Like most things in life that I truly enjoy, Cat’s Cradle challenges, genres, stereotypes, and personal beliefs. It’s no wonder that with Vonnegut’s complex past, that he seemed to easily pen works that uproot deeper emotions through protagonists that are often met by extreme circumstance and reason with the world around them in a way that simultaneously expresses curiosity and moral trial. Primarily categorized as science fiction and dystopian satire, we as readers will also find ourselves drawn by our connections, shared experiences, and even disagreement followed by a desire for answers to some of life and faith’s bigger questions.
Bio's on Vonnegut
1. On pg 49, Dr. Breed declares, “Pure research men work on what fascinates them, not on what fascinates other people.” This statement is reflected in the opinions of many others interviewed about Dr. Felix Hoenikker (a mad scientist of sorts) throughout the beginning of the book.
When considering the role of modern-day scientists and governments, what do you feel the benefits and risks are in connection to more extreme levels of tunnel vision. How has this affected us as a society?
2. Jonah goes through great lengths to uncover what he can about Dr. Hoenikker; on pg 50, in a moment of what seems like misplaced frustration, Dr. Breed accuses Jonah of being a member of the “yellow press”. Yellow journalism is a term used to describe articles or publications known to overindulge in catchy headlines in lieu of thoroughly researched articles simply for the benefit of increased sales. In today’s world of endless information, thanks to the internet and saturated markets, we often now refer to this as click-bait or my less favorite connotation, fake news.
How has this constant stream of news and information jeopardized the integrity of journalism and what impact do you feel this has had on how we receive said news? For instance, I’ve noticed in many, an increase of anxiety over health concerns, government affairs, and the mistreatment of marginalized groups in an era where the truth and facts, despite also being vastly available, often come second in public consumption to 'reel-them-in with nonsense' articles.
3. Chapters 41-46 depict Jonah’s interactions with several new characters he encounters on the plane. With each new introduction comes identifying behaviors and traits from which we can surmise their views on topics including business and social ethics, relationship dynamics, nationalism, and capital punishment.
Choosing one of these interactions, analyze the beliefs of a new character (or pair of characters) and draw some comparisons and contrasts to your own views. What concerns arise? Do you find yourself favoring their opinion? What experiences have led you to think and feel this way?
3a. On p.137, Hazel expresses relief that San Lorenzo is "a Christian country". Fear of the unknown creates illogical hate & discrimination. How have you overcome this barrier when traveling or encountering cultures different from your own. How have others reacted when introduced to your culture?
3b. Crosby ties his open belief of Bokononism to his rights as an American on p.154. How has this privilege effected us ("freedom of religion" countries) as a society? How has the disillusion that some religions are seen as more patriotic than others effected the realities of citizens who practice faiths by a different name on a national and global scale?
4. Another consistant happening in Cat's Cradle is Newt being undermined, underestimated, and patronized because of his hight/dwarfism; most particularly by his sister, Angela. (see example on p.111-112) Unfortunately, what Newt endures is common for those who deal with physical, medical, or mental barriers. It's widely assumed that having any form of disability is synonymous with being generally incapable. The reality is that with sensible accommodations and support many live full and rewarding lives.
Thinking back to interactions you have had or may have with someone who belongs to this subculture: Were you accepting of their conditions and unique traits? Are there things you could have said or done to respect their abilities, views, or independence?
If you are disabled or differently abled, consider sharing:
5. Throughout Cat's Cradle we are introduced to several concepts, beliefs, and ‘harmless untruths’ that construct the fictional religion/belief system that is Bokononism. Below are a few examples from the text. Consider your own religious, spiritual, universal, or science centered beliefs:
Do the defined concepts and views of Bokononism raise questions that you have struggled with or worked through regarding your own beliefs? Do you think there can be a universal understanding that faith and fact intersect or coexist regardless of what we believe? How would that impact your current beliefs? What benefits do you think that would have on communities?
5a. While most residents publicly claim to be Christian, “everyone on San Lorenzo is a devout Bokononist…” (p.172) What do you think it says about a people or a nation that openly promotes one religion while practicing another? Thinking back on humanity's own history with religion, what lessons should or could be learned? Would you be comfortable with practicing your faith this way? Even if you are comfortable with your beliefs now, has there ever been a time in your life where you hid or minimized being open about it to appease someone else or to be more socially accepted?
Any open dialog and opinion on the reading is always welcome. Was there anything you would like to discuss that was not mentioned in previous questions? Let’s hear what you have to say! Drop your thoughts in the comments!
The tail end of Cat's Cradle offers great thoughts and notions for contemplation. Write a poem (calypso), verse, lesson, letter, or essay based on one or more of the following.
Book club notes & disclaimer:
Unfeathered Ink’s book club is designed to challenge what we think we know, about our selves, society, and the world around us. We aim to expand views and encourage cohesion. At some point, various participants may find certain reading selections, questions, or topics more personal than others. That said, this is a space where we respect not only shared views but those which may greatly differ from our own. Take care to be a good human above all else.