is nothing but a bunch of X’s between somebody’s hands. No damn Cat, and no damn cradle! (166).” What is a cat’s cradle? X’s, nothing more. But people want to see a cat’s cradle so they see a cat’s cradle. As is true with other things. When Newt tells John that his sister’s husband beats her John says, “‘From the way she talked I thought it was a very happy marriage.’ Little Newt held his hands six inches apart and he spread his fingers. ‘See the cat? See the cradle?’ (179).” Newt’s sister’s marriage was a bad one, but she wanted to see a happy marriage, so she did. No cat’s cradle, no happy marriage but that’s all everyone sees because that’s all anyone wants to see.
The end of the world is inevitable, everything ends. When the end of the world comes the religious might not be lead into the kingdom of heaven. But they will not be afraid because of their hope. Their religion might be shameless lies but they’ll see truth because that’s all they’ll want to see. Religion is one big Cat’s Cradle, but whom does it hurt? When the religious die and there is nothing they won’t care because they won’t exist. All that matters is that they were happy in life. This book renewed my faith, my faith in lies. Kurt Vonnegut showed that the only happy people are the ignorant ones. It’s good to know some things, but if you know everything you can never be happy.
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